Published on Let's Talk Development

Beyond tumult to transformation: Whither the MENA region

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Countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are a cauldron of wrenching social change. For years pundits have attributed the region's tense social fabric to relatively high population growth rates, a lack of economic diversity, autocratic governments, and, in many countries, on an over-reliance on oil.

Howard Pack, eminent business and public policy Professor at the Wharton School, came to the World Bank earlier this week to share his views on the question of why MENA countries never came close to the equivalent of an East Asian miracle and how they might get on a more successful economic path.

Some theorize that limited imports of technology and the absence of a vibrant export-led growth strategy put the MENA region at a disadvantage when compared with other parts of the developing world. Uneven quality of education at all levels and a dearth of graduates with engineering, science and business degrees may have also set the stage for frustration, as many young adults with freshly minted degrees in other fields have long faced limited career prospects.

Ironically, the MENA region as a whole has nevertheless had much better macroeconomic performance than is generally realized, yet this was not enough to stave off disaffection and revolt. According to Professor Pack, this is because of two overwhelming challenges: the urgent need to create jobs, particularly for youth, and the need to fundamentally restructure economies so they can compete in an integrated world. To hear more of his views, check out my interview with him....


Merrell Tuck-Primdahl

Communications Director, Brookings Institution’s Global Economy and Development Program

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