Time ripe for Arab Marshall Plan

24 October 2012

An Arab version of Europe’s post-war economic programme is required to tackle the economic challenge facing the Middle East and North Africa

The scale of the economic challenge facing a region in the middle of political and social turmoil leaves existing financial aid measures looking distinctly unfit for purpose.

While the wealthiest Gulf states have sought to direct investment and financial assistance to North Africa, Jordan, even Bahrain and Oman, there has been little coordination, nor is there much sign of a coherent plan for the wider Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region.

With Syria facing a costly reconstruction bill whenever its conflict ends, Egypt looking for money to overhaul its flagging economy and the private sector across the region in urgent need of uplift, an Arab version of Europe’s post-war Marshall Plan is needed. Western donors appear less than interested in steering such a process, leaving the Gulf states very much in the driving seat. Clearly, the GCC’s financial surplus is sufficiently large to help underwrite a large slug of the capital that the region needs. But is the political will there yet? So far, governments appear more interested in pursuing their own interests.

Yet the foundations of a concerted regional financial rescue plan are already there, after the GCC extended around $20bn in assistance to Bahrain and Oman last year. This may, in time, come to be seen as the foundation stone for a much deeper aid and investment effort.

For some leading Gulf business figures such as National Bank of Kuwait chief executive officer Ibrahim Dabdoub, a new Marshall Plan is the only realistic solution to resolving the region’s endemic economic problems.

There will be challenges to overcome, such as ensuring that the needs of creditors and recipients are kept in sync. Many countries will be uncomfortable with the conditionality requirements of increased aid.

But with infrastructure sectors an obvious candidate for treatment from the Maghreb to the Levant, the time may be nearing for the disparate political elites to come together and think about the Mena region’s long-term development on a much larger tableaux.

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