The World Bank’s latest report, “Doing Business in 2006”, on the state of the world economy did not feature many positives regard the Arab world. The region came first on the unemployment index, especially amongst the young. The gap between Arab countries and those of Latin American and Africa continues to grow with 22% of young men currently unemployed and 24% of women. These rates point to an impending economic and social crisis and constitute fertile grounds for terrorists and criminals.
Arab countries were also found to thwart small and medium businesses with heavy legal burdens and piecemeal reforms and given the tag “hostile to economic prosperity” because of the obstacles and complicated procedures investors face, the high levels of corruption and the lack of technological development.
In Syria, it takes 63 days, 18 documents, and 47 signatures from the time imported goods arrive in ports until they reach the factory gate. In Yemen, it takes over $15,000 initial capital to start a business, equivalent to 27 times the annual per capita income. Which young man or woman in Yemen is likely to engage in such activity in this climate? In Iraq, a business needs signatures from 70 different officials to export goods abroad. The examples are too many to be listed; they indicate a lack of competitiveness and an escalating unemployment rate.
In countless public speeches, Arab leaders have promised to create employment opportunities, make medicine freely available and improve education. In truth, however, millions continue to suffer from unemployment, poverty, a lack of opportunities, the absence of clean drinking water, and a lack of respect.
When will pronouncements become reality? When will corruption come to an end? When will public funds stop to be siphoned by officials? Will Arab leaders take action or risk popular uprisings? We ask all these questions with voices tinged with sadness and pain at the current state of our region.