Evolution of the Middle East and North Africa: Economic and Social Dimensions of Gradual Change



A capsule version of the modern economic history of the Middle East and North Africa region would divide the past forty years or so into two periods, an early statist period from around 1960 to the early 1980s and a more recent transition period from the early 1980s to the present. The statist period was characterized, as the name suggests, by state domination of the economic system, an inward-looking economic strategy and heavy reliance on plan-based public investments as the main engine of growth. The transition period, now around two decades old, has been marked by efforts of varying intensity and resolve in different countries to move towards more market-oriented economic regimes, with a corresponding reduction in the importance of public investment1.

The presentation will review the experience of Middle East and North Africa during the period of transition. Particular attention will be paid to the social dimensions of growth and development, poverty, unemployment, and the realization of employment opportunities, as well as the comparisons with Poland and other European countries. The role of Middle East and North Africa region in the global fight against terrorism, poverty, and social exclusion will be kept in the background, but relevant observations and comparisons will be frequently invoked.

1 The 1980 demarcation line used to distinguish between the statist and the transition periods is meant to be heuristic in nature. In practice, countries began their transition towards market-orientation at different times and have moved at different paces. Even at present, the role of the state varies significantly across individual countries, being much more important in some countries and some sectors than in others.