Time to Tap Growth Opportunities in the Middle East and North Africa – International Monetary Fund

For centuries, Arab nations led the world in the pursuit of knowledge and
in scientific innovation and were among the most economically advanced
places on Earth. Today, the Middle East and North Africa—nations with
diverse political and economic landscapes—are at a crossroads.

Recent decades saw major changes, including the Arab Spring uprisings, and
not enough change, particularly in transforming economies to fulfill
citizens’ demands for better lives. Several countries are mired in
political instability and


Debt levels
 in others are alarmingly high.

Stability and social cohesion are ultimately at stake. Youth unemployment
in the region is among the highest in the world. More than 100 million
hopeful young people will join the workforce over the next 10 years, all
anxious to be included. Progress will be limited if women do not have
opportunities to succeed. The economic challenge is not merely technical—it
is profoundly political.

With economic leaders gathering soon in Marrakech, Morocco, for the IMF and
World Bank Annual Meetings, this

issue of Finance & Development
 explores how the Arab world can tap growth opportunities and rebuild its
economic standing.

“It’s time to rethink the engines of economic growth,” say the IMF’s Jihad
Azour and Taline Koranchelian
. State-dominated activity will be hard to sustain. Some economies must
secure durable and equitable growth while brightening youth job prospects
and taking full advantage of the human capital women offer.

True transformation, Azour and Koranchelian say, requires a more
transparent and accountable public sector, modernized economic
institutions, greater private enterprise, and more responsiveness to the
global energy transition.

To ensure success, each country must build support for and “own” their
reform program, says Jordan’s finance minister

Mohamad Al-Ississ
, not least to help overcome resistance to change. Other contributors
advocate removing barriers to equality, challenging social norms, and
confronting entrenched interests.

Modernizing banking and trade can play an important role. That requires
lifting business and investment barriers, within the region and globally,

Nasser Saidi and Aathira Prasad
.They show how the Gulf states—with their existing global links,
increasingly diversified economies, and investment in trade
infrastructure—can lead the way for the region.

Digital finance has great potential to drive financial inclusion and
economic growth, says Atlantic Council’s

Amjad Ahmad
. He lays out policy reforms to create a competitive banking sector and
attract venture capital for fintech start-ups.

Clearly, global and regional forces are also at play. Changing US
engagement, China’s growing influence, and other regional political
alignments represent a generational shift in geopolitics, writes

Vali Nasr

of the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.
This will, he reckons, unlock new possibilities for the region.

Elsewhere in this issue,

Rania Al-Mashat
, Egypt’s minister of international cooperation,, calls for
equitable access to climate financing. We feature

three women entrepreneurs

driving positive change in the region. And we profile

Minouche Shafik
, a leading economist whose career spans public policy and academia.

Though the region’s challenges may be great, so are the potential and
dynamism of its people and economic leaders. This is a historically
critical time for bold action and creative thinking about the Arab world’s
future. And perhaps a chance to turn their legacy into their destiny.

As for the F&D team, we decided it was time for some boldness and
creativity here in our own pages. With this print
issue [pdf]
we present our redesign to enhance the reader’s experience with clearer
visual delineation of sections. I hope this creates a stronger and more
recognizable brand for F&D as we continue to communicate thought
leadership through each issue.

Thank you as ever, for reading us.

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