Saturday, May 28, 2011

World Bank on MENA: Opportunities To Reshape Economic Playing Field

World Bank on MENA: Opportunities To Reshape Economic Playing Field

There are historic opportunities for greater openness and citizen participation in economies across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) that, if strongly managed over the transitions ahead, could see a significant boost to economic growth and living standards in the medium term.

This is the analysis presented on My 24, 2011 in the World Bank’s Regional Economic Outlook: MENA Facing Challenges and Opportunities. The report notes that current economic disruption in many MENA countries is translating into lower growth in the short term (now forecast at 3.6 percent for 2011 down from 5 percent) but that opportunities in the medium term offer new hope for an inclusive and sustainable development that has not before been seen in the region.

"The rich experience from countries that have undergone political changes suggest that short-term disruptions to economic growth and social  tensions are inevitable,” said Shamshad Akhtar, World Bank Vice President for the MENA region.  “However, transition offers an opportunity for countries to break with the past and set course in a newer direction.  A first order of priority is to offer the right signals to restore public and private investor confidence which, in MENA, calls for ensuring respect and citizen dignity through inclusive social policies, a fundamental change in governance frameworks and swiftly restoring macroeconomic stability." 

The report finds that by the end of 2010, MENA countries had largely recovered from the global financial crisis, and growth rates had been expected to reach pre-crisis levels in 2011. Events in early 2011 which led to swift regime change in Tunisia and Egypt, and ongoing challenges in Bahrain, Libya, Syria and Yemen, have affected the short-term macroeconomic outlook and the status and speed of economic reforms in the region. 

“The effects of reform tend to follow a J-curve, where things get worse before they get better. Experience from other countries which have made successful transitions has shown an initial decline of 3 to 4 percent in the first year but quickly recovering,” said Caroline Freund, Chief Economist for the MENA region.

“Also encouraging is that successful countries saw significant and fast improvements in voice and accountability, some of the very things that underpin the MENA uprisings. We need to learn from history’s successful transitions and carefully manage the short-term downturn which is where we are focusing our best efforts now. While the challenges are many, the opportunities are more." 

Freund said better rule of law will promote competition and political stability will attract investment, facilitating more rapid growth in a sustainable way. By the same token, more voice for civil society will prevent the unequal application of regulations, and can lead to more inclusive growth.

Examples of transitions to democracy in other parts of the world confirm that economic gains can be sizable.  Typically, successful transitions are associated with higher levels of income growth in the decade after change than in the prior one.  But, the short-run is challenging; investors typically wait for uncertainty to be resolved and it is inevitable that investment will be delayed.  Signs of stability and reform are quick to be rewarded though and evidence from other countries shows that this dip in economic activity typically lasts a year, with growth quickly gaining momentum if the transition is strongly managed.

The report’s regional forecast of 3.6 percent growth for 2011, down from 5 percent expected a few months ago, is largely due to the sharp drop in Egypt’s and Tunisia’s economic activity, but also because of weaker growth in developing oil exporters in MNA. Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries will maintain strong growth rates, expected to exceed 5 percent. Growth effects are sharply differentiated by country in MENA, depending largely on whether the country is an oil exporter or an oil importer and the degree to which unrest and political change has disrupted economic activity.

The report also notes that government spending is expected to rise in 2011 as governments move to expanding supportive policy measures and social transfers to reduce the burden of unemployment and counter high commodity prices. Partly because of these actions, but also because of rising fuel and food prices, inflation rates are expected to increase in many MENA countries in 2011.

“Expanding social measures during an uncertain period is understandable to protect the most vulnerable and to help maintain support for reform,” said Elena Ianchovichina, World Bank Lead Economist and author of the report. “But it is important that these measures be used to complement needed reforms and be targeted efficiently to the poorest and the most needy.”

The report considers prolonged instability resulting from unmet political and social aspirations and lack of clarity about political transitions to be the most serious risk to short-term economic growth in MENA.   

The report also investigates the effect of high commodity prices on MENA countries. Impacts are country-specific and determined by dependence on food and oil imports, and the extent of the pass-through from international to domestic prices. While MENA includes some major oil exporters that are benefiting from oil price increases, it is also home to a number of countries that rely on imported oil. Importantly, because most MENA countries are highly dependent on imported food, particularly cereals, oils, and sugar, in the event of further food price increases, they face the risk of more malnutrition, increased import bills, higher domestic inflation, and worsened fiscal balances in cases when governments subsidize food. And new estimates of pass through from international food prices to domestic prices are presented for MENA countries.

“Food security is and will continue to be an important issue for Arab countries,” said Julian Lampietti, Lead Food Security Expert for MENA region at the World Bank. “Now is not the time to be complacent in addressing this with global wheat stocks low and with the Arab world importing one third of the world’s traded wheat.”  There is considerable scope for reducing food price volatility in the MENA region through investments in infrastructure and logistics, he said, pointing to examples in the region where ongoing analysis is showing that there are ways to manage exposure to food price spikes and ensure a timely supply of dietary essentials.

