With a population of 355 million and the vast majority of people living in middle-income countries, the MENA region came into the Arab Spring with multiple strengths, including a young and educated population, strong resource base, and economic resilience that helped it weather the 2008/9 global financial crisis. There has also been some progress on the political front in the Arab world. In Tunisia, genuine compromise produced a new, inclusive constitution that protects basic freedoms. Morocco and Jordan modified their constitutions to allow for greater political participation and openness. Yemen’s National Dialogue, a two-year-long process, reached a historical agreement on the country’s future path. Egypt’s new constitution, although adopted in a period of polarization and unrest, offers some safeguards of women’s rights and freedom of religion. Reflecting a popular trend for the rejection of dictatorships, the Arab League in 2011 suspended Syria from its membership.
Absolute poverty was at approximately 2.4% of the population living under US$1.25 a day, but vulnerability was high and the benefits of growth were not shared equally. Economic opportunities were monopolized by the privileged few, leading to the overthrow of several governments between 2010 and 2012.
Compared with the previous three years, 2014 seems hopeful and 2015 could be a turning point for the countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Many countries in MENA will start to benefit from stronger external demand in the high-income economies, as the global economy is set for a rebound in 2014. In the MENA region, higher global demand is expected to boost exports of energy and manufactured products in those countries that have trade linkages with high- income countries. Most oil-importing countries in MENA are likely to see a slight boost in tourism, Foreign Direct Investment and remittances as a result of the recovery in the global economy. Domestic security and social tension remain a constraint to the prospect of improvement for some countries. The global recovery, however, is still fragile and uncertainty or conflict in Ukraine could increase associated risks.
Growth in MENA is expected to reach 3.3 percent in 2014 and further accelerate to 4.6 percent in 2015. The oil exporters in MENA are expected to lead the regional recovery with growth reaching 4.8% in 2015. Large stimulus packages in the GCC countries, together with flows of funds to the rest of the region, will continue to boost regional growth rates. The economies of oil importers, including all those in transition after the Arab Spring, remain fragile, but a modest recovery is expected over this period. Nevertheless, the prospects for growth in MENA could be threatened if structural problems remain unresolved. The regional unemployment rate is about 11% and the rate is much higher for those under 24, exceeding 50% in Yemen and Libya. While the region has historically created about 3.5 million jobs per year with an average GDP growth rate of 5%, the slowdown in growth since the Arab Spring has resulted in growth averaging about 2-3%. Under a continued slowdown, the average unemployment rate in the region will increase substantially with youth and women affected the most.
The lack of economic diversification has largely contributed to growth volatility. Oil exporters rely primarily on one export commodity (oil) and oil importer countries lack multiple trading partners. Fiscal spending in almost all of the countries in MENA is dominated by a large wage bill and ballooning general subsidies, both of which have been on the rise after the Arab Spring to prevent further social discontent. This has reduced the fiscal space available for capital spending and investment in infrastructure, lowering the prospects of higher growth. General food and fuel subsidies benefit the rich more than the poor. A recent study by the World Bank shows that low-income households in Tunisia receive only 2% of the energy subsidy, while high-income households receive about 67% of the subsidy on petrol and 60% of the subsidy on diesel. In Egypt, where the economy is still suffering from subsidies that amount to 9% of GDP, spending on petroleum subsidies is set to increase by 10% in the fiscal year ending June 2014. In Iran, where universal subsidies were replaced by cash transfers in 2012, fiscal savings amounted to less than initially projected, forcing the government to increase borrowing from the Central Bank.
 MENA oil exporters include Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Yemen Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman and UAE.
 MENA oil importers include Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon, Djibouti and West Bank & Gaza.
Last Updated: Mar 15, 2014