Economic Research Forum (ERF)


Phone surveys alone will not address the Covid-19 data gap in MENA

To respond effectively to the Covid-19 crisis, decision-makers need timely and relevant information. This column discusses the value of phone surveys, which do not require face-to-face interactions and can be deployed rapidly, repeated regularly and adapted swiftly to changing circumstances. But they are not a panacea: there are many more data sources on which governments could be drawing to inform their efforts to save lives and protect livelihoods.

Economic challenges for the GCC countries after Covid-19

Similar to most net oil-producing countries, the economies of the Gulf Cooperation Council are affected by two simultaneous shocks: the Covid-19 outbreak and lower oil prices. In response, GCC governments have adopted sizeable stimulus packages to attenuate the negative impact of the crisis, while putting more pressure on their fiscal positions. This column discusses how GCC countries should strike the right balance between supporting economic recovery while ensuring fiscal sustainability and macroeconomic stability.

Daily commuters in Egypt during the Covid-19 pandemic

In an attempt to control the spread of Covid-19, Egypt’s government has implemented social distancing measures that have a particularly direct impact on daily commuters and other mobile workers. This column examines both the health risks and the economic risks facing these individuals, their families and their local communities.

Oil prices: challenges and a way forward for the United Arab Emirates

How should the United Arab Emirates chart a way forward from today’s world of very low oil prices and a deteriorating world economic outlook? This column explores the impact on of current circumstances on UAE economic activity, government spending and the budget deficit. The ultimate goal, the authors conclude, should be to sustain the momentum of further diversification of the economy to reduce oil dependency and hedge against continued fluctuations in oil prices and spillovers from the global economy.

Refugees and asylum-seekers in Egypt in the time of Covid-19

The many refugees and asylum-seekers in Egypt were facing numerous challenges of integration and access to work even before the Covid-19 pandemic. This column outlines their daily struggles for survival, as well as the emerging economic and health risks as a result of the crisis and the policy responses.

Macroeconomic fragility and data transparency in MENA

Many countries in the Middle East and North Africa were facing macroeconomic fragility even before the Covid-19 crisis. This column presents new World Bank analysis of the fiscal sustainability of several MENA countries, with the important caveat that there is a lack of data transparency about stocks of public debt in the region.

Transparency, data gaps and labour market outcomes in MENA

Data on labour market outcomes in many countries in the Middle East and North Africa are often difficult to evaluate. As this column explains, official labour market statistics in the region are typically based on ambiguous definitions, which makes it impossible to replicate them using independent data sources. Moreover, precise definitions are particularly relevant to assess women’s engagement in the labour market and the role of women in the societies of the region.

Covid-19 and trade collapse in Turkey

Turkey had a bad year in 2019 in terms of its foreign trade, which was already lower than 2018 levels owing to the recession with which the country was struggling in the previous year. As this column notes, any further decline in trade would be nothing but disruptive – yet it has happened.

Confronting the Covid-19 pandemic in the Middle East and Central Asia

Countries of the Middle East and Central Asia region have been hit by two large and reinforcing shocks, resulting in significantly weaker growth projections in 2020. This column summarises the International Monetary Fund’s April 2020 Regional Economic Outlook on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the plunge in oil prices; the short- and longer-term policy priorities; and how the IMF is helping the region cope with the crisis.

Data capacity and transparency in MENA: why they might matter for growth

The Middle East and North Africa region has been facing chronic low growth for decades. It is also the only part of the world where statistical capacity and data transparency have fallen since 2005: it now ranks the lowest. This column investigates the potential impact on economic growth – and the particular need for transparency during crises such as the current pandemic.

The uncertain costs of MENA’s dual shock

Countries in the Middle East and North Africa are facing both the Covid-19 pandemic and a collapse in oil prices. Given the unprecedentedly fast-evolving global health crisis and highly volatile oil price, estimating the costs of the dual shock and forecasting economy is challenging. But as this column explains, changes in forecasts can provide some information on the costs of the crises.

Power-sharing, ethnic divisions and the onset of civil wars in Syria

How can Syria’s economy be reconstructed after the civil war? This column outlines key considerations for policy-makers and the international community. Promoting political stability is particularly important to attract foreign investments that would aid the process of restoring the country’s infrastructure.

It’s not too late to find a way out of Lebanon’s financial crisis

Lebanon’s financial crisis developed over a long period of time before shaping into a dollar liquidity shortage from the summer of 2019. This column argues that a key first step in any effective policy response is to separate the government debt problem from the liquidity problem: this way, debt restructuring can proceed without causing more liquidity problems. The country also needs economic growth to begin to reduce its debt-to-GDP ratio to a sustainable level.

The Covid-19 pandemic and Egyptian migrant workers

How is the global pandemic affecting the many migrants from Egypt working in Europe, the Gulf and other Arab countries? This column looks at the challenges they are facing as well as their families back home, who are often highly dependent on remittances.

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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.