The latest regional economic outlook from the fund includes the assumption that all regional conflicts will end on 31 December 2015 and war-torn nations will quickly be put back on the path to growth
A casual observer will be concerned by figures from the IMFs Regional Economic Outlook for the Middle East, which show falls in GDP growth and fiscal health in countries across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region in 2015. But they will be reassured by the 2016 uptick.
A closer look at the IMFs methodology reveals that this turnaround is based on optimistic assumptions that are unlikely to be realised.
The largest is the assumption that all regional conflicts will end on 31 December 2015 and war-torn nations will quickly be put back on the path to growth. The complexity of protracted conflicts in Iraq and Syria does not suggest a quick resolution. The outlook in Libya and Yemen is almost as worrying.
This is the reasoning behind a projection that average GDP growth across Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Yemen will rise to about 5 per cent in 2016, after being flat in 2015.
Other assumptions in the economic sphere also undermine the projections. The IMF bases its figures on the positive views that all announced reforms will be completed and will stimulate improved economic growth. History tells us that structural reforms in the Mena region are painfully slow, or more often entirely frustrated.
It is possible that Saudi Arabia will finally reduce subsidies, the public sector wage bill and tranfers to the population. But it is more likely that Riyadh will instead cut capital spending and slow investment in social infrastructure.
It is possible that the investment reforms in Egypt will bear fruit, and foreign direct investment will pour in, setting off a prolonged period of growth, debt reduction and high employment. But it is much more likely that the countrys economy will stagnate.
Past experience suggests that when we look back from 2017, GDP growth in the Middle East will disappoint even these modest forecasts from the IMF. Repeated mentions of downside risk in the funds report hint that the analysts already know this.
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