Economic Research Forum (ERF)

August

Public sector employment in MENA: a comparison with world indicators

How exceptional are patterns of public sector employment in the Middle East and North Africa? This column reports three observations based on evidence from the World Bank’s Worldwide Bureaucracy Indicators for Djibouti, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Morocco, Palestine and Tunisia.

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.

Lebanon’s dysfunctional political economy

Using the prospect of a flood of refugees as a bargaining chip in international negotiations, the government is happy to subsist on foreign exchange reserves while waiting to collect geopolitical rents. Yet as this Project Syndicate column argues, there is reason to hope that this strategy, which has already impoverished half the population, will fail.

Informality, market fragmentation and low productivity in Egypt

Egyptian firms have operated subject to low and stagnating productivity. This column outlines the recent trends in business conditions and the drivers of the low productivity and slow growth rate – and makes some recommendations for policy.

Lebanon: sectarianism and cronyism stifle economic reform

How did Lebanon’s economy collapse – and what happens now? This column from The Washington Post outlines what you need to know.

Employment polarisation and deskilling of the educated in Egypt

To what extent is Egypt’s labour market becoming polarised into well paid high-skilled occupations and low-wage manual jobs? This column reports evidence of marked wage compression in absolute and relative terms along the occupational spectrum; deskilling of college-educated workers once they join the workforce; and a needless escalation in demand for higher education.

Most read

Egypt’s care economy needs to address deteriorating working conditions

A robust and high-quality care economy is critical for supporting women’s employment – as both an employer of women and a mechanism for redistributing unpaid care work to the market. Yet in Egypt, despite national goals of expanding care services, employment in the sector has been shrinking, while becoming increasingly privatised. As this column reports, care jobs have also experienced worsening conditions of work, including reduced formality and the emergence of a pay penalty for care workers.

Unemployment among young women in GCC countries

The average rate of unemployment among young women in the high-income countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is far higher than the equivalent for young men. This column reports new evidence on the extent to which flexible labour markets, in the context of a generous social contract, can reduce female youth unemployment rates in the region.

Boosting trade through flexible rules of origin in preferential agreements

Rules of origin are critical components of preferential trade agreements designed to stop products coming in under insufficient transformation or through the partner that applies the lowest tariff. But in practice, these rules are often needlessly complex, undoing the benefits of market access associated with trade agreements. This column reports research showing that the adoption of more flexible product-specific rules of origin within preferential agreements would give a significant boost to global trade.

Challenges of GCC investment in the energy transition

The countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have identified the energy transition as a crucial area of growth and are investing heavily in a diverse array of projects. However, as this column explains, the region faces a number of challenges in making a success of these investments, most notably its current dependence on fossil fuels, a lack of infrastructure and technical expertise, the high upfront costs, and geopolitical tensions.

The decline of social insurance in Egypt: directions for reform

The longstanding challenge for the Egyptian economy of providing its workers with decent, formal, socially insured jobs has become even more difficult. As this column explains, informality has been rising rather than falling, with a substantial reduction in social insurance coverage for the employed since the late 1990s. Reforms are needed to reverse this decline.

Social insurance in Egypt: between costly formality and legal informality

The rates of participation of Egyptian workers in contributory social insurance has continued to decline, even during times when the country has had positive annual growth rates. This column discusses key institutional elements in the design of the current social insurance scheme that have contributed to the growing gap in coverage, particularly the scheme’s cost and eligibility requirements.

Making trade agreements more environmentally friendly in the MENA region

Trade policy can play a significant role in efforts to decarbonise the global economy. But as this column explains, there need to be more environmental provisions in trade agreements in which developing countries participate – and stronger legal enforcement of those provisions at the international level. The MENA region would benefit substantially from such changes.

Jordan: navigating through multiple crises

Jordan’s real GDP per capita is today no higher than it was 40 years ago. While external factors have undoubtedly had an adverse effect on the country’s economic outcomes, weak macroeconomic management and low public spending on investment and the social sectors have also played a substantial role. This column explores what can be done to reduce high public debt, accelerate private sector development and enhance social outcomes.

Egypt and Iraq: amenities, environmental quality and taste for revolution

The Middle East and North Africa is a region marked by significant political turbulence. This column explores a novel dimension of these upheavals: the relationship between people’s satisfaction with, on one hand, the amenities to which they have access and the environmental quality they experience, and, on the other hand, their inclination towards revolutionary actions. The data come from the World Value Survey collected in 2018 in Egypt and Iraq.

Iran’s globalisation and Saudi Arabia’s defence budget

How might Saudi Arabia react to Iran's renewed participation in global trade and investment? This column explores whether the expanding economic globalisation of Iran, following the lifting of nuclear sanctions, could yield a peace dividend for Saudi Arabia, consequently dampening the Middle East arms competition. These issues have attracted increased attention in recent times, notably after a pivotal agreement between the two countries in March 2023, marking the resumption of their political ties after a seven-year conflict.