Economic Research Forum (ERF)

Rabah Arezki

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Rabah Arezki
Director of Research, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS)

Rabah Arezki is Director of Research at CNRS and Fellow at FERDI, Harvard Kennedy School and ERF. He is the former vice president and chiefeconomist at the African Development Bank and formerchief economist for the World Bank’s Middle East and North Africa region.

Content by this Author

North Africa’s hydrogen mirage

Even as tensions over migration run high, the Northern Rim and the Southern Rim have renewed their cooperation over energy issues. Amid the global energy transition, investors from the Northern Rim are anxious to pour billions of dollars into hydrogen projects into the Southern Rim. For Southern Rim nations, however, this tantalizing opportunity for economic development risks turning into just another Sahara mirage. That’s because the hype surrounding hydrogen may continue to distract the regions’ leaders from addressing the tough domestic social issues that are behind the migration crisis. If the technology does become viable, revenue from hydrogen exports to Europe could just perpetuate rent-seeking behavior by political and economic elites at the expense of their own citizens.

Geopolitical and economic tension in the 21st century: Not your grandfather’s cold war

Current geopolitical tensions between China and the United States have been compared to the Cold War. But the modern-day rivalry differs from that of the US and Soviet Union, not least of all in terms of how other countries have responded. This column argues that in today’s context, a given state is less likely to side directly with either China or the US, and is instead able to benefit economically from courting both superpowers. But while not as deeply entrenched as in the 20th century, the schism between the US and China, as well as the way the international community has reacted, remains harmful to the wider global economy – de-escalation is needed urgently.

The multilateral financing paradox

Policy-makers increasingly tout multilateral development banks as being uniquely positioned to address today’s pressing global challenges, particularly debt crises in the developing world. But as this Project Syndicate column explains, their lending mostly benefits middle-income countries rather than the lower-income countries that need it most.

What will it take to achieve an energy transition in MENA?

An energy transition will require a coordinated global shift in both the supply and demand for fossil fuels and cleaner energy. As explained in this post by the Center for Global Development, multilateral institutions can play an important role, helping to bolster international technology transfers to the Middle East and North Africa, as well as scaling up investment and trade in clean energy to facilitate the global energy transition. Given the potential in the region for solar power, MENA could remain a global hub – but this time for clean energy.

The World Bank should become the ‘IMF of climate’

Climate stability, like global macrofinancial stability, is a public good. Yet, while the International Monetary Fund has an operational mandate to preserve global macrofinancial stability, there is no comparable pairing of the internationally agreed operational mandate on climate stability with a global institution. As this Devex column explains, the World Bank could be that very institution.

How to slow climate change while fighting poverty

Falling aid budgets and ballooning debt in the developing world are impediments to climate action. As this Foreign Policy column explains, green aid projects can bring poorer countries on board.

Economics in the new age of national security

The growing geopolitical and economic split between the United States and China should prompt a paradigm shift in economic thinking. In particular, as this Project Syndicate column argues, economists will need to reconsider their approach to topics such as comparative advantage, market integration and how to promote convergence.

The true size of Africa and why it matters

The African continent is much larger than it appears on standard maps of the world. As explained in this column, first published at Le Monde, this distorted projection method has many consequences, particularly in the area of agriculture.

Preventing developing economy debt disasters

Skyrocketing food and energy prices, together with widening sovereign bond spreads, have placed balance sheets in emerging market and developing economies under severe strain. This Project Syndicate column argues that to avoid disaster, the international community must urgently support bold debt restructuring.

Ukraine invasion: from oil sanctions to accelerating the energy transition

The sanctions placed on Russian oil may give new impetus to the energy transition by encouraging developed economies to find new sources of energy. Current policy has focused largely on supply-side responses to manage this development. This VoxEU column says that demand-side policies may also play a critical role. The authors argue for policies that increase the price elasticity of oil demand, such as incentives for individuals to switch to electric vehicles through subsidies. Nonetheless, they emphasise that the distributional effects of policies, including carbon pricing, are politically important and cannot be ignored.

Africa’s coup wave

The democratisation push in Africa’s poorest countries has failed to produce legitimate governments capable of delivering security and development, and the increasing frequency of military coups should trigger a rethink. As this Project Syndicate column explains, where institutions are weak, elections alone will not make leaders accountable.

Ukraine invasion: Africa is vulnerable to soaring energy and food prices

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has accentuated the already pronounced upward trend in energy and food prices. This column assesses the vulnerability of countries in Africa to such changes in commodity markets.

It is time for Africa to focus on getting vaccines in arms

Rates of vaccination against Covid-19 are still disappointingly low in Africa. This column, originally published at Al Jazeera, argues that with supply issues slowly being resolved, the continent’s priority should shift to addressing logistical problems and fighting vaccine hesitancy.

