The economic liberalism of the Middle East and North Africa declined overall in 2005, according to the annual Index of Economic Freedom published by the Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation in early January.

The index rates 157 countries according to 10 criteria – trade policy, fiscal burden of government, government intervention in the economy, monetary policy, capital flows and foreign investment, banking and finance, wages and prices, property rights, regulation and black-market activity. Five states in the region fall into the ‘mostly free’ category, while two – Iran and Libya – are listed in the bottom tier as ‘repressed’.

However, Libya for the second year running had the region’s most improved score. Iran’s ranking worsened, placing it as the second most illiberal economy in the world after North Korea. Egypt, Oman and the UAE all featured in the 10 economies where freedom had declined by the greatest degree over the course of the year. Bahrain was the region’s highest scorer at number 25. The global leaders were Hong Kong, Ireland and Singapore.