Economic Research Forum (ERF)


Transparency for a time of crisis and beyond

In times of crisis like the current pandemic, citizens turn to their governments for action and reliable information – but in many countries of the Middle East and North Africa, the state has lost much of its credibility. This column summarises a new report on the region’s notable lack of transparency and how that relates to the challenges of low growth, macroeconomic fragility and stagnant labour markets.

Shelter from the Middle East’s perfect storm

The Covid-19 pandemic threatens every region in the world, none more so than the Middle East. This Project Syndicate column argues that with oil prices plummeting and public health costs poised to skyrocket, the Arab world must use this tragic occasion to forge a new cooperative regional order.

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.

Covid-19 and the global economy: this time is different

The economic crash landing caused by Covid-19 is unprecedented. But as this column argues, once the virus threat has abated, the speed of recovery could be almost as fast as the speed of deterioration given the pent-up demand, the massive policy support and the strength of fundamentals that many economies had before the crisis.

Killer lockdowns

Most developed countries have responded to the Covid-19 crisis by imposing lockdowns to control the spread of infections rather than taking the ‘herd immunity’ approach that some have advocated. This column argues that poor countries should not necessarily mimic this response: for them, the risks of the herd immunity approach can be dwarfed by the risks of starvation, destitution, instability and violence arising from a prolonged lockdown.

Will Covid-19 trigger a massive fall in FDI flows to the Arab region?

Flows of foreign direct investment (FDI) into the Arab region by multinational enterprises are falling dramatically as a consequence of the global pandemic. This column reports on the likely scale of the negative impact and the implications for regional growth and development.

Solving both the short- and long-term Covid-19 crises

The global health and economic crisis compels us to act in the short term. But as this Brookings column argues, we also need to look at longer-term challenges. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals provide a pathway for us to ‘build back better’ after Covid-19.

How global trade tensions are affecting the Arab region

How are Arab countries likely to be affected by the trade wars instigated by the United States against China and the European Union? This column reports research findings on the potential winners and losers in the Arab region.

Economic impact of Covid-19 on Egypt’s tourism and remittances

As Covid-19 reaches everywhere, low- and middle-income countries are racing to respond to this massive and fast-moving challenge. This column, originally published by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), assesses the pandemic’s economic impacts for Egypt. Household income, especially for the poor, will be hard-hit, linked to disruptions in tourism and declining remittances. The authors provide initial policy insights for support to households and businesses.

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.

Tackling Lebanon’s fiscal crisis: should food subsidies be eliminated?

Is elimination of food subsidies the right policy to address Lebanon's public finance crisis? This column reports research that uses information from consumer surveys to identify potential alternatives to such a policy. The evidence suggests that elimination of food subsidies is the worst possible option for policy-makers.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Making aid-for-trade more effective in the MENA region

Aid-for-trade represents an important opportunity for developing countries to enhance their trade capacities. But the positive effect of aid-for-trade on exports can hinge on the quality of institutions in recipient countries. According to research reported in this column, in the Middle East and North Africa, it is specific aid types – such as aid to support trade policy reform and aid to enhance productive capacities – that matter most for exports.

Sanctions and carbon emissions in Iran

How are Iran’s energy use and emissions of carbon dioxide affected by the imposition of economic sanctions? This column summarises new research that analyses a range of different scenarios and which takes account of multiple economic, social and environmental dimensions, notably what happens to growth and energy intensity, and whether sanctions are lifted.