Accelerating Africa’s economic transformation

The Covid-19 pandemic is likely to exacerbate the move away from globalisation that began early this century and promote regionalisation around big economic blocs. This column, originally published at the LSE Business Review, explains how African countries have an opportunity to deepen regional integration and create their own value chains, transforming the raw materials that they have in abundance. Agribusiness could be as pivotal for Africa as coal and steel for Europe because of the benefits of food security and jobs for the continent.

Energy subsidies: easy pickings for climate policy or political bombshell?

In the Middle East and North Africa, energy consumption is heavily subsidised, which has harmful environmental consequences. But reform of energy subsidies is politically difficult, not least because of limited government legitimacy and citizen distrust of authorities. This column argues for a new holistic approach to reform to account for the frail social contract that has prevailed for decades between elites and the broad population of the region.

Transnational governance of natural resources for the 21st century

The race for natural resources to power the simultaneous energy and digital transitions the world is experiencing rages among the major powers. As this Brookings column argues, appropriate transnational governance is essential to achieving an orderly, sustainable and inclusive exploitation of natural resources.

In defence of regional development banks in the Covid-19 era

Ensuring that developing countries remain able to access credit markets is vital for promoting growth and recovery post-pandemic. This column argues that efforts by major economies to support regional development banks and preserve their financial standing will help to limit the cost of rebuilding after the crisis. In turn, this will help to preserve international capital markets in the short and medium run.

A looming oil price super cycle will likely be the last

A new oil price super cycle, an extended period during which prices exceed their long-term trend, seems to be in the making. This column, originally published in the Summer 2021 issue of Finance and Development, explores why it could be the last of its kind – and the challenging implications for oil-dependent economies and their neighbours.

Tax policy for the post-Covid-19 era

Covid-19 offers an opportunity for developing countries to rethink their tax policy to contribute to the reconstruction effort and promote the recovery. This column explores what the legacy of the pandemic will be for our tax systems and several dimensions for the required rethinking.

Shaping Africa’s post-Covid recovery: a new eBook

While most African countries have been largely spared so far from the direct health effect of the Covid-19 pandemic, the continent’s economy has been significantly hurt by the economic consequences. This is particularly concerning given Africa’s high prevalence of extreme poverty. This column introduces a new eBook from CEPR Press, which focuses on business and household responses to the Covid-19 crisis in Africa, as well as access to international finance, patterns in international borrowing and country-specific experiences during the pandemic.

A Sherman Act-like moment is needed in Africa and the Middle East

With the population of Africa and the Middle East set to double by 2050, efforts to ‘demonopolise’ the economies of the region – akin to late 19th century US federal legislation that outlawed monopolistic business practices – are vital to achieve economic transformation. Collectively leveraging the rise in pent-up domestic demand will facilitate the development of domestic productive systems, transforming raw products and supporting the creation of decent jobs.

A stability mechanism for the Gulf countries

Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates face the dual shock of the pandemic and the oil price collapse. Drawing lessons from the European Union’s response to its sovereign debt crisis, this column proposes a stability mechanism for the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council aimed at institutionalising solidarity and fiscal discipline among them. The mechanism would issue some special obligations and lend the proceeds at low rates to its members, requiring them to undertake economic reforms in return.

Fomenting intellectual revolution in the MENA region

The countries of the Middle East and North Africa desperately need a new social contract to meet the demands of a growing, increasingly disillusioned youth population. As this Project Syndicate column argues, one crucial prerequisite for that is a new ecosystem for the creation, dissemination and discussion of ideas.

Seven questions about Covid-19 and its consequences

What is the nature of the Covid-19 shock? What are the consequences of and immediate responses to Covid-19? Are lockdowns sustainable? Can all countries do ‘whatever it takes’ to deal with the pandemic? How should countries prepare for a recovery? What of global supply chains and trade? And what of sovereign debt restructuring? This column addresses these seven key questions.

Fiscal policy for Covid-19 and beyond

Covid-19 has hit developing countries hard. This Brookings column suggests that the crisis could galvanise governments to reduce ‘leakages’ of public spending to beneficiaries other than those for whom it is intended. The objectives should be creating fiscal space to serve the poor better while setting the stage for recovery and sustained economic growth.

Covid-19: forging a new social contract in the Middle East and North Africa

The dual shock of Covid-19 and falling oil prices has brought to light the underlying flaws of economies in the Middle East and North Africa. This column, originally published at OECD Development Matters, suggests that events that are out of authorities’ control will trigger change in the societies of the region. Governments must decide whether that change will be guided or traumatic.

Covid-19 and oil prices: a dual shock for the Gulf Cooperation Council

The countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council face a dual shock: from both the Covid-19 pandemic and the collapse in oil prices. This column argues that authorities should focus first on responding to the health emergency and the associated risk of economic depression. They should postpone fiscal consolidation linked to the persistent drop in oil prices until recovery from the pandemic is well underway.

