Economic Research Forum (ERF)

Khalid Abu-Ismail

Founding contributors

Khalid Abu-Ismail
United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia

Khalid Abu-Ismail is Chief of Economic Development and Poverty Section, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia and formerly Macroeconomics and Poverty Policy Adviser with UNDP’s Regional Center for Arab States. He provides policy advice and policy oriented research on topics related to Human Development, Poverty, Inequality and Economic Growth. He received his Doctor of Philosophy in Economics from New School for Social Research, New York. Abu-Ismail is an ERF Policy Affiliate.

Content by this Author

Rethinking inequality in Arab countries: the latest research evidence

In an effort to explain and find policy responses to the Arab Spring, there has been considerable focus on inequality. This column summarises the findings of a major research project on the issue.

Arab countries are caught in an inequality trap

Conventional wisdom, based mainly on surveyed household income distribution statistics, suggests that inequality is generally low in Arab countries. At the same time, little attention has been devoted to social inequalities, whether in terms of outcomes or opportunities. This column introduces a forthcoming report, which offers a different narrative: based on the largest research project on the subject to date and covering 12 Arab countries, the authors argue that the region is caught in an inequality trap.

Falling rents should make way for institutional reforms in Arab states

Can the development prospects of the Arab countries be separated from the natural resource endowments that have been shaping their economies for so long? This column outlines the likely downward trajectories of per capita natural resource rents to 2030 – and the sense of urgency that those numbers should bring to discussions of the need for institutional reform.

MENA Generation 2030: Prospects for a demographic dividend

UNICEF’s new report, MENA Generation 2030, focuses on ‘investing in children and youth today to secure a prosperous region tomorrow’. This column discusses the prospects for a ‘demographic dividend’ in the region with the growing share of the working age population in the total population. The authors explore the barriers that impede realisation of the potential benefits and the policy actions that need to be implemented urgently. As the report underlines, the time to act is now.

Post-conflict macroeconomic challenges: Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen

Inflows of overseas development assistance are typically helpful for countries seeking to rebuild in the immediate aftermath of a civil conflict – but in the longer term, they can pose serious macroeconomic challenges. This column summarises the research evidence on the effects and effectiveness of aid, and draws lessons for Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen.

Fiscal policy to help escape MENA’s low productivity trap

Many countries in the Middle East and North Africa are locked in a ‘low productivity trap’ despite shifts in employment towards non-farm and non-oil sectors . This column makes the case for transformational changes in the macro-fiscal policy orientation to generate millions of new job opportunities for the growing educated youth and to improve the labour share of income to reduce poverty.

Extreme poverty in Arab states: a growing cause for concern

Extreme poverty is rising in Arab states and the outlook is concerning. This column outlines the latest figures and the implications for policies to promote inclusive and sustainable development in the region.

Galal Amin and the Egyptian middle class

A sense of ‘defeat’ among the Egyptian middle class was the main motivation for the uprising of 25 January 2011. In a tribute to economics professor Galal Amin, who passed away last month, this column explores what his analysis would suggest lay behind that feeling. The main culprit is the pursuit of stabilisation at any cost: macroeconomic stability rarely translates into more investment and better-quality jobs; liberalisation typically leads to crony capitalism and greater inequality; and it is the poor and the middle class who experience the pain.

Time to rethink inequality in Arab states

There are many gaps in our understanding of trends in both money metric inequality and multidimensional inequality in Arab states. This column previews a forthcoming report that will explore fundamental questions: why study inequality; with what theoretical approaches and measurement frameworks; and inequality between whom?

Tax reform for equity and fiscal space in middle-income Arab countries

Arab countries have systematically low tax collection rates relative to the size of their economies. What’s more, with rising military expenditures and lower oil prices, the public budgets of the oil-rich states are coming under growing pressure. This column argues that the time is right for region-wide fiscal policy reforms that enact fair and progressive taxation systems.

Multidimensional poverty in the poorest parts of MENA: agenda for action

A new measure of household poverty in the Arab countries provides the basis for tailored solutions across the region. This column reports the key findings of the first Arab Multidimensional Poverty Report and outlines an agenda for policy action.

An agenda for reducing income inequality in the Arab countries

What can be done to reduce income inequality in Arab countries? This column explores issues of measurement as well as potential policy measures. It concludes by calling for a new multipurpose pan-Arab survey that would allow for an evidence-based decision-making process on the impact of proposed policies on poverty and inequality.

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Arab countries are caught in an inequality trap

Conventional wisdom, based mainly on surveyed household income distribution statistics, suggests that inequality is generally low in Arab countries. At the same time, little attention has been devoted to social inequalities, whether in terms of outcomes or opportunities. This column introduces a forthcoming report, which offers a different narrative: based on the largest research project on the subject to date and covering 12 Arab countries, the authors argue that the region is caught in an inequality trap.

How Egyptian households cope with shocks: new evidence

Managing risks and reducing vulnerability to economic, social, environmental and health shocks enhances the wellbeing of households and encourages investment in human capital. This column explores the nature of shocks experienced by Egyptian households as well as the coping mechanisms that they use. It also examines the relationship between such risks and job formality and health status.

Egypt’s labour market: facts and prospects

An ERF policy conference on the Egyptian labour market in late October 2019 focused on gender and economic vulnerability. This column summarises the key takeaways from the event.

An appeal for Sudan’s future

Sudan today is on a knife-edge: it can evolve toward peace and democracy – or spiral into instability and violence. As this Project Syndicate column argues, vital and timely international assistance can make the difference between success and failure for the new government.

Reinforcing the re-emergence of the “missing middle” in Egypt

The more rapid growth of employment in small and medium-sized businesses compared with both micro enterprises and large firms in the Egyptian private sector presages the re-emergence of the ‘missing middle’. This column explains why this is a positive phenomenon that needs to be promoted and reinforced.

Political settlement scenarios for Arab conflicts

Millions of refugees from the Arab conflicts want to return to their countries, rebuild their homes and get their lives back – but what kind of political settlements might support that prospect? This column explores types of political settlements, what happened in the past after conflicts in Algeria and Lebanon, and scenarios for future political settlement in Syria.

Repatriation: scenarios for conflict resolution and reconstruction

What are the prospects for conflict resolution in Syria and other war-torn Arab countries, for reconstruction of their broken economies and societies, and for repatriation of the many refugees that have fled for their lives? This column discusses the notion of inclusive political settlements as a precondition for safe refugee repatriation and reconstruction plans for devastated communities.

Tackling multidimensional poverty in MENA

What does most recent multidimensional poverty assessment of the Middle East and North Africa reveal about health, education, living standards and social security in the region. This column outlines the evidence and potential policy responses.

Rethinking inequality in Arab countries: the latest research evidence

In an effort to explain and find policy responses to the Arab Spring, there has been considerable focus on inequality. This column summarises the findings of a major research project on the issue.

Distrust fuels protests in the Middle East and North Africa

Street protests are enveloping many countries in the Middle East and North Africa – and the fundamental cause is a growing sense of individual uncertainty and distrust of governments. This column argues that governments in the region must restore confidence in their abilities to lead change. More open markets can help to unleash the full potential of individuals in MENA countries – but to do so requires open governments.