The Syria conflict was initially part of a wave of uprisings in 2011 known as the Arab Spring, which began in part as a cry for political freedom and more economic opportunity. Fast-forward to today where unemployment in some of these countries is among the highest in the world.
“They are depressingly high if you look at the region as a whole,” Sudeep Reddy, an economics reporter for The Wall Street Journal, tells Tell Me More host Michel Martin. “About 25 percent of youth, 1 in 4 people, are unemployed, between the ages of 15 and 24 — and that is actually, probably, undercounting the severity of the problem.”
Martin spoke about Arab youth and unemployment with Reddy and Shadi Hamid, director of research for the Brookings Doha Center. What follows is excerpts from the interview:
Reddy on unemployment numbers
“It takes some time to get these figures, and most of these numbers are from last year or even the year before, and the economic environment in most of these countries has deteriorated substantially since then, so it’s probably much higher. Certain countries, Tunisia, which was seen as the big hope of the region, the spark for the Arab Spring, youth unemployment is well above 30 percent and there’s really little prospect of it coming down any time soon.”
Reddy on lack of investment
“For decades, these countries actually did a pretty good job of getting education for younger people, of advancing them into secondary education. Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, these are places where people were able to get college degrees, and now they’re facing two problems.
“One is just the overall economic backdrop is miserable when you have this kind of political dysfunction, you’re not going to see businesses wanting to invest and create jobs. You’re certainly not going to see foreign companies want to come in and do investment in a lot of these areas.
“But also, in many cases, the people who got educations might have gotten the wrong education. There’s a lot of skills mismatch going on, and younger people who have these high expectations are waiting and hoping that they will get better jobs instead of getting the jobs that people without education would be getting right now.”
Hamid on economic difficulties in Egypt
“As long as there’s a lack of political stability — whether that means protests or coups or repressive crackdowns against the opposition, all of that is going to contribute to an environment where not only tourists don’t want to come in, but also investors.
“And investors have been waiting on the wings hoping that the situation in Egypt will stabilize so they can start bringing capital back in. But that hasn’t happened, and it doesn’t seem like Egypt is going to have that kind of necessary for the foreseeable future.”
Hamid on economic reforms
“It’s simply too politically dangerous because that’s going to affect the poor, that’s going to affect how much bread or fuel costs. So the question is are political leaders willing to actually go through those difficult reforms when that might actually mean that people go to the street and protest. And no one wants to put themselves in that position in one government after another.”