Middle East economy

By Mouayed Makhlouf , International Finance Corporation

For years, the Middle East and North Africa has been grappling with conflict, widespread unemployment, and civil unrest. Today, governments across the region face the additional challenges of an unprecedented refugee influx, inadequate infrastructure after years of neglect, and lukewarm investor sentiment. With all of this, should closing gender gaps be a priority in the region?

A growing body of evidence makes a strong business case for saying “yes” and ensuring that women are fully integrated into the economy. A report from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) found that if Egypt leveled the economic playing field, for example, it could boost its GDP by 34 per cent. Read more

By John Sfakianakis, Gulf Research Center

This week the Saudi cabinet approved the government’s “Vision 2030” and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman gave his first television interview in order to outline the plans. The 31-one-year old architect of Saudi Arabia’s economic reform program won plaudits for his directness and his bold vision for a post-oil era.

Low oil prices are turning out to be almost a blessing for the oil-dependent kingdom as economic reforms start to gain traction among policy makers. “We will not allow our country ever to be at the mercy of commodity price volatility or external markets,” Prince Mohammed said. “We have developed a case of oil addiction in Saudi Arabia,” he added, naming a truth rarely spoken by Saudi policy makers. Read more

By Wiebke Schloemer, International Finance Corporation

There’s no doubt that the recent influx of refugees has strained the European Union, both politically and, in some cases, logistically. But fewer people are aware that in the Middle East and North Africa, which still hosts the majority of refugees, the crisis has pushed fragile infrastructure systems to breaking point, highlighting an issue vital to the region’s future.

The five-year Syrian conflict has so far forced more than 11m people from their homes, including nearly 5m who have left the country. In neighboring Iraq, some 3.5m people have been displaced. Read more

It seems to be getting harder and harder to find a news story about the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) that doesn’t fall within the narrow narrative of disorder and political violence. From state collapse in Libya and the tragic conflict in Syria to the geopolitical flashpoint in Yemen, the headlines from the broader region make for bleak reading indeed.

These challenges are real and they are significant, but there is another story about the region that remains under-reported. It is a story of dynamism and entrepreneurship, and it’s one of how private capital is playing a critical role in creating new realities for the region and its people. Read more

By Julie Dickson of Ashmore

There was no shortage of concerns about emerging markets last year. Investors fretted about US Fed tapering, China’s growth, tension escalating in Syria, and Turkey and Egypt facing social and often violent unrest. Global Emerging Markets investors reacted and diverted funds to the developed markets, leaving EM stocks to post a dismal -2.6% return for the year. But investors in Middle East equities saw things differently and enjoyed returns of 30.6% (MSCI GCC US$ Net), outpacing Developed and Emerging Markets by a wide margin.

Why? How? Read more

An Asian worker carries carries a rod at a flyover construction site in eastern Riyadh on April 7, 2013. Saudi Arabia.Gulf states are intensifying their efforts to create jobs for nationals at the expense of expatriate workers as they face youth unemployment and pressure to prepare for a future less reliant on crude exports, writes Camilla Hall.

Kuwait has said it will reduce foreign workers by 100,000 a year, while hundreds of thousands of companies in Saudi Arabia faced a deadline last month to meet the proscribed quota of Saudi employees or risk having their licences removed. Read more

Kuwait has introduced new corporate legislation as it tries to compete for foreign investment with its more successful regional peers, primarily the United Arab Emirates, write Camilla Hall and Simeon Kerr.

Notorious in the region for its recent economic underperformance, Kuwait is trying to move ahead with more coherent regulations in an effort to kick-start its non-oil economy and boost confidence in markets. Read more