Coping with a dual shock: Covid-19 and oil prices

Countries in the Middle East and North Africa face a dual shock from the Covid-19 pandemic and a collapse in oil prices. This column explores the policy options available to deal with such shocks, arguing that authorities should sequence and tailor their responses. MENA countries should first focus on responding to the health emergency and economic depression, postponing fiscal consolidation linked to the persistent drop in oil prices until the recovery from the pandemic is well underway.

Oil price wars in a time of COVID-19

A combination of supply and demand shocks has sent oil prices plunging and financial markets tumbling. This column argues that if the decline in oil prices persists, it will erode the fragile macroeconomic and social stability of countries – especially those in the Middle East and North Africa – that have been hit by the novel coronavirus.

The coronavirus: potential effects on the Middle East and North Africa

The novel coronavirus, which first emerged in China in late 2019, has the potential to disrupt the economies of the Middle East and North Africa through four distinct channels: directly through infections; and indirectly through oil prices, value chains and tourism. As this column explains, the infection and oil price channels are the most significant, with the virus having spread to Iran and other MENA countries and oil prices having dropped $20 per barrel since its discovery.

Reforming Arab economies in times of distrust

Across the Arabic-speaking world, citizens have once again been taking to the streets. This column, originally published by Brookings, argues that to address the latest protests, Arab governments should choose reform paths that put the initial burden on themselves.

The two arrows for growth policy in MENA

How can governments in the Middle East and North Africa revitalise their economies? This column focuses on two key elements of growth policy that are needed in the region: harnessing digital technologies in a programme similar to the 1960s US moonshot; and promoting free and fair competition to end the cosy relationship between governments and connected firms.

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.

Rethinking the role of the state in the Middle East and North Africa

What should be the role of the state in MENA economies? This column argues that countries in the region should try to increase their level of accountability towards their citizenry by inculcating a culture of ‘value for money’, promoting the emergence of independent, yet accountable, regulators and relying less on the state to rejuvenate their economies.

Tearing down the walls of vested interests in MENA

The economic outlook for the Middle East and North Africa is weak, with medium-term growth projected to be a fraction of what is needed to create enough jobs for the fast-growing working-age population. This column argues that bolder and deeper economic reforms are needed, not least promoting fair competition to complete the transition from an administered economy to a market economy.

Fair competition is needed to empower women economically in the Arab world

The participation rates of women in the labour market in Arab countries are the lowest in the world. This column argues that remedying the under-representation of women in the labour force is a social and economic imperative for the region. There are three dimensions for action to realise the potential of Arab women: amending laws and regulations; instilling fair competition in markets; and promoting the digital economy.

Lessons in economics from Algeria’s victory in the Africa Cup of Nations

Algeria’s recent victory in the Africa Cup of Nations has united a country whose development model has frustrated its young and educated workforce. This column offers four lessons for economic development from the national football team’s success: on the role of competition and market forces; mobilising talent; the role of managers; and the importance of referees (that is, regulation).

How import dependence could lead to corruption in MENA

Export-led development strategies have had little success in MENA countries; what’s more, instruments of earlier import-substitution strategies – such as state-owned enterprises, high tariffs and subsidies – have survived. As this column explains, these legacies have created crony-capitalist industries that have limited the level of competition in many sectors of the economy and furthered the region’s dependence on imports.

Domestic demand and competition: a new development paradigm for MENA

A lack of competition in domestic and regional markets is holding back development in the Middle East and North Africa. This column argues that the region and the international community must ensure that barriers to market entry and exit are eliminated, and that independent regulatory bodies at the national and regional levels help to promote domestic demand as the main engine for sustainable and inclusive growth.

How to liberate Algeria’s economy

Algeria’s economy is growing far too slowly to provide enough jobs for a young, expanding and increasingly restless population. As this Project Syndicate column explains, the country's authorities need to boost competition, spur the creation of a digital economy and revamp state-owned enterprises.

Why reforms in the Middle East are unavoidable

One striking feature of the recent economic history of the Middle East is high-income Gulf economies financing the persistent external imbalances of its geo-strategically important neighbours. This column asks what happens when, as a consequence of the technological disruptions of the global fossil fuel market, the current account deficits of key countries in the region are no longer sustainable.

The economic and social transformation of the Middle East and North Africa

The crises that began with the Arab revolts signal the urgent need for economic and social transformation in the Middle East and North Africa. Yet there has been near universal failure to implement the structural reforms required to transform hidebound, state-dominated economies into modern ones that embrace technology and recognise the salutary impact of competition and private enterprise. This column outlines what has to change.

Rethinking the state’s role in Arab economies

The Arab world's state-led development model may be set to reach a breaking point, as hundreds of millions of young people prepare to enter the labour market in the coming decades. This Project Syndicate column argues that with the public sector unlikely to be able to absorb these new workers, there is an urgent need to create a dynamic and competitive private sector.

