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Middle East and North Africa's Growth to Slow: IMF

Photo: Pete Turner | Getty Images

Economic growth in the Middle East and North Africa will moderate to 3.1 percent this year before recovering to 3.7 percent in 2014, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said in its economic outlook for the region on Tuesday.

The expected slowdown – which follows growth of 4.7 percent in 2012 – will be driven by scaled-back oil production in countries exporting the commodity, which include Algeria, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen, the organization said.

The region's oil importers - Afghanistan, Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Pakistan, Sudan, and Tunisia – are expected to see a modest recovery, although the IMF said disparities between the two types of economies were "expected to narrow" this year.

The organization joined a growing number of industry experts in expressing concern about the long-term risks to hydrocarbon prices from the U.S. shale "revolution", should it spread around the world. It is an issue that has been intensely debated, and analysts are divided about how it could undermine the dominance of countries like Saudi Arabia in the oil industry.

(Read More: US Energy Boom Is Great, Unless You're the Saudis)

Economic growth in 2013 was forecast to slow to 4.4 percent in the world's top oil exporter, although it would still be among the faster expanding members of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Qatar, which is ratcheting up spending in preparation for the World Cup in 2022, is expected to be the group's best performer, with economic growth of 5.2 percent this year.

For the petrodollar states, fiscal policy would need to be tightened through specific measures to rein in rising break-even prices, the IMF said.

"To build resilience to a possible sustained decrease in the oil price, increases in hard-to-reverse current government expenditures, like the wage bill and subsidies, should be contained," it said in its report.

But the downside risks to oil prices would be of limited benefit to oil-importing neighbors such as Egypt and Jordan, the IMF added.

"It will give breathing room and they will gradually bounce back. But their debt metrics will continue to worse. They will need to restrain budgetary expenditures and reinstill investor confidence," Giyas Gokkent, Chief Economist at National Bank of Abu Dhabi, told CNBC.

This could be easier said than done. The IMF revealed little about the progress of negotiations over a $4.8 billion loan with the government of Egypt, adding only that it was "in discussion with a possible loan arrangement".

Masood Ahmed, Director of the Middle East and North Africa at the IMF, told CNBC that the Egyptian government was reviewing its growth projections and that it "was not easy".

The fund has already concluded agreements with Jordan, Morocco, Yemen and Tunisia.

(Read More: Middle East CEOs Worry about Region's Youth Boom)

Conversely, Citigroup's Chief Economist for the Middle East, Farouk Soussa, warned that short-term targets were different. "Political stability needs to come first. Everything else comes as a result of that," he told CNBC.

More than two years on from the Arab Spring, the IMF cautioned the region's decision makers to "not lose sight of the medium-term challenge of diversifying its economies, creating jobs, and generating more inclusive growth."

Meanwhile, it said the potential impact of an escalation in geopolitical tensions was difficult to predict.

"Growing regional economic and social spillovers from the conflict in Syria add to the complexity of the economic environment," the report said.

But for Gokkent, that was not the only concern. "Risk of conflict between Iran and the U.S. is a perennial worry," he added.

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