The Arab Countries in Transition (ACTs) have had diverging trajectories over the past year and face an uncertain outlook.1 Improvements in the European economy, lower oil prices, and some progress on the policy front have provided tailwinds to growth, which is expected to pick up significantly in Egypt and Morocco. At the same time, unemployment remains high. Moreover, several of the ACTs have also suffered from intensifying and spreading conflicts that cause widespread human suffering and sizeable economic challenges. Libya and Yemen are directly affected, while spillovers from these conflicts and the civil wars in Iraq and Syria weigh on Jordan and Tunisia, as well as other countries in the region (e.g., Lebanon, Djibouti), Turkey and Europe. These spillovers come most prominently in the form of large refugee flows, deteriorating security, and pressures on economic infrastructures and labor markets. All these factors add urgency to the need in the Arab countries to strengthen economic resilience and address long-standing sources of inequity and exclusion. Coordinated and scaled-up support from the international community will be also critical in stabilizing conditions in the region, addressing the refugee crisis, and securing a more promising economic future for the ACTs in this challenging environment.
In spite of deepening and spreading conflicts in the region, as well as, in many cases, a challenging internal socio-political environment, the Arab Countries in Transition (Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia and Yemen) have broadly maintained macroeconomic stability. At the same time, however, their economies are not delivering the growth rates needed for a meaningful reduction in unemployment, in particular for the youth and women. Notwithstanding diversity of conditions, countries should quickly advance structural reforms to foster higher and more inclusive growth, and continue to strengthen fiscal and external buffers to maintain stability amid heightened uncertainty. Coordinated support from the international community will be crucial in the form of financing, improved trade access, and capacity building assistance.
Despite uneven progress, there are early signs of improvement and macroeconomic stabilization in some Arab Countries in Transition (ACTs). 1 However, persistently weak growth and subdued private investment amid heightened regional insecurity continue to weigh on the task of reducing unemployment. This calls for accelerated reform efforts by the authorities to achieve higher, more inclusive, and more private sector-led growth, supported by external partners. In addition, mobilizing affordable external financing could help boost well-implemented public investment and provide a short-term impetus to growth and employment, thereby stabilizing difficult socio-political conditions on the ground and providing space for deeper structural reforms.
Arab Countries in Transition (ACTs) continue to face high political uncertainty and social pressures. The uprisings and protests have generated the promise of a better life for 300 million people, but forthcoming elections and constitutional reform, as well as populations anxious for jobs and higher incomes, complicate policymaking for many governments. At the same time, fiscal and reserves buffers have diminished sharply, underscoring the urgent need to maintain macroeconomic stability in an environment of sluggish global growth, high commodity prices, and still impaired domestic confidence. Resolute policy action and support from the international community are required; particularly as last year’s subdued growth in the ACTs (except Libya) is expected to improve only slightly in 2013 and is overshadowed by persistent external and regional risks. It will be equally important for policymakers to move quickly on designing and implementing effective structural reforms to build dynamic and inclusive economies that generate (many) more jobs than are available today. Promoting private-sector growth and international trade, as well as attracting foreign direct investment inflows, will be key components of success. Financial assistance and technical expertise from external partners, including Transition Fund projects, can make a big difference in this endeavor.
Political uncertainty in the Arab Countries in Transition (ACT) has continued in recent months, especially as the escalation of the conflict in Syria is creating negative regional spillovers.1 While transition governments have maintained macroeconomic stability thus far, serious short-term risks continue, and the authorities have made limited progress in building consensus for needed economic reforms. With the exception of Libya, the ACTs’ growth in 2012 has remained weak in light of continued policy uncertainty, regional tensions, the deteriorating global economy, and high food and fuel commodity prices. A moderate recovery is expected in 2013. The shrinking of fiscal and reserve buffers over the past year has left very little policy space and heightened vulnerabilities. Prompt policy action and timely and adequate international support are essential to maintain macroeconomic stability and address long-running structural deficiencies, to lay the foundation for inclusive growth and job creation for a young and growing population.
Historic transitions in the Arab Spring countries are coming under increasing strain frommacroeconomic pressures and unmet social demands. Domestic uncertainty over the countries' future course, compounded by the global slowdown and rising oil prices, took a toll on growth during 2011. The outlook for 2012 and 2013 is equally challenging. The protracted political transition, lower global growth, and euro zone weakness are likely to result in a slow and drawn-out economic recovery, with unemployment at best stabilizing at high levels. Maintaining macroeconomic stability in this environment will be challenging, not least since policy buffers were reduced during 2011. Indeed, gross external and fiscal financing needs of MENA oilimporters are projected at about $93 and $103 billion, respectively, in 2012-13. With capital markets expected to provide only a small part of these funds, official financial support will be essential to allow countries to continue on their path toward economic transformation. But at the same time, countries need to make tangible progress on that path. This requires bold reform and modernization agendas that command broad consensus and are embedded in a sustainable medium-term macroeconomic policy framework to build confidence, anchor expectations, and pave the way for sustained and inclusive growth.