Banking on Arab youth to turn Arab countries around – Bessma Momani’s Arab Dawn: Arab Youth and the Demographic Dividend They Will Bring

Interesting study and conclusion:

Is the Arab world a lost cause? You’d be forgiven for reaching that conclusion. At a moment when the world’s other once-poor regions have all experienced significant improvements, the 22 Arabic-speaking countries stretched between Oman and Mauritania, with few exceptions, are stuck with stagnant economies, backward strongman political systems and simmering threats – and that’s the luckier ones.

But imagine for a moment that the current chaos and unrest is only a period of turbulence between two eras. Imagine if, a century from now, we were to look back upon the Arab 2010s as something like the French 1790s or the American 1770s or the English 1640s – a terrible time that foretold the creation of a better time.

To imagine this, you’d have to conclude that the current Arab “youth bulge” – the extraordinary proportion of the region’s population (at least a fifth) who are between 17 and 25 and whose unemployment, disappointment and youthful zealotry are currently key sources of its violence, instability and chaos – largely come of age, in a few years, as a new generation of adults seeking better economic and political futures.

Once the civil wars, riots, coups and countercoups played themselves out and some uneasy semi-democratic détente was reached, that generation’s education and literacy, urbanized and connected aspirations and entrepreneurial outlook gave rise to a period of improvement and reform that, while far from utopian, put the Middle East and North Africa onto the same modernizing track as the rest of the world.

This is exactly the mind exercise performed by Bessma Momani, a political scientist based at the University of Waterloo (and frequent Globe and Mail contributor) who specializes in the economies of the Middle East, in a new book surprisingly titled Arab Dawn: Arab Youth and the Demographic Dividend They Will Bring.

She spent several years surveying and interviewing young Arabs in half a dozen countries. She finds plenty of troubles – staggering unemployment, rising religiosity, sexism – but beneath it an emerging generation who are modern, educated and unwilling to settle for the closed nationalist economies, authoritarian politics and enforced subservience their parents endured.

Arabs are young, but aren’t having huge families, so are in a demographic sweet spot. Dr. Momani foresees this combination of factors paying the dividend her subtitle suggests.

Source: Banking on Arab youth to turn Arab countries around – The Globe and Mail

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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