Economic Research Forum (ERF)


Wealth concentration rocketing in Arab countries after Covid-19

The concentration of the Arab region’s wealth in the hands of just a small percentage of its residents should be a wake-up call for a renewed regional and national policy dialogue on inclusive growth strategies – and for immediate policy action. This column argues for revisiting governance frameworks and macroeconomic policies to enact pro-poor fiscal policies that are supported by modest annual contributions from the wealthiest decile. This would reduce wealth concentration and support dwindling fiscal space for social protection and development expenditure in many Arab countries.

Africa’s coup wave

The democratisation push in Africa’s poorest countries has failed to produce legitimate governments capable of delivering security and development, and the increasing frequency of military coups should trigger a rethink. As this Project Syndicate column explains, where institutions are weak, elections alone will not make leaders accountable.

What small states can learn from the Gulf – and vice versa

How the Gulf’s historically small states – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – grew economically offers insights and warnings for small states grappling with development challenges today. This column presents two lessons that small states can learn from the Gulf – as well as two lessons that the Gulf states can learn from small states.

Why isn’t e-commerce benefiting the Arab world?

Although headline measures of digitalisation and e-commerce are growing steadily in the Middle East and North Africa, the outlook is anything but rosy. As this Project Syndicate column explains, not only is internet access largely limited to those with higher incomes, but the bulk of the goods and services being traded comes from foreign suppliers.

Manufacturing and productivity in MENA: a long-term perspective

Productivity in the manufacturing sector is key for economic growth and employment opportunities in most developing economies. This column looks at total factor productivity (TFP) – the portion of output growth that comes from technological progress – in eight countries in the Middle East and North Africa over the four decades since 1980. Despite an overall increase in manufacturing TFP in the region during this period, it is still lagging behind other parts of the world.

Ukraine invasion: Africa is vulnerable to soaring energy and food prices

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has accentuated the already pronounced upward trend in energy and food prices. This column assesses the vulnerability of countries in Africa to such changes in commodity markets.

Employment, global value chains and spillover effects in Turkey

Firms’ involvement in global value chains is increasing rapidly and it is vital for policy-makers to understand the direct effects on domestic employment, as well as spillover effects on the economy. This column sheds light on participation trends in Turkey and its repercussions for jobs.

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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.