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Daniel Lederman, Lead Economist and Deputy Chief Economist for the MENA Region of the World Bank Group, will present the World Bank’s MENA Economic Update (April 2020).
Abstract | Due to the dual shocks of the spread of the virus and lower oil prices, World Bank economists expect output of MENA to decline in 2020. This is in sharp contrast to the growth forecast of 2.6 percent published in October 2019. The growth downgrade of 3.7 percentage points is arguably a measure for the costs associated with the dual shocks of Covid-19 and the oil price collapse. These numbers are tentative. The true impact depends on future developments of the dual shocks, policy and society’s response, which depends on the transparent use of health and economic data.
We recommend a two-step approach: It might be desirable to focus first on responding to the health emergency and the associated economic contraction. Fiscal consolidation and structural reforms associated with the persistent drop in oil prices and pre-existing challenges are also very important, but with proper external support, can wait until the health emergency subsides. Nevertheless, the MENA region has challenges that predate the crisis – it has been growing far slower than its peers. Had MENA’s growth of output per capita been the same as that of a typical peer economy over the past two decades, the region’s real output per capita would be at least 20% higher than what it is today. A large part of MENA’s low growth is arguably due to a lack of transparency. MENA is the only region that dropped in data transparency and capacity since 2005. We estimate that this has cost MENA 7-14 percent in GDP per capita losses since 2005.
Lack of transparency hinders credible analyses of many important issues, two of which are highlighted in the report. First, lack of data transparency hampers credible analyses on the region’s debt sustainability – an important issue to examine after the crisis. MENA countries vary greatly in their debt reporting standards. World Bank economists and other external analysts do not have access to vital information about many types of public debt. Second, the unemployment and informality numbers in the region are debatable since MENA countries rely on varying definitions of employment with little harmonization across the region or with respect to international standards. This affects analyses of unemployment and informality.
Speaker | Daniel Lederman is Lead Economist and Deputy Chief Economist for the Middle East and North Africa Region of the World Bank Group. An economist and political scientist by training, Mr. Lederman has published numerous books and articles on a broad set of issues related to economic development, including financial crises, crime, political economy of economic reforms, economic growth, innovation, international trade and labor markets. Daniel Lederman received a B.A. in Political Science from Yale University and M.A. and PhD degrees from the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).
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Abstract | Social media has breathed life into speech and social movements across the world. Barriers of place and time are digitally overcome as political activism transcends borders, continents, and time zones. In the United States, “online activism”—the phenomenon whereby individuals transform social media platforms into forums for organised dissent and advocacy—has revolutionised organising and assembly. Online activism propels longstanding grievances against police brutality of African American communities, discrimination against Muslims, sexual harassment of women, and a myriad of other injustices once limited to traditional forums into global digital spaces in ways previously unimaginable. Online activism has, in short, revolutionised the way people organise and mobilise against state or private injustices – and everything suggests that this phenomenon is still very much in its infancy.
Despite these seismic changes, some things remain the same. Government agencies still disproportionately police minority communities’ collective political action. Black and Muslim activists are still presumed suspicious on account of their political dissidence, and oftentimes benign activity gives rise to suspicion. But instead of physically following and listening in on these Black and Brown activists’ lives, law enforcement now surveils their social media accounts, virtual footprints, and online lives. This online footprint is more accessible, and in turn, exposes marginalised groups to modern form forms of monitoring that are more intrusive, and potentially, more injurious.
Social media surveillance is an emerging tentacle of the broader phenomenon of “big data policing”. Undercover agents and their proxies create fake accounts that infiltrate online groups focused on #BlackLivesMatter, #MuslimLivesMatter, #NoBanNoWall, and other social justice issues. Local police departments and federal agencies pay millions of dollars to purchase online monitoring software that collects and mines social media content to identify purported suspicious behaviour. Broad terms and coordinated hashtags—such as ISIS, mujahedin, ummah, chapelhill, Blacklivesmatter, Ferguson, and protest—are used to target individual activists.
Speaker | Sahar Aziz is Professor of Law, Chancellor’s Social Justice Scholar, and Middle East and Legal Studies Scholar at Rutgers University Law School. Professor Aziz’s scholarship examines the intersections of national security, race, and civil rights with a focus on the adverse impact of national security laws and policies on racial, ethnic, and religious minorities in the U.S. She is the founding director of the Centre for Security, Race and Rights at Rutgers Law School.
Chair | Luigi Narbone, Director of the Middle East Directions Programme, EUI
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