The Arab world’s high rate of youth unemployment is “a timebomb” which threatens the Middle East’s political stability, according to one of the UAE’s most prominent businessmen, who called for the implementation of a regional framework to promote private investment and create jobs.
Speaking at the 9th Arabian Business Forum in Dubai on Tuesday, Crescent Petroleum CEO Majid Jafar said joblessness, not a desire for democracy, was the major cause of the Arab Spring protests and had still not been addressed by the regional governments.
According to International Monetary Fund figures, around 20m young in the Middle East are out of work, which is among the highest rates in the world. “Three years after the so-called Arab Spring, nothing has been done about this problem,” claimed Jafar.
Jafar said that high unemployment figures in the region were due to insufficient economic growth in Arab countries, rigid labour market policies and a miss-match between education and skills required by employers.
“It has turned into an acute crisis with a need for urgent and rapid attention,” said Jafar. “The threat to the Middle East is instability, which is driven by this youth unemployment timebomb. We cannot achieve political stability without economic stability.”
Jafar said that Arab Spring countries could not rely on hand-outs from Gulf countries in the medium to long-term, and called for a new regional framework to promote private sector investment in infrastructure. “Loans and grants, although necessary in the short-term, do not address the root cause,” he said.
Jafar’s proposal, known as the Arab Stabilisation Plan, would prioritise infrastructure projects on a national level and boost economic growth in countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Libya.
Jafar said that the proposal, which takes its inspiration from the US-led Marshal Plan to rebuild post-war Europe, would create private sector jobs and prevent youths from drifting towards extremism.
He added that the investment would come primarily from within the Arab world, such as the Gulf countries, and that the region could not rely on the West for financial support.
Jafar told delegates at the Arabian Business Forum that jobs, rather than democracy, ought to be the legacy of the Arab Spring.
“Democracy is not a magic wand. Israel is never going to get security if Gaza has the highest youth unemployment in the world,” Jafar claimed.