Super-rich in Middle East and North Africa nearly double wealth in just three years, as world’s most unequal region buckles under debt and austerity

Publié: 4th octobre 2023

The COVID-19 pandemic and cost-of-living crisis were a windfall for the ultra-wealthy in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), who saw their wealth almost double between 2019 and 2022, reveals an Oxfam report published today ahead of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) Annual Meetings in Marrakech. 

The richest 0.05 percent (106,080 people) with wealth above $5 million saw their wealth surge by 75 percent from $1.6 trillion in 2019 to $3 trillion by the end of 2022. In addition, the region’s 23 billionaires have accumulated more wealth in the last three years than in the entire decade that preceded them.

This boom in ultra-wealth comes on the back of every country in MENA sinking deeper into debt. In Tunisia, public debt increased from 43 percent of GDP in 2010 to 80 percent in 2021, in Egypt from 70 percent to 90 percent, and in Morocco from 45 percent to 69 percent. Lebanon saw its debt increase to a staggering 151 percent in 2020 when the country was forced to default on it.

The IMF is providing financial assistance to three countries in the region, with at least two others in the midst of loan negotiations. Over the past decade, the IMF has insisted on harmful austerity policies in its loan programs that have contributed to the underfunding of critical inequality-busting public services, such as healthcare and education.

“It has been an astonishing few years for the wealthy. They’ve thrived as the pandemic and inflation have squeezed family finances and forced millions of people into poverty,” said report author and Oxfam International Senior Policy Advisor Nabil Abdo.

“Austerity measures are not the answer to the Middle East’s colliding challenges —they serve only to shield the wealthiest people in society from shouldering any of the burdens of economic reforms, while entrenching inequality and poverty,” Abdo said. 

Even before the pandemic, the MENA region was one of the most unequal in the world, as countries grappled with complex challenges including conflict, climate change, rising unemployment and grossly underfunded public services.

Oxfam is calling on governments to claw back this extreme wealth for the public good. A five percent wealth tax on fortunes over $5 million in Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco and Jordan combined could generate $10 billion in revenue.  This could be used to invest in quality public services, peace and security, and tackling climate change. 

Such a wealth tax would allow Egypt to double its spending on healthcare, Jordan to double its education budget and Lebanon to increase its spending on both healthcare and education seven times over. Morocco alone could raise $1.22 billion, at a time it is facing an $11.7 billion repair bill from the recent devastating earthquake there.

“Governments of the region must reject austerity and the devastating consequences it brings, and instead work towards fulfilling the aspirations of their people. The IMF needs to enable governments to pursue economic policies that redistribute income and wealth and invest in public goods. It’s time to tax wealth and begin closing the massive divide between the rich and the rest of us,” Abdo said.

Notes aux rédactions

Download “The MENA Gap: Prosperity for the Rich, Austerity for the Rest” and methodology note.

Oxfam’s calculations are based on the most up-to-date and comprehensive data sources available. Figures on the very richest in society come from Forbes’ Billionaires List

Morocco plans to spend at least $11.7 billion (120 billion dirhams) in a post-earthquake reconstruction plan over the next five years.

The top 0.05 percent is calculated from 106,080 individuals with a net wealth of $5 million and above in Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

The World Bank Annual and IMF Annual meetings will be held October 9-15 in Marrakesh, only the second time the meetings have been held in MENA since Dubai in 2003.

Countries in MENA currently with IMF loans are Egpyt, Jordan, Morocco

Tunisia and Lebanon are currently negotiating loans with the IMF. 


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