The real message of the Arab Spring

Posted on October 25, 2011

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Action. Not words. Is the world listening?

World Economic Forum Special Meeting on Econom...

Klaus Schwab at the World Economic Forum Special Meeting on Economic Growth and Job Creation in the Arab World. (WEF via Flickr)

High-profile speakers at the World Economic Forum on economic growth and job creation in the Arab world, which concluded on Sunday in Jordan, were unanimous in proclaiming that supporting the aspirations of Arab youth is one of the most critical aspects of development. Participants ranging from King Abdullah of Jordan to former British prime minister Tony Blair played what ultimately began to sound like a stuck record: “We need more jobs. We need higher levels of entrepreneurship.”

The youth unemployment rate of 25% in the Middle East “exceeds that of any other region in the world,” the International Monetary Fund said in April 2011. Joblessness “is largely a youth phenomenon,” with people between the ages of 15 and 24 accounting for 40% of all people without jobs in the region, and this figure rising to as much as 60% in Egypt and Syria, the IMF said.

The Arab Spring was unleashed after an unemployed 26-year-old in Tunisia, Mohamed Bouazizi, immolated himself in December. The resulting wave of often violent revolutions has claimed the thrones of dictators in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. The message at the WEF was clear: if you do not want similar uprisings in more nations of the region, look at fulfilling the aspirations of its youth.

But fear is never a very effective cauldron in which to brew reform. At this moment, lip service is being paid to many concepts viewed as possible panaceas, including increased support for entrepreneurship in the Arab region. One thing is clear — political revolution will need to be followed by an economic revolution that supports competitiveness, increases education, combats corruption, promotes transparency and generally breaks down the social and financial barriers to entrepreneurship. To do this, the words uttered at forums such as the WEF will have to be translated into clear and present action. And the urgency to do this has been made more than manifest by the anger and frustration underpinning the Arab revolts.

— Yazad Darasha

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Posted in: Economy