Lack of lending contributing to region's weak growth, inability to generate jobs, report says
Middle East and North African banks must do more to offer ordinary people and smaller businesses in the region broad, reliable and equal access to financing, the World Bank said on Thursday.
"Financial systems across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) proved resilient during the global financial crisis and subsequent political shocks," the report, titled "Financial Access and Stability: A Roadmap for the Middle East and North Africa", concludes.
But the report, compiled in consultation with member countries and Arab banks, says financial institutions fail to provide access to finance, contributing to relatively weak growth performance and inability to generate jobs.
"Large segments of the population and the enterprise sector - especially small and medium enterprises - remain deprived from finance due to the limited access to bank lending and other financial services, as well as the lack of suitable alternatives to bank finance," it says.
It says MENA financial sectors are dominated by large, well-capitalised banks, but they are undiversified and uncompetitive, lacking in many cases insurance companies, mutual and pension funds, leasing, and factoring.
"Equity markets are large in many countries, but mainly dominated by financial institutions and infrastructure companies. Private fixed-income instruments and markets remain negligible," it says.
The region includes Gulf Arab states whose oil and gas reserves and small populations, make them some of the wealthiest countries in the world.
But governments throughout the region, rich or poor, dynasties or republics, tend to dominate economic life, leaving large sectors of the population marginalised.
Access to loans for housing has been problematic for Arabs in poor Egypt and wealthy Saudi Arabia.
"We see large numbers of university graduates who don't have access to opportunities and jobs; we see young couples who can't get married because the housing finance market is almost non-existent," Loic Chiquier, Director of Finance at the World Bank, said in a statement.
"All this just increases the sense of economic exclusion and political discontent," he said.
A popular uprising that ousted Tunisian ruler Zine Abidine Ben Ali in January set off a chain of protest movements that have claimed so far Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.
Protesters rose against political repression, corruption and narrow cliques who benefited from economic policies that failed to create jobs and backed up the rulers in return.
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad both face continuing unrest against them.
Egypt and Tunisia have been in talks with international financial institutions as well as Western and Gulf Arab governments on financing to help them get through post-uprising economic troubles.
Arab central bank governors meeting in Qatar on Thursday said they would tell upcoming World Bank and IMF meetings that countries hit by unrest need more support.