During her recent visit to Cairo, the World Bank's Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa Region Inger Andersen reiterated the Bank's support for an inclusive economy in Egypt that enables all citizens to take part in shaping their future.
Regional Vice President Inger Andersen reaffirms the Bank’s commitment to the success of Yemen’s historic reconciliation process.
Egyptian writer and commentator Bassem Sabry talks to Hartwig Schafer, World Bank Director for Djibouti, Egypt and Yemen about the economic challenges facing Cairo.
Sabry: What do you think are the questions that are missing from the discussion on Egypt right now?
Schafer: I think the question is, what is the priority right now for Egypt? If we go back two and a half years, the revolution was basically the result of growing exclusion and inequality. And that is still, in my view, the top priority.
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.
In a conservative society where the majority of men believe that the role of women should be confined to domestic work within the household, Yemeni women are attempting to break the chains of social and cultural constraints.
Microfinance – defined as the access to and usage of quality financial services, including savings, credit, insurance and money transfer systems - is crucial for low-income households to manage cash flows to finance day-to-day living, manage risks, invest productively, and respond to financial shocks.
The low levels of financial inclusion in the Middle East and North Africa region, however, have left many with limited access to any sort of financial services. This is especially true for certain groups such as women and young people.
Islamic Finance and Financial Inclusion: A Case for Poverty Reduction in the Middle East and North Africa?
The Middle East and North Africa region is home to about 70 million of the world’s poor (living on less than two dollars per day) and 20 million of the world’s extremely poor (living on less than US$1.25 per day). According to a recent Gallup survey, 95 percent of the adults residing in MENA define themselves as religiously observant. The combination of these two facts has produced a growing interest in Islamic finance as a possible tool for reducing poverty through financial inclusion among the region’s religiously conscious Muslim population.
"Syria's neighbors, Lebanon and Jordan in particular, have shown tremendous hospitality and tremendous generosity [in hosting the influx of Syrian refugees]. The international community needs to help them carry that burden, as they should not have to bear it alone." Ferid Belhaj, World Bank Country Director.
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.
From the exhilaration of popular revolution to the tragedy of ongoing conflict, the Middle East and North Africa region has occupied a prominent place in the headlines. Yet there is another, often silent, drama that is not receiving the attention it deserves. It is playing out in both rich and poor countries, albeit in different forms. A series of alarming statistics reveal an ongoing deterioration in the overall health of the people of the region.