Unemployment, low growth fuel protests in Arab world, IMF says

Photo: EPA A picture taken with a drone shows the camp of Lebanese protesters in Martyrs Square in Beirut on 26 October, during the second week of social unrest.

Unemployment and sluggish economic growth are fuelling social tension and popular protests in several Arab countries, the International Monetary Fund said in a report on the regional economic outlook, published on Monday.

The unrest is in turn contributing to slower growth in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, alongside global trade tensions, oil price volatility and a disorderly Brexit process, according to the IMF. Earlier this month it lowered the 2019 forecast for the region, taking in the Arab nations and Iran, to a meagre 0.1% from 1.1% last year. The IMF slashed its outlook for the region's three largest economies - Saudi Arabia, Iran and the UAE.

"The level of growth that countries in the region are having is below what is needed to address unemployment," Jihad Azour, the IMF's director for the Middle East and Central Asia, said. "We are in a region where the rate of unemployment at the youth level exceeds 25-30% and this requires growth to be higher by 1-2%" in order to make a dent in joblessness, Azour told AFP in an interview.

Violent protests have broken out in several Arab countries since early 2010 and turned into bloody civil wars in Syria, Yemen and Libya. A new wave of demonstrations erupted over the last year in Algeria, Sudan, Iraq and Lebanon, typically demanding economic reforms and action against corruption. In Lebanon, where protesters have brought the country to a standstill with demands for a full overhaul of the political system, the economy grew at a very slow pace over the past few years, Azour noted.

The IMF also noted that public debt levels were very high in many Arab countries, exceeding 85% of GDP on average, with rates of more than 150% in Lebanon and Sudan.

The IMF said that Iran, which is subject to crippling US sanctions, has entered a steep economic recession and faces a battle against spiralling inflationary pressures. As a result of the sanctions, Tehran is believed to be exporting only around 500,000 barrels per day of crude, down from over two million bpd before the sanctions.

The IMF said that oil-rich Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, led by Saudi Arabia, are expected to grow by just 0.7% this year from 2.0% in 2018 due to lower oil prices and output.


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