Economic Research Forum (ERF)


Why data transparency matters for MENA economies

Magda Kandil was a highly regarded economist and long-time supporter of ERF and The Forum. In her final column, written shortly before her untimely passing, she concludes that the Covid-19 pandemic provides an opportunity to integrate short-term challenges into the long-term reform agenda so that MENA countries can graduate from the current crisis to a better and sustainable path of growth and prosperity.

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.

The case for a solidarity tax to close the poverty gap in Arab countries

High rates of poverty coupled with high concentration of wealth in Arab countries indicate the need for stronger civic solidarity and the shared responsibility of the public, the private sector and the state for lifting the downtrodden out of poverty. This column makes the case for taxing top wealth to close the poverty gap and promote civic unity.

Poverty in Arab countries: the likely impact of Covid-19

The economic slowdown caused by Covid-19 is expected to affect jobs, incomes, businesses and the flow of trade and remittances worldwide and across the Arab region. This column reports that an additional 16 million people are expected to be poor in 14 Arab countries as a consequence of the pandemic. Unfortunately, this is not a new trend.

Access to finance in Egypt: structural and cyclical determinants

Access to credit is valuable for small and medium-sized firms in developing countries that have substantial growth opportunities; but it can also make it more difficult to hide revenues from tax authorities. This column reports a study of how the characteristics of firms in Egypt affect the trade-off involved in participating in the financial system – and the extent to which firms are able to obtain credit when they need it.

Sources of the 2020 crisis in Lebanon

The devastating financial tsunami that is engulfing Lebanon has been brewing since the early 1990s. This column explores the economic factors and policies that have led to this crisis – including austerity, political corruption, recession, sectarianism and unemployment – as well as the role of the central bank, the Banque du Liban.

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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.