Without Better Data, Middle East Policymakers Risk Getting Lost


By Nemat Shafik

(Version in عربي)

Recently I went orienteering with my children as part of a school trip.  Orienteering is a sport whereby you have to find your way to various checkpoints through unknown terrain with only a compass and a topographical map.

Wandering through the woods with six 9-year-olds was a good lesson in the value of good directions and data to find your way when you are in unchartered territory.

Likewise, making policy decisions without adequate and timely data would also result in getting lost, wasting time and money, and making policy mistakes with obvious negative consequences for growth and development.

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region suffers significant shortcoming in data, which are particularly problematic at a time economic transition (see table below).  There are important data gaps, poor data quality and in many cases, internationally agreed standards of statistical methodologies, compilation periodicity and timeliness, and data dissemination practices are not followed.  I emphasized these issues during my participation at the ArabStat Conference in Morocco this month.

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Why the Arab World Needs an Economic Spring


By Nemat Shafik

(Version in عربي)

What strikes you on a trip to the Middle East is that everyone is talking politics—all of the time. That had been the case in countries like Lebanon where it is a national pastime, but it is a new phenomenon in countries across North Africa and the Gulf.

Constitutions are being rewritten, political parties and youth groups are vibrant, and everyone has an opinion on current events. The older generation seems worried by the uncertainty associated with change. The young generation continues to be energized.

Need for an economic rethink

But, what I noticed during a week of travel through the region is that almost no one is talking economics, and that is a worry. Because while 2011 was a year of major transitions in the political domain, almost every economic indicator in the non-oil countries went in the wrong direction. Growth halved, unemployment rose, reserves came under pressure and deficits ballooned as governments responded to social pressures by increasing spending on wages and generalized subsidies.

New governments across the region are keen to respond to the demand for jobs and justice that brought them to power but are quickly faced with the hard reality of limited resources and powerful vested interests.

So, just as the “Arab Spring” opened a debate about politics in the Middle East, we now need an “Economic Spring” on how to rethink the region’s economic future.

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Making Sure Middle East Growth Is Inclusive


By Nemat Shafik

(Version in عربي)

The uprisings that spread across the Middle East and North Africa in 2011 taught us that even rapid economic growth cannot be maintained unless it is inclusive, creates enough jobs for the growing labor force, and is accompanied by policies that protect the most vulnerable. And the absence of transparent and fair rules of the game will inevitably undermine the development process.

Hopes after the revolutions are high and so are people’s expectations. Hence, there is a need to pay more attention to socioeconomic issues in making policy decisions. In my speech today at the Arab Economic Forum in Beirut, I argued that we need an “Economic Spring” to complement what has become known as the “Arab Spring.”

Gloomy picture needs attention

At over 25 percent, the youth unemployment rate in the region’s oil-importing countries exceeds that of any other region in the world—a rate that reaches up to 30 percent in Tunisia and 32 percent in Morocco. Ironically, education in the region is not a guarantee against unemployment. In fact, unemployment tends to increase with schooling, exceeding 15 percent for those with tertiary education in Egypt, Jordan, and Tunisia.

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Avoiding a Lost Generation


By Nemat Shafik (Version in  عربي)

Young people were innocent bystanders in the global financial crisis, but they may well end up paying the heaviest price for the policy mistakes that have led us to where we are today.

Young people will have to pay the taxes to service the debts accumulated in recent years.

Moreover, the global economy is threatened by continued strains in the euro area, and unemployment is still climbing in several countries, in particular in Europe. Young people (those aged 15 to 24) are the most affected, and youth unemployment has reached record levels in a number of countries.

If the right policies are not put into place, there is a risk not only of a lost decade in terms of growth but also of a lost generation.

Consider this. In Spain and Greece, nearly half of all young people cannot find jobs. In the Middle East, young people account for 40 percent or more of all unemployed people in Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, and Tunisia and nearly 60 percent in Syria and Egypt. And in the United States, which traditionally has had a strong job creation record, more than 18 percent of all young job seekers cannot find employment.

Legacy of loss

Youth unemployment has long-term consequences for economic growth because of the loss or degradation of human capital. But it also has many other consequences, both for the individuals affected and for society as a whole.

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Bringing the Informal Sector into the Fold


By Masood Ahmed

(Version in عربي)

Unemployment rates in the Middle East and North Africa have remained above 10 percent over the past decade, the highest in the world. For the young the rates are even more daunting, at a persistent 25 percent: one in four of the region’s young people are without work. Many people who cannot find jobs in the formal economy are relegated to working in the informal sector, for lower wages and without the protections and opportunities that workers enjoy in the formal economy.

The informal economy is large and pervasive—and, often, ignored; however, the experience of those who work in the informal sector came under the media spotlight when Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire that fateful day in December last year, sparking the Arab Spring protests.

Estimates indicate that the informal economy in the oil-importing countries of the Middle East and North Africa is substantially larger than in several Asian and Latin American countries. In Morocco, for example, the informal economy is estimated at 44 percent of officially measured GDP. In most other oil importers, it is estimated at close to one-third.

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More than 18 Million Jobs Needed!


By Masood Ahmed

(Version in عربي )

For the six oil-importing countries in the Middle East and North Africa region—Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria, and Tunisia—high unemployment is a chronic problem. Unemployment rates here are among the highest worldwide. This can have enormous economic and social costs, with the potential for what the IMF Managing Director has described as a ‘lost generation’ of unemployed.

Figures for these six countries in the region, outlined in our October 2010 Regional Economic Outlook, are staggering. Continue reading

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