This press release is downloadable here:,,contentMDK:22922472~pagePK:64257043~piPK:437376~theSitePK:4607,00.html

Full report on

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

“The Day of Rejection” in Mauritania

Kal posts this:

"For pictures, flyers, video and a summary of the 24 May youth demonstrations in Mauritania (The Day of Rejection), see here and here. The youth staged a mock funeral for democracy in Mauritania, marching on the Blokate square in Nouakchott. As in previous demonstrations, there was an emphasis on reducing the military’s role in politics, corruption and commodity prices. The demonstrators were met by plain cloths police and security men, who allegedly distributed knives to thugs. The demonstrations on 24 May were smaller than in April and saw less head on violence from the authorities. But the government does appear somewhat spooked by the youth movement: aside from the use of plain clothes police and agents provocateurs, it has used misinformation campaigns to confuse and hamper the protests with false flyers (and by setting up false Facebook accounts and pages, according to activists). Here is a link to an al-Akhbar article on the demonstration [Ar.]. For background on the youth protest movement see the previous posts on this blog and this writer’s recent article in the Arab Reform Bulletin."

Here is one flyer, "posted by organizers on Facebook and by this writer on Twitter last week (they are also in a gallery in the links above)":

There is a second flyer in Arabic at the original post.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Analysts say GCC inclusion of Jordan, Morocco will strengthen Arab integration

Analysts say GCC inclusion of Jordan, Morocco will strengthen Arab integration

May 14, 2011
BBC Monitoring Middle East

["Today's Harvest" news programme on GCC's invitation to Morocco to join the GCC, and Jordan's request to join the GCC; Saudi Consultative Council member, Jordanian government spokesman, and Moroccan Socialist Unified Party member interviewed - live.]

