Economic Research Forum (ERF)


Reframing sustainable finance: lessons from Lebanon

Capital investment is needed to fund the green transition. This means that the finance sector must be involved in combating the climate crisis in countries around the world, including Lebanon. This column argues that to ensure that these funding needs are met, policy-makers should work in harmony with other stakeholders to ensure that businesses are incentivized to de-carbonise their operations. Only by easing the process of the green transition through sustainable financing can countries like Lebanon meet their environmental pledges. Policy action to support such funding is needed urgently.

Insiders and outsiders: the political economy of Arab labour markets

Labour markets across much of the Arab region are split into two parts – they are dualistic. On one side, there are public sector workers who, while not paid handsomely, are protected from reform by incumbent governments desperate to secure middle class support. This insider group contrasts with the region’s outsiders – informally employed private sector workers and the unemployed. This column argues that outsiders are often left behind in terms of economic opportunities and outcomes, and that this hampers the overall growth potential of countries across the Arab world. Yet political feedback loops keep regimes from improving welfare and economic opportunities for outsiders.

Supporting employment opportunities for women in Egypt’s ICT sector

In Egypt today, the labour market has become increasingly inhospitable for women, with the decline in public sector jobs in recent decades. But this column highlights a potential cause for optimism. Female jobs in ICT are on the rise, having grown at a compound rate of 6.4% per year, compared with a decline of 1% per year for non-ICT jobs. To make the most of this promising trend, Egyptian policy-makers should aim to foster an attractive investment climate for international firms, with a focus on building up ICT training and offering more remote working opportunities.

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Sustaining entrepreneurship: lessons from Iran

Does entrepreneurial activity naturally return to long-term average levels after big economic disturbances? This column presents new evidence from Iran on trends in entrepreneurship among various categories of firm size, sector and location – and suggests policies that could be effective in promoting entrepreneurial activities.

Happiness in the Arab world: should we be concerned?

Several Arab countries have low rankings in the latest comparative assessment of average happiness across the world. But as this column explains, the average is not a reliable summary statistic when applied to ordinal data. The evidence from more robust analysis of socio-economic inequality in happiness suggests that policy-makers should be less concerned about happiness indicators than the core development objective of more equitable social conditions for citizens.

Financial constraints on small firms’ growth: pandemic lessons from Iran

How does access to finance affect the growth of small businesses? This column presents new evidence from Iran before and during the Covid-19 pandemic – and lessons learned by micro, small and medium-sized enterprises.

The economics of Israeli war aims and strategies

Israel’s response to last October’s Hamas attack has led to widespread death and destruction. This column outlines the impact thus far, including the effects on food scarcity, migration and the Palestinian economy in both Gaza and the West Bank.

It’s too early to tell what happened to the Arab Spring

Did the Arab Spring fail? This column presents a view the consensus view from ERF’s recent annual conference in Morocco: careful analysis of the fundamental drivers of democratic transitions suggests that it’s too early to tell.

Arab regional cooperation in a fragmenting world

As globalisation stalls, regionalisation has emerged as an alternative. This column argues that Arab countries need to face the new realities and move decisively towards greater mutual cooperation. A regional integration agenda that also supports domestic reforms could be an important source of growth, jobs and stability.

Gender differences in business record-keeping and planning in Iraq

Only one in every ten informal businesses in Iraq is led by a woman. Yet as research summarised in this column reveals, those businesses are more likely to set budgets and sales targets, and to keep business records. This may be evidence of the role of social exclusion in motivating greater reliance on the formal bureaucratic system.

Self-employment in MENA: the role of religiosity and personal values

How important are individual’s values and beliefs in influencing the likelihood that they will embrace the responsibilities, risks and entrepreneurial challenge of self-employment? This column presents evidence from 12 countries in the Middle East and North African region on the roles of people’s religiosity and sense of personal agency in their labour market choices.

Reformed foreign ownership rules in UAE: the impact on business entry

In an effort to stimulate economic growth and diversify the economy, the government of the United Arab Emirates has recently implemented regulatory reform that allows 100% foreign ownership of companies operating in the country. This column examines the implications of the reform for entry of new firms in Dubai, using unique data on new business licences in the emirate.

Conflict and debt in the Middle East and North Africa

With the global economy is in its third year of deceleration amid declining inflation and oil prices, the Middle East and North Africa grew by just 1.9% in 2023, with a forecast for growth in 2024 at 2.7%. In addition to heightened uncertainty brought on by the conflict centred in Gaza, many countries in the region are also grappling with pre-existing vulnerabilities, including rising debt levels. This column summarises a new report that unpacks the nature of debt in MENA – and explains the critical importance of keeping rising debt stocks in check.