It has nearly been six years since the self-immolation of a Tunisian fruit vendor triggered a wave of uprisings across the Arab world. What has changed since the people in the Middle East and North Africa went out onto the streets to demand freedom?
A new UN report paints a dire picture, warning that the conditions could be rife for another uprising. Focusing on the region’s youth, the Arab Human Development Report shows that while the region has experienced a wave of unprecedented change, a lack of opportunities and inclusiveness persists.
Part of that can be traced back to the prevalence of conflict over the last decade. While making up 5% of the world’s population, the Arab region has experienced 25% of global conflicts since 2010. Events in Syria, Libya and Yemen serve as harsh reminders of that reality. The region’s wars have, the report says, “caused massive damage to basic infrastructure and interrupted an already deficient development process”. By 2050, three out of four people in the Arab region will live in high conflict-risk countries and by 2020 over 350 million people will be vulnerable to conflict.
A simultaneous rise in military spending has had “a negative effect on investment in education, health care, infrastructure and the productive sectors”. Youth unemployment is the highest among world regions.
As a result, this means that the prospects for young people “remain more vulnerable than ever”, which could also risk feeding into extremism. If their voices and aspirations remain ignored, the youth “will become a potent source of protracted social instability, threatening human security,” the authors argue. Youth voting participation is at the lowest level globally.
What needs to be done? A move away from a view held by many governments that the region’s young people are a burden on development, towards seeing them as a resource and thus empowering them, the report says.
Higher quality education, job opportunities and the possibility to participate actively in public life are some of the key pillars of a strategy for the future outlined in the report. This won’t be an easy feat as the region needs to create more than 60 million jobs by 2020 to stabilise youth unemployment and absorb new entrants to the job market. In the end, the future of its youth is also the future of the region.