Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Paying the Price of Arab Revolt

Political unrest, growing unemployment and spiralling food prices add up to bad news for Arab economies, the IMF warns.

Article first published as Paying the Price of Arab Revolt on Technorati.

Will “revolution tourism” bring dollars to Egypt? (IMAGE – Tarek)

The continuing unrest in the Middle East and North Africa will lead to higher commodity prices and disruption to economic growth for many countries in the region, the IMF said in its April 2011 Regional Economic Outlook for the Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan (MENAP), released on 27 April 2011.

While oil exporters will enjoy a windfall, a difficult economic year looms for oil-importing states, the IMF predicts.

The report comes in the wake of a joint call for urgent support for Middle East economies by the World Bank and the IMF, who warn that political upheavals in the region could throw the global economic recovery off track.

Eventual Growth After Initial Disruption?

In the short term, many Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries face multiple pressures caused by growing unemployment, rising commodity prices and disrupted economic activity.

But in the long run, "the uprisings could give a boost to the economies in the region by setting a more inclusive growth agenda, improving governance, and providing greater and more equal opportunity for its young and growing population," Masood Ahmed, Director of the IMF’s Middle East and Central Asia Department, said at a press conference in Dubai to launch the report.

"The immediate challenge facing oil-importing countries in the Middle East is to maintain social cohesion and macroeconomic stability in the face of multiple pressures," he added.

Oil, Food Prices Major Factors Affecting Growth

"Two major factors are driving the current scenario: the unrest in the region and ensuing uncertainty, and the surge in global fuel and food prices," says the IMF.

The IMF report projects overall growth in the MENAP region at 3.9%.

The economies of the oil-exporting countries - Algeria, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen - are expected to expand by 4.9%, mostly through higher oil prices and oil production, although those projections exclude Libya.

The combined external current account balance for regional oil exporters is expected to more than double to $380 billion in 2011.

But the region’s oil exporters still need to increase diversification of their economies, create jobs for their populations (in a region where youth unemployment rates are well above 20% in a number of countries), and improve the management of public resources, the IMF says.

For oil importers - Afghanistan, Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Pakistan, Syria, and Tunisia - the outlook is not rosy. With political turmoil hitting both tourism and investment, their projected growth has dropped to only 2.3%.

And worsening terms of trade resulting from higher food and fuel prices are expected to inflate their import bill by about $15 billion, or nearly 3% of GDP on average, according to the IMF. "This will, in turn, translate into either higher inflation or a worsened fiscal balance, depending on the extent of subsidies."

Egypt and Tunisia Worst Hit

On 11 April, the IMF's World Economic Outlook report revised its economic growth projection for the Middle East to 4.1% for 2011, from a 4.6% forecast in January 2011, French news agency AFP reported.

In Egypt, which has the Arab world's biggest population, the IMF predicted economic growth to be only 1% in 2011, down from 5.1% in 2010. However, “disruptions to tourism, capital flows, and financial markets are expected to be temporary," it added.

In Tunisia, which enjoyed 3.7% growth in 2010, the IMF's 2011 prediction was down to 1.3%, from 4.8% in October 2010. If political and social turmoil in the North African country continues, the drop in tourism and foreign direct investment will exacerbate damage to the economy, the IMF warned.

But it raised its economic growth projection for natural gas producer Qatar to 20% in 2011, up from 16.3% in 2010.

The IMF also forecast that Saudi Arabia, the largest Arab economy, would enjoy 7.5% growth in 2011, compared with 4.5% projected in October 2010.

The IMF said that among other Arab oil exporters, the economy of Iraq would grow by 9.6% in 2011, Kuwait by 5.3%, Sudan by 4.7%, Algeria by 3.6%, and the United Arab Emirates by 3.3%.

Monday, 11 April 2011

OECD Sees "Moderate" Economic Recovery in France

France's economy is recovering from the recession and exports are up, but public finances and unemployment continue to pose problems, says the OECD thinktank.

Paris Metro station (IMAGE - Jackie Sneade)

Although a "moderate" recovery is under way in France, the recession will leave lasting traces and unemployment is unlikely to fall quickly, the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said on 11 April 2011.

Read the full article on Suite 101

Steam Train Rides on England's Severn Valley Railway

Riding the Severn Valley Railway's steam-hauled passenger trains is a popular day trip for local and international visitors to the English West Midlands.

SVR steam locomotive  (IMAGE - Peter Feuilherade)

Severn Valley Railway (SVR) trains run on a standard-gauge line between Bridgnorth in Shropshire and Kidderminster in Worcestershire, with daily services from May to September and on most weekends during the rest of the year. The line carried about 250,000 passengers in 2010.

Read the full article on SUITE 101

Friday, 8 April 2011

Book Review: "The New Arab Journalist - Mission and Identity in a Time of Turmoil" by Lawrence Pintak

This review was first published in The Africa Report, April 2011

Veteran American Middle East correspondent Lawrence Pintak explores the role of career journalists in not just documenting but bringing about social change in Arab societies.

Many reports on the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt have dwelt on the impact of blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites.

With state-run media failing to report on the fast-changing events, foreign news outlets turned to Twitter posts and YouTube videos to fill in the wider picture. "Citizen journalists" became a primary source. But as Pintak notes, that does not make every Arab blogger and online social networker a "journalist".

Lawrence Pintak

His book assesses the pressures facing media across the Maghreb, from Mauritania after the 2005 coup where press advertising depended on how close newspapers were to the regime, to Algeria, where the government flooded the market with directly or secretly funded newspapers.

He notes some positive developments in the last decade. In Tunisia under Ben Ali, despite "the government and its cronies [who] controlled all mass-circulation media", online sites like Kalima met a popular demand for uncensored news. And in Morocco, some press owners did openly criticise the government.

In Egypt, although the authorities loosened the reins slightly after the 2005 election, their campaign against foreign news channels during the 2011 uprising, primarily Al-Jazeera, shows that media freedom remains elusive.

From being defenders of the status quo, "Arab journalists at the dawn of the 21st century see their mission as driving political and social change", Pintak concludes.

"The New Arab Journalist: Mission and Identity in a Time of Turmoil" by Lawrence Pintak; published by I.B. Tauris, London, February 2011 (287 pp, paperback, £ 16.99)

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Ironbridge Gorge: Where The Industrial Revolution Was Born

An abundance of historic locations makes the UK's Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site a must-see for visitors interested in the Industrial Revolution.

The Iron Bridge

The picturesque Ironbridge Gorge in the county of Shropshire is a popular tourist destination in the English West Midlands.

Read the full article about the Ironbridge Gorge here

Other articles in the series:

UK Arms for Libya Contradict Rights Concerns - Amnesty

Amnesty International contrasts current UK support for ousting Libyan leader Gaddafi with previous arms sales to Tripoli.

Anti-Gaddafi insurgents mourn their dead in Ras Lanuf (IMAGE - BRQ Network)

British Foreign Secretary William Hague has justified the international military action against Colonel Gaddafi's forces in Libya, saying the intention is to prevent what he called a humanitarian catastrophe.

Read the full article on Suite 101