Doha Al-Jazeera Satellite Channel Television in Arabic at 2001 GMT on 10 May carries within its "Today's Harvest" news programme a 200-second report on the GCC consultative summit held in Riyadh on 10 May, an approximately six-minute interview with Zuhayr al-Harithi, member of the Saudi Arabia's Consultative (Shura) Council, in the Doha studio; followed by a four-minute interview with Tahir al-Adwan, Jordan's minister of state for media affairs and communication and official spokesman of the Jordanian government, via telephone from Amman; and a four-minute interview with Hassan Tarik, member of the Political Bureau of Morocco's Socialist Unified Party, SUP, via telephone from Rabat. The interviews are conducted from Doha by anchors Khadijah Bin-Qinnah and Muhammad al-Kurayshan.
Al-Jazeera reports on the consultative summit held by the heads of the six Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] states - or their representatives - in Riyadh on 10 May during which they discussed the situation in Yemen and Bahrain and the tense relations with Iran.
Al-Jazeera reports that GCC Secretary General Abd-al-Latif al-Zayani said the GCC Supreme Council delegated its foreign ministers to initiate talks with Rabat on Morocco joining the GCC, while the GCC leaders "welcomed Jordan's request to join the GCC, and promised to study the request."
Al-Jazeera then carries a video report by an unidentified correspondent on the summit. Video shows scenes from the summit, beginning with the Saudi monarch walking with the help of a stick, surrounded by Saudi and other GCC dignitaries. The correspondent notes that the summit coincides with "a big deterioration in the GCC states' relations with Iran, in the wake of recent protests in Bahrain," adding that Iran was unhappy with Bahrain's request for the assistance of the Peninsula Shield Force to end the disturbances.
The correspondent adds that the GCC states are becoming increasingly worried by the continuing crisis in Yemen where huge demonstrations are held daily to demand President Salih's departure. Al-Jazeera's correspondent adds that the GCC summit sent a delegation to meet with Syrian President Al-Asad, and the director of the Gulf Research Centre in Dubai has revealed that the GCC will not mediate in the Syrian situation, but it may have proffered advice to Al-Asad and stressed to him that the "security solution is not the only solution, and reforms are essential."
Bin-Qinnah then asks Al-Harithi about the GCC's "surprise move" in welcoming Jordan's request to join the GCC and inviting Morocco to join, Al-Harithi says "the picture is not quite clear yet." He explains that the move stems from "the GCC's desire to establish a bloc that represents a political stand, and an economic bloc that gives momentum to the GCC. The political systems in all those countries are similar: they are monarchies, and their political stands are also similar." Asked if he is referring to stands towards Iran, Al-Harithi says Iran and other issues. He says it is a "good move, because we are talking about the globalization age, which requires the creation of blocs that achieve economic integration."
Asked whether his assertion about the political systems of the GCC, Jordan, and Morocco being similar explains why the GCC had rejected past requests to join the GCC, Al-Harithi disagrees and says Yemen has begun preparations to qualify, adding: "I think it will join soon."
Al-Harithi says the GCC states are facing regional and domestic challenges, and they have certain demands, and the GCC states are wise to take such a far-sighted stand that could be helpful in the future. He says some states "are trying to exploit the present weakness of the Arab states, for we have seen some interference and some changes in the Arab political map."
Al-Harithi says he believes that since four months ago "the GCC embarked on a new stage" with regard to joint action and security and defence policies. He says the GCC's achievements continue to fall short of the aspirations of the peoples of the GCC states, and the GCC has sensed the dangers of the present stage and wisely looked for ways out.
Told it is called a Gulf council, while Morocco is a long distance from the Gulf, Al-Harithi says if Morocco and Jordan join the GCC geographic location will no longer be so important, for the states' joint action, political stand, and economic integration will be more important. He says if the outcome of those two states joining the GCC is that Arab joint action will gain momentum that ultimately serves the Arab states.
Asked about Yemen's application to join the GCC, Al-Harithi says: "The problem is in the Yemeni court, where there is some stalling and procrastination on the part of the regime, while the opposition is being intransigent and is taking a hard-line operation." He urges the Yemenis to seize this opportunity for it is "a road map to find a solution.
Al-Harithi says the GCC initiative because it will spare the Yemeni people's blood, achieve their demands, and lead to respect for the options of the Yemeni people. He adds: "The GCC states are neither backing the Yemeni president, nor siding with the Yemeni opposition, but seek to consolidate Yemen's stability and security." Al-Harithi adds: Yemen's security is a strategic matter. It is linked to the security system of the GCC as a whole."
Al-Kurayshan then interviews Jordan's Tahir al-Adwan. Al-Kurayshan begins by asking him how Jordan received the decisions of the GCC consultative summit. Al-Adwan says: "The Jordanian government issued a statement lauding the GCC summit's statement that welcomed Jordan's request to join the GCC. It is a big and important step for joint Arab action, and achieves the interests of the Arab peoples in this region. Amy step towards strengthening Jordanian-GCC relations is welcomed in Jordan, not only at the official level but at various popular levels as well." He notes Jordan's strong and longstanding relations with the GCC states where, he says, many Jordanians are employed.
Asked what does Jordan hope to achieve by joining the GCC, Al-Adwan says: "Such a step serves the interests of Jordan and also serves joint Arab action. It strengthens Arab integration and cooperation in economic fields, and bolsters the ties and contacts between the peoples of the region."
Seeking a more specific answer, Al-Kurayshan says why does Jordan apply to join the GCC which had so far been a club exclusively for Gulf states, Al-Adwan says: "It has been a longstanding ambition of Jordan to join the GCC. You may recall that in recent weeks when the king went on a tour, and the prime minister also went on a tour of the Gulf states, there were reports on the possibility of Jordan joining the GCC. The report was well received by Jordanian public opinion. I believe Jordan has constantly aspired to join the GCC, which is a very big step for Jordan. It is a welcome move. Certainly, Jordanians will feel that new horizons have been opened to cooperation between Jordan and the peoples and states of the GCC. It is in Jordan's interest. As you know, Jordan faces difficult economic circumstances. The entire region is suffering from unrest and instability."
Al-Adwan adds: "Now any step towards bolstering joint Arab action on various levels represents a ray of hope for the peoples of the region."
Bin-Qinnah then interviews Hasan Tarik, of Morocco's SUP. Asked how did Morocco receive the GCC's invitation to join the GCC, Tarik says Moroccan public opinion was surprised by the invitation, both because Morocco is more oriented towards the Arab Maghreb and the West, and because the GCC is a closed club. Tariq notes that not all the facts are known, and the reports are conflicting, for there are those who say Morocco has officially applied to join the GCC, while there are those who say that Mo rocco was invited by the GCC to join it. He adds that there had been no previous public discussions on the issue. He says there will be questions regarding the effect of such a move on Morocco's relations with other Maghreb and Mediterranean states. [Video shows King Hamad of Bahrain sitting and listening to other GCC leaders]
Asked how would Morocco's relations with other Arab Maghreb states conflict with its relations with GCC states, Tarik says the political stands of Morocco and the GCC states have always been close, and there was clear economic support for Morocco. He adds: "However, for those relations to go as far as Morocco joining the GCC represents a shift in Morocco's foreign policy. The fear is that, in the light of the political transformations that have been occurring in the Arab region, the bid to join the GCC will be construed as a return to the policy of axes. There is also a fear that it will be viewed as the last nail in the coffin of the Arab Regional Order. There are numerous questions that are being asked by Moroccan public opinion, but there are not enough appropriate answers to those questions."
Tarik says decisions on foreign policy are the prerogative of the state and the royal establishment, and adds: "However, it is hoped there will be a public debate on the issue and the options. Are we getting involved in a pragmatic and economic process? Does it have political significance and consequences? What is the cost? Why now? Those are all matters that require clarification?"
Source: Al-Jazeera TV, Doha, in Arabic 2001 gmt May 10, 2011