Economic Research Forum (ERF)


Highways to hell: road-building in Iraq has increased the violence

Far from promoting peace and economic development, infrastructure investment programmes in conflict zones can have the opposite effect. This column reports evidence that the billion dollar US road-building programme in Iraq has led to more not less violence.

Obstacles to doing business in Egypt

A key question put to firms in the World Bank’s Enterprise Surveys focuses on their perceptions of the biggest obstacles to doing business. This column reports evidence from the 2016 survey of establishments in Egypt, which shows how the obstacles that top business people report is influenced by the size of their firms, the industry, the geographical location, the market orientation and the managers’ level of education.

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.

Gender dynamics in labour markets in MENA and South Asia

In common with much of the world, the geographically contiguous regions of MENA and South Asia have experienced fertility decline and rising levels of female education, both considered conducive to women’s entry into paid work – yet rates of female labour force participation have remained intransigently low. This column outlines what explains this striking regional feature and potential policy responses given evidence that women’s engagement with the labour market contributes to inclusive growth.

Student protests in 1970s Turkey: the impact on later lives

From the Arab Spring to the ‘gilets jaunes’ in France and from anti-Revolution protests in Iran to Hong Kong’s umbrella revolution, it is common to see mass socio-political movements in the early twenty-first century. This column looks back to earlier uprisings – the Turkish student protests that took place between 1978 and 1980 and eventually led to a military coup in 1980 – to explore how exposure to violent political turmoil affects people’s educational and labour market outcomes later in life.

Host and refugee populations: cooperation in a fragmented society

Lebanon is currently hosting around one million refugees from the war in Syria – and given longstanding tensions between the two countries, the question of whether the refugees and their hosts can live harmoniously is one of great policy interest. This column reports the results of a pilot study that aims to measure cooperation between the native and refugee populations.

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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.