Economic Research Forum (ERF)


Covid-19, trust and rising economic challenges in the Arab world

There is a common view that managing Covid-19 is all about making a trade-off between lives and livelihoods. But as this column explains, comparing global performance, countries have tended to do well, or not, on both health and economics simultaneously. A key correlate of successful country performance is a high level of trust in government, which makes compliance with public health and social measures more efficient – and therefore minimises economic casualty.

The Middle East and North Africa and Covid-19: gearing up for the long haul

The global pandemic is likely to affect the Middle East and North Africa directly for several years to come and indirectly for even longer. Yet as this Brookings column argues, countries in the region can emerge both better able to prevent such disasters in the future and with a set of more agile and responsive institutions that will help them to tackle other pernicious development challenges.

Bottom incomes and the measurement of poverty and inequality

With negative and zero incomes being widely reported in household surveys, it is essential to understanding who is reporting them in order to generate a consistent ordering among households, and measure poverty and inequality accurately. This column summaries evidence from an investigation of the prevalence and consequences of non-positive incomes using 57 harmonised surveys covering 12 Mediterranean countries over the period 1995-2016.

Broadband: is MENA ready?

To what extent is broadband in the Middle East and North Africa affordable, accessible and supportive of innovation? This column reviews the region’s digital readiness as reflected in the quality of broadband networks and their affordability, accessibility and usage.

Remote work and women’s employment in MENA: opportunity or pitfall?

Many women in the Middle East and North Africa are not in the paid labour force despite being highly educated. Good internet access and the global shift to telework as a result of the pandemic would seem to offer them opportunities for work and greater gender equality. But as this column warns, while online employment lowers barriers to getting women into paid work, it may fail to alter the unequal gender relations that underpin women’s reluctance to enter the paid labour force.

Tunisia’s experiences with industrial policy and export diversification

What has been the role of industrial policy in Tunisia’s export diversification of the past 25 years? This column reports research evidence on the dynamics of diversification since 1995 for primary and resource-based products as well as manufactured products. The authors show that contrary to the conventional view that the country has achieved limited success in moving up the technological ladder in terms of the diversification and sophistication of its exports, there has been extensive progress.

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.

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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.