Office of the Chief Economist - Middle East & North Africa

Overconfident: How Economic and Health Fault Lines Left the Middle East and North Africa Ill-Prepared to Face COVID

This report examines the region’s economic prospects in 2021, forecasting that the recovery will be both tenuous and uneven as GDP per capita stays well below the pre-pandemic level. COVID-19 was a stress-test for the region’s public health systems, which were already overwhelmed even before the pandemic. Indeed, a decade of lackluster economic reforms left a legacy of large public sectors and high public debt that effectively crowded out investments in social services such as public health. This edition points out that the region’s health systems were not only ill-prepared for the pandemic, but suffered from over-confidence, as authorities painted an overly optimistic picture in self-assessments of health system preparedness. Going forward, governments must improve data transparency for public health and undertake reforms to remedy historical underinvestment in public health systems.

Last Updated: Oct 07, 2021

Countries in the Middle East and North Africa possess all the ingredients they need to leapfrog into the digital future. Their well-educated youth have already adopted new digital and mobile technologies, but, this is still in its infancy. Seizing the opportunities that the digital economy offers the MENA region will require a big push. Policymakers will need to work on multiple fronts. The sooner they start, the greater the chance that today’s young people can overcome economic exclusion and gain more opportunities to realize their—and their region’s—full potential.

World Bank Group


The MENA Chief Economist Seminar Series is a regular event organized to shed light on and debate the latest research relevant to the Middle East and North Africa. The MENA Chief Economist Seminar Series are held in the World Bank offices in Washington, DC and are open to the public. If you’d like to attend, please send a request to


MENA Chief Economist Seminar Series FY 21




September 30, 2021

Distributional Impacts of COVID-19 in the Middle East and North Africa


Johannes Hoogeveen
September 9, 2021

Impersonal Trust in a Just and Unjust World: Evidence from an Educational Intervention


Elif Kubilay
June 17, 2021

Blessing or Burden? Impacts of refugees on businesses and the informal economy


Sandra Rozo

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Meet our Chief Economist

Roberta Gatti

Chief Economist

    Regional Reports and Research