How the Middle East can escape the middle-income trap

The Middle East and North Africa urgently needs a new social contract focused on economically empowering the hundreds of millions of youth who are expected to join the labour market in the coming decades. This Project Syndicate column argues that the key to success will be technological adoption, adaptation and innovation, encouraged and facilitated by governments.

Rethinking the macroeconomics of resource-rich countries

After years of high commodity prices, a new era of lower prices, especially for oil, will be challenging for resource-rich countries, which must cope with the decline in income and the potential widening of internal and external imbalances. This column summarises a recent eBook in which leading economists examine the shifting landscape in commodity markets and explore the exchange rate, monetary and fiscal policy options, as well as the role of finance, including sovereign wealth funds and diversification.

A moonshot for MENA: laying the groundwork for a modern digital economy

A new economic reality is needed in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). This column proposes a ‘moonshot’, which, like the US effort to land a man on the moon in the 1960s, can unite people behind a common goal and transform the ways in which governments, companies, international financial institutions and civil societies conduct business. It would transform MENA economies and help to ensure that millions of the region’s young people can find the good jobs they deserve.

Shifting commodity markets in a globalised world

Commodity markets have been on a rollercoaster ride in the first two decades of the twenty-first century. A new book, summarised in this column, examines the long-term forces of technology, geography, demography and policy that influence these markets, and how their interplay sends price signals to producers and consumers.

How to diversify oil-producing economies

Many oil- and gas-rich countries have either announced or put in place policies to reduce their dependence on oil by diversifying their economies. This column argues that the key is to shift the focus away from the end goal of diversification and towards the transformation process of how to get there.

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Sustaining entrepreneurship: lessons from Iran

Does entrepreneurial activity naturally return to long-term average levels after big economic disturbances? This column presents new evidence from Iran on trends in entrepreneurship among various categories of firm size, sector and location – and suggests policies that could be effective in promoting entrepreneurial activities.

Happiness in the Arab world: should we be concerned?

Several Arab countries have low rankings in the latest comparative assessment of average happiness across the world. But as this column explains, the average is not a reliable summary statistic when applied to ordinal data. The evidence from more robust analysis of socio-economic inequality in happiness suggests that policy-makers should be less concerned about happiness indicators than the core development objective of more equitable social conditions for citizens.

Financial constraints on small firms’ growth: pandemic lessons from Iran

How does access to finance affect the growth of small businesses? This column presents new evidence from Iran before and during the Covid-19 pandemic – and lessons learned by micro, small and medium-sized enterprises.

The economics of Israeli war aims and strategies

Israel’s response to last October’s Hamas attack has led to widespread death and destruction. This column outlines the impact thus far, including the effects on food scarcity, migration and the Palestinian economy in both Gaza and the West Bank.

It’s too early to tell what happened to the Arab Spring

Did the Arab Spring fail? This column presents a view the consensus view from ERF’s recent annual conference in Morocco: careful analysis of the fundamental drivers of democratic transitions suggests that it’s too early to tell.

Arab regional cooperation in a fragmenting world

As globalisation stalls, regionalisation has emerged as an alternative. This column argues that Arab countries need to face the new realities and move decisively towards greater mutual cooperation. A regional integration agenda that also supports domestic reforms could be an important source of growth, jobs and stability.

Gender differences in business record-keeping and planning in Iraq

Only one in every ten informal businesses in Iraq is led by a woman. Yet as research summarised in this column reveals, those businesses are more likely to set budgets and sales targets, and to keep business records. This may be evidence of the role of social exclusion in motivating greater reliance on the formal bureaucratic system.

Self-employment in MENA: the role of religiosity and personal values

How important are individual’s values and beliefs in influencing the likelihood that they will embrace the responsibilities, risks and entrepreneurial challenge of self-employment? This column presents evidence from 12 countries in the Middle East and North African region on the roles of people’s religiosity and sense of personal agency in their labour market choices.

Reformed foreign ownership rules in UAE: the impact on business entry

In an effort to stimulate economic growth and diversify the economy, the government of the United Arab Emirates has recently implemented regulatory reform that allows 100% foreign ownership of companies operating in the country. This column examines the implications of the reform for entry of new firms in Dubai, using unique data on new business licences in the emirate.

Conflict and debt in the Middle East and North Africa

With the global economy is in its third year of deceleration amid declining inflation and oil prices, the Middle East and North Africa grew by just 1.9% in 2023, with a forecast for growth in 2024 at 2.7%. In addition to heightened uncertainty brought on by the conflict centred in Gaza, many countries in the region are also grappling with pre-existing vulnerabilities, including rising debt levels. This column summarises a new report that unpacks the nature of debt in MENA – and explains the critical importance of keeping rising debt stocks in check.