ID4D Interview with Samir AITA: Inequalities in the Arab world: Move from rent to tax

Six years after the Arab Spring movements, inequalities that largely triggered them still pose a problem in the Arab world. Samir Aita, a Franco-Syrian economist, takes a look at their causes, consequences and potential ways of addressing these.

What are the terms of the debate on inequalities in the Arab world? Traditional approaches focus on poverty rates and on “discrimination in results”, expressed, for example, via the Gini index or access to education. This is the case with reports by the World Bank or Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA). However useful these approaches may be, they suffer from a lack of data in the countries studied. Household income and expenditure surveys are few and far between and are not conducted regularly. They also often do not comply with international standards or are simply not published. It is extremely difficult to monitor the impacts of public policies and the current upheavals, despite the commitment of Arab countries in the UN programs for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) or Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This is easy to see when you monitor the SDG global comparison indicators. These surveys are no less problematic, as they do not include the non-national share of the population. Yet Gulf countries, and others such as Lebanon and Jordan, today have an immigrant population which can be equal to or higher than the number of nationals. Consequently, what does the measurement of poverty or of the rate of access to universities in Qatar, as in the UAE, mean if migrants are not taken into account? The Gini indexes suffer from the same scarcity of surveys and provide us with little information. Moreover, Arab countries are among the global average, except for the Gulf countries, which are much more unequal than countries with similar levels of GDP per capita. While most employment is informal, most of the high incomes which serve to pay for it are as well. This means that we are unable to measure inequalities in the Arab world.

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