Economic Research Forum (ERF)


Dependency on natural resources and diversification of economies in MENA

It is widely understood that natural resource dependency can have a significant negative impact on a country’s long-term economic growth. This column explores evidence for how such outcomes arise – as well as potential diversification strategies that could help to reduce the resource curse in the economies of the Middle East and North Africa.

When market contestability is not enough

In economies where the state maintains a big footprint, as in the Middle East and North Africa, improving the performance of public enterprises and dominant private firms would seem to require a stronger threat of competition. But as this column explains, such enhanced market contestability may not be enough if there is inadequate competition in the marketplace for policy ideas and public opinion.

Harmonising rules of origin for the African continental free trade area

For the African continental free trade area to become fully operational, it is essential for the 54 signatory countries to reach agreement on harmonisation of rules of origins – the ‘Made in Africa’ criteria to ensure that only bona fide African products will benefit from tariff concessions. This column reports on progress and the remaining challenges.

Interactions of economic, political and cultural populism

Economic populism often leads to political and cultural populism, according to this column, the final one in a series of three on this increasingly prominent phenomenon. Because the returns to ‘election economics’ are positive in the short run – in terms of growth and popular support – but negative in the long run as the economy suffers, governments eventually have to resort to authoritarianism. Populists often end up blaming migrants, minorities, international institutions and foreign powers for the declining economy.

Economic and political populism – and an application to Turkey

Populist governments often practice ‘election economics’, boosting public spending ahead of a vote to attract more support and reining it in afterwards to avoid inflation. This column, the second in a series of three on the increasingly prominent economic and political phenomenon of populism, explores the experiences of Turkey.

Vulnerable workers in MENA a year into the pandemic

How are labour markets in the Middle East and North Africa performing a year into the pandemic? This column assesses the impact of the crisis on employment and earnings using data from the second wave of the ERF Covid-19 MENA monitor surveys in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. There are glimmers of progress but persistent problems in these four countries’ labour markets.

Kuwaiti small businesses after the pandemic: time for a new social contract

Has the Covid-19 outbreak been a blessing in disguise for the social contract for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises in Kuwait? This column argues that the double crisis of the pandemic and low oil prices provides an opportunity to adopt the reforms that are necessary to make the country’s economy more dynamic, in particular encouraging innovation and job creation in the small business sector.

Three types of populism: economic, political and cultural

Governments that stimulate the economy before elections by increasing transfer payments, authoritarian leaders who suppress opposition and undermine institutions that provide checks and balances, and political parties and governments that espouse racist and anti-immigrant policies are all referred to as ‘populist’. This column, the first of three on this increasingly prominent phenomenon, argues that we should distinguish three different kinds of populism: economic, political and cultural.

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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.