Remittances have long formed an important part of money supply in the Middle East, with the poorer countries able to benefit from oil price spikes and the Gulfs construction booms as expatriate workers transfer their savings back home.
After India, the main destination for remittances from the Middle East, Egypt is the largest recipient in the region, benefiting from inflows of $19.6bn in 2014, predominantly from Saudi Arabia. The countries of the Levant are also major destinations, and over the years, they have grown accustomed to remittances providing a regular boost to their economy, keeping banking sector deposits high and generally helping to underpin financial stability.
But the collapse in oil prices since mid-2014 threatens to shrink this important source of funds. Some GCC governments have already begun making cost savings where possible and growth projections for the region as whole have been lowered. The value of contracts awards in the GCC so far in 2015 is much lower than last year as more scrutiny is given to project spending and decision-making slows.
As energy importers, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories have so far been able to benefit from the near 50 per cent drop in oil prices with the amount needed to be spent on fuel subsidies cut significantly. But if oil prices remain depressed for a long time, GCC governments will have no option but to cut back on spending, which has spiralled in recent years. This would mean fewer jobs for expatriate workers in the Gulf and less money for them to send home, with inevitable economic consequences for the receiving nations.