Jamaa el Fna market square, Marrakesh, Morocco (Credit: kasto/Bigstock)
Jamaa el Fna market square, Marrakesh, Morocco (Credit: kasto/Bigstock)

In the last five years, following the Arab Spring events of 2010, civil wars and disarray in Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen have undermined the economic growth of MENA (Middle East and North Africa) countries.

However, for over half a century before that, MENA had been a relatively successful region in terms of economic growth. Its per capita GDP growth rates from 1960 to 2010 were generally higher than the rest of the world, with the exception of the 1980s (due to the Iran-Iraq war and the 1986 oil price collapse).

Per capita GDP growth rates in MENA countries in the postwar period were certainly well below those of the East Asian tigers and dragons, and a little below South Asia, but they were higher than in other regions of the Global South – Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and the former Soviet Union. Three countries in the region – Israel, Oman, and Tunisia – were among the 20 fastest growing countries of the world between 1950 and 2010.[1]

In terms of social progress – education and life expectancy – the achievements of the MENA region were even more spectacular. Many MENA countries increased their life expectancy greatly between 1960 and 2010, to levels exceeding 70 years in most countries (in Russia, by comparison, it was 72 in 2015).

The increase in Arab countries’ life expectancy in the period 1970-2010 was the highest in the world, whereas the increase in school enrolment and literacy was higher than in all other regions of the world with the exception of Sub-Saharan Africa, which started at a very low base level.

The Human Development Index (HDI) – an average of calibrated indicators including per capita income, educational levels (enrolment and years of schooling), and life expectancy – increased by 65% in Arab countries between 1970 and 2010, which is more than in any other region of the world except for East Asia (96%) and South Asia (72%).


What are the reasons for the relatively strong economic and social performance of MENA countries?

To what extent is this performance explained by variations in oil (resource) prices?

What are the prospects for future growth in the region?

How does the performance of MENA countries compare to that of other Muslim states, such as countries in Central Asia?



[1]The Next Economic Miracle in the Middle East? – Group of strategic vision “Russia – Islamic world”. March 2016 (http://pages.nes.ru/vpopov/documents/MIDDLE%20EAST=economy%20and%20social%20development.pdf).


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Vladimir Popov
Vladimir Popov is a Principal Researcher in the Central Economics and Mathematics Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. He is also a professor emeritus at the New Economic School in Moscow, and an adjunct research professor at the Institute of European and Russian Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa. In 2009-15 he worked in DESA, UN, as a Senior Economic Affairs Officer and Inter-regional Adviser. He has published extensively on world economy and development issues (he is the editor of three books, and author of ten books and hundreds of articles, including in the Journal of Comparative Economics, World Development, Comparative Economic Studies, Cambridge Journal of Economics, New Left Review, as well as essays in the media). His books and articles have been published in Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Turkish. His most recent book is “Mixed Fortunes: An Economic History of China, Russia, and the West” (Oxford University Press, 2014). He graduated from the Economics Department of the Moscow State University in 1976, and holds PhDs (Candidate of Science, 1980; and Doctor of Science, 1990) from the Institute for US and Canadian Studies of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. More info can be found at his website: www.carleton.ca/~vpopov