In light of recent political and social unrest in the region, foreign investors are taking a “wait-and-see” attitude to projects in the Middle East and North Africa. For the region’s investment promoters, this demands better, more proactive performance than in the past. Fortunately, although much remains to be done, the investment agencies of the 19 MENA governments are, as a group, off to a good start.
Private Sector Development
The topic of inclusive growth has captivated the minds of economists and politicians in the Middle East and North Africa for some time. The interest was there before the events of the Arab Spring and only intensified with the revolutions of 2011. But inclusive growth has eluded the countries of the MENA region.
Egyptians mark the second anniversary of their 2011 revolution on January 25. The revolution, which was in part fueled by unmet aspirations for economic mobility, highlighted the mass discontent of young people unable to find jobs that matched their expectations. The youth entering the labor force is more educated than in the past, but job opportunities have been shrinking.
From the pyramids showcasing the world’s first great civilization, to the sandy white beaches of the southern Mediterranean, religious sites and pristine eco-reserves, the Middle East and North Africa region is chock full of unique tourist attractions. Tourism in MENA does not only satisfy the hedonistic wishes of vacationers – it is an important sector for economic development and job creation.
As Arab countries mark the two-year anniversaries of their revolutions, economic challenges remain sharp, and the current political and policy uncertainty make it difficult to forecast how growth will evolve over the longer run. One way to reduce some of the guesswork is to look at what has typically happened in other transitions. In a recent paper, we identified and examined 90 attempts at transition from autocracy to democracy that took place over the last half century.
Tune in for the live streaming of a virtual knowledge sharing forum on the topic of jobs on January 16 and January 17 at 8:30 AM EST (3:30 PM Istanbul time). This is a unique opportunity for anyone interested in this issue to connect with experts and top-level practitioners with just a few clicks. Participate in the debate, ask questions and share your views!
During my time in Lebanon last summer, I convinced a close friend, Maroun, to start a small manufacturing firm for producing soap and shampoo. Eventually, he got the business off the ground, but there is no such thing as a free lunch. I witnessed the pain that Maroun had to go through to formally register and set up his business.
The political transition in Egypt has gone through many phases, but the ability to deliver on the demand for bread, dignity, opportunity and social justice that epitomized the 2011 revolution will continue to stand as an arbiter of its ultimate success. This will be especially apparent in the distribution of economic opportunities and how they are shaped by public policies.
Although regional economic activity is expected to accelerate in 2012, growth is expected to retreat slightly in 2013. The single biggest risk to this forecast is prolonged political and policy uncertainty, which is a key constraint to private investment and trade, particularly trade in services, while political and social unrest are serious downside risks to the outlook.
Last Thursday I had dinner with my friend Youssef. He told me he was disappointed with the way things were turning out in his country. A young Tunisian educated at the Sorbonne, Youssef took leave from his cushy management consultant job to volunteer for the government after the revolution. Like Youssef many Tunisians feel disillusioned. I replied that now is the time to redouble the efforts.