As the price of oil falls, the discussion is heating up on what the impact will be for countries in the Arab World – especially online through the popular Arabic hashtag النفط_دون_50_دولار # translating to “oil below US$50 . The World Bank’s Chief Economist for the Middle East and North Africa, Shanta Devarajan, weighs in on the conversation.
Governments in the Arab world have long subsidized the price of energy. This gives citizens throughout the region access to cheap petrol and diesel, and electricity supplied at below-market rates. But what has been the real impact of subsidies, and do they justify the huge financial burden they place on national budgets? This is a critical question in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), as the region represents a disproportionate share of the world’s energy subsidies.
If you think the summers in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region are hot—think again. Summers are likely to become much warmer. Global temperatures are rising; the question now is by how much and what the impact of them will be. People in the region already face very high summer temperatures—and these could get worse. Compared to the rest of the world, the MENA region will suffer disproportionally from extreme heat.
The Middle East and North Africa region has a large diaspora. According to the latest United Nations estimates, 11 million citizens from the MENA countries lived abroad in 2013. Many of the members of this group hold prominent positions in their adopted countries. They have the potential to contribute to the development of industries in their countries of origin. Executives in multinationals can influence the choice of locations abroad in increasingly defragmented supply-chains. This is especially relevant for members of the diaspora. Seddik Belyamani, originally from Morocco, was Boeing's top airplane salesman, and was instrumental in converting an initial push-back by Boeing’s executives into an interest and a first mover investment in Morocco.
A former hotel owner in one of the region’s major cities, who wants to remain anonymous, tells a story that should have had a happy ending. Her 40-room hotel was doing well. It had built a reputation for excellent service. She decided to capitalize on her success and expand the business by adding a restaurant. This would have provided her with another revenue steam and allowed her to attract more customers, especially foreign tourists. Apart from expanding her business, the need for new kitchen and wait staff would have meant jobs for the local community. It would also have meant more business for local suppliers of everything from food to tablecloths.
With such a long list of potential benefits, who would want to stand in the way?
Over the past decade there has been growing interest in using the internet and other communication technologies for conflict management and peacebuilding. Two key areas have emerged: (1) using publicly available data on events and social dynamics to monitor and predict escalations of tensions or violence, and (2) harnessing the increased access to the internet and mobile telephones to promote positive peace. In both areas exciting innovations have developed as well as encouraging results.
In the first area, perhaps the most comprehensive information source is Kalev Leetaru’s “Global Database of Society” or GDELT Project that “monitors the world's broadcast, print, and web news from nearly every corner of every country in over 100 languages and identifies the people, locations, organizations, counts, themes, sources, and events driving our global society”. The event database alone covers 300 categories of peace-conflict activities recorded in public media since January 1979, while the identification of people, organizations and locations enables network graphing of connections in media records.
What makes smart politicians? Jeffrey Frankel has an idea. His recent blog examines the allure, and trap, of universal subsidies. For one thing, they know that pulling the plug on bad policies should be done sooner rather than later. The same can be said of other policies related to investment and labor legislation. Economic democracy is a great thing. However, beware of misguided routes to achieving it.
- Egypt, Arab Republic of
- Iran, Islamic Republic of
- Saudi Arabia
- Syrian Arab Republic
- United Arab Emirates
- West Bank and Gaza
- Yemen, Republic of
- Middle East and North Africa
- Global Economy
- Labor and Social Protection
- Public Sector and Governance
In Libya right now, one out of every two people is 24 years old or younger (52 percent).
One out of every two fighters was previously unemployed or a student (52 percent).
Why does this matter?
Since my last trip to Tripoli in April, the unfolding conflict has brought these numbers to life. At the time, opportunities were emerging, which I’ll return to in a bit. The current conflict notwithstanding, it was clear at the time that Libya has immense potential due to its natural resources and unique geography.
Seven countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region --Egypt, Tunisia, Iran, Lebanon, Jordan, Yemen and Libya (MENA 7)--are facing similar economic problems: i) volatile growth that has remained significantly below potential; ii) limited fiscal space resulting from rising budget deficits, public debt and declining foreign reserves that have reduced savings available for public and private investment; and iii) a weak private sector that is far from becoming a driver of growth and creator of jobs.
Unemployment rates in Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen (the MENA 7) have remained stubbornly high, particularly among youth (15–24 years) with an average rate of 22 percent for young males and 39 percent for young females. Some estimates show that the youth unemployment rate is as high as 40 percent in Tunisia and even higher in the inland governorates