Following the ousting of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, many Egyptian expatriates turned towards their home country with a renewed sense of hope and desire to participate in the change process. As the political and economic transition is underway, many Egyptians abroad are looking for ways to engage in the transition period, and donors and development agencies are trying to effectively channel their efforts to contribute to development outcomes.
To some, Sharia-compliant financial services offer a promising path towards expanding financial inclusion among Muslim adults. To others, these services – which avoid charging interest and seek to conform to Islamic principles of profit- and loss-sharing – do not address the root causes of financial exclusion. But most agree that there is a dearth of empirical research that measures the degree to which Muslims are using Sharia-compliant financial products, their demand for it, and the extent to which they refrain from using conventional financial systems. Without data and related analysis, policymakers and private sector leaders are often speculative in framing the role of Islamic finance within the financial inclusion agenda.
Will a return to political stability solve the economic problems in the Middle East and North Africa?
In the three years since the Arab Awakening of late 2010, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has seen an increase in conflict and political instability, on the one hand, and a deteriorating economic situation, on the other. Given the vicious cycle between economic hardship and conflict, it is natural to ask whether a return to political stability will restore prosperity in the region.
The conflict in Syria, raging into its third year, is devastating the country’s population, economy, and infrastructure. The impact on neighboring countries, while less visible in the media, is nonetheless real and growing rapidly. At the request of Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, the World Bank, in collaboration with the United Nations, the European Union, and the International Monetary Fund, undertook an Economic and Social Impact (ESIA) Assessment of the Syrian conflict on Lebanon. The report, available here, was presented to the newly formed International Support Group to Lebanon (ISG) at its inaugural meeting on the sidelines of the recent United Nations General Assembly.
This week’s mass demonstrations in Egypt and assassination of an opposition leader in Tunisia -- not to mention the continuing conflict in Syria -- highlight the turmoil and uncertainty facing many countries in the Middle East and North Africa.To track the effects of these and other developments on the economy, the MENA Quarterly Economic Brief provides a real-time review, using high-frequency data, of five countries that are at risk of sluggish economic growth in 2013.
Whether constructing a new bridge or buying textbooks for a public school, governments around the world constantly purchase a wide variety of goods and services. In the countries of the Middle East and North Africa, these types of public contracts represent between 15 percent and 20 percent of GDP each year, an annual amount equal to tens of billions of US dollars.
Peer learning has great potential as an effective tool for sharing knowledge and good practice. For it to work, the right environment is needed; one that is conducive to learning and knowledge-sharing. In a recent case in Georgia, however, it all came down to the right crowd, a great host and relevant experiences. Good food and nice weather may also have helped some.
Something new and important is happening in the Arab world, and it has so far gone largely unnoticed. Since the beginning of the 2011 revolutions, statistical agencies in the North Africa and the Middle East have started to open up access to their raw data and sharing it not only with selected individuals and institutions but also with the public at large. This amounts to a cultural revolution the implications of which are exciting and wide ranging.
“I never thought that a poor family could benefit so much by me giving just a small amount of money,” the old man said with an intrigued yet hopeful expression on his face. We were sitting in a small classroom in Aqaba, Jordan, chosen as part of a behavioral experiment on Social Safety Nets. Although I have worked on social issues for many years, this statement was eye-opening to me.