The revolutions that broke out in Tunisia, then later on in Egypt, and then extended to other parts of the Arab world, have put youths at the forefront of events because they were the fuel behind them. An economic study was recently issued indicating that 25 percent of youths in the Arab world are unemployed, and one should pause to think here, because such a study does indeed ring alarm bells. This means that a significant part of our manpower is either squandered or inactive, and that our future is threatened, for young people are the backbone any nation that looks to the future and to achieving progress. In the Arab world, given the fact that people under the age of 30 constitute over 60 percent of the total population (the world’s second highest ratio after sub-Saharan Africa), addressing the concerns and problems of this generation is a crucial issue.
The aforementioned study was part of a report issued jointly last week by the International Funding Corporation, affiliated to the World Bank, and the Islamic Bank for Development, of which Asharq al-Awsat published highlights in its Thursday issue. The report indicated that Arab countries incur annual losses estimated at US$ 50 billion, as a result of unemployment. The report also warned that pressures will increase further in the next few years, with the youth influx into the labor market, in search of jobs, dignified living standards, and a secure future. The report highlighted the importance of education and training, as millions of youths fail to secure jobs due to the poor education standards. There is also a dire need to modernize education, in order to meet the current labor market requirements.
Arab states rank second last in terms of global spending on education. Considering the overall amount spent on education worldwide, Arab states constitute only 3 percent, whereas America contributes to 55 percent, Asia 18 percent, and Latin America 8 percent.
As for the field of scientific research, Israel far exceeds the Arab states, whereas a country like Finland spends ten times as much as the entire Arab world’s scientific research budget, when population figures are taken into account. However, the Gulf States, especially Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE, have recently begun to promote spending in this vital sector.
Such statistics and reports paint a bleak image of the future, and reflect a state of anxiety in our societies, especially amongst Arab youths who feel that their needs and concerns are being neglected, and that they are facing a hopeless situation and an uncertain future. Therefore, it was not odd that the Arab revolutions were set off by Mohammed Bouazizi’s suicide, after his goods were seized and his vending cart destroyed, which were the basis of his livelihood in these times of poverty and scarce employment opportunities. However, this was not the sole factor that drove Bouazizi to utter despair, setting himself on fire in public in order to show his objection to injustice and bleak horizons. Bouazizi also felt humiliated when he was slapped in the face by a policewoman, after he objected to the looting and seizure of his goods. Furthermore, all previous attempts to protest against the municipal authorities had ended in failure.
Thus, we can conclude that elements of poverty, authoritative law, administrative neglect, and the public corruption that prevailed in a ruling apparatus that did not care about its citizens, all prompted Bouazizi to commit suicide out of despair and oppression. Protests then extended to Sidi Bou Said before the rest of Tunisia, then Egypt, and then several countries across the Arab world. Yet, before protests reached their peak, we witnessed several incidents of suicide similar to that of Boazizi in other Arab states, committed by people who suffered poverty or unemployment, and the loss of rights and hope.
The economic factor alone does not offer an explanation for the uprisings witnessed by the Arab world, and it cannot be considered as the only solution, for instance, Libya is not a poor country, but its reckless and oppressive regime – which deemed its citizens as “rats” to be crushed – has destroyed the country and led it towards poverty, causing its people to revolt in search of their rights and dignity. When the revolution broke out in Tunisia, it was experiencing a better economic period than Egypt. Yet the corruption that prevailed during the Zine El Abidine Ben Ali era had exhausted the country, and the severe repression generated a sense of injustice, prompting people to call for the overthrow of the regime during the demonstrations they staged.
Numerous factors are overlapping here, and without [considering all of] them the picture will remain imperfect, and the solutions incomplete. To analyze the current phenomenon of revolutions in the Arab world, researchers will have to look into different political, economic and social factors that caused the situation to explode. It is true that causes may vary from country to country, and the remedy may differ according to the circumstance of each society, yet what remains to be said is that there is a consensus that the situation in the Arab world necessitates reform, and that matters should not remain as they are. As for the youths who sparked the revolutions in a number of countries, they are now seeking a better future and dignified standards of living, in which job opportunities are ensured, political rights are guaranteed, laws are maintained, and corruption is combated through governments that work to serve the citizens, not vice-versa.