Economic growth has been one of the unintended victims of the Arab Spring. But as the new democracies of the region consider their priorities, it is critical that they not become enemies of business.
The toppled regimes of Libya, Tunisia and Egypt were notorious for their tight control over economic as well as political activity, and liberalisation was often a cover for giving monopoly businesses to friends of the presidents.
Some governments in the region have responded to the Arab Spring by falling back on old solutions of patronage: handing out free housing, benefits or government jobs. This is a dead end. It only sows the seeds of crisis in the future by fostering a culture of entitlement, undermining productivity and increasing the size of government.
There will be 100 million young Arabs entering the job market during the next 10 years, in a region where only 50 million jobs have been created in the past five decades.
So the Arab world needs jobs, and not government jobs.
Governments urgently need to respond to this challenge by evolving into enablers rather than controllers of their economies. They need to develop transparent, competitive economic spaces that reward enterprise. Only this will create the opportunities for thousands of small businesses to grow and offer jobs for the next generation.
In many cases, this means government must exit the commercial space and restrict itself to providing infrastructure, security, regulations and education. Young people need clear road maps to grow into vocational training that is suited to the industries in their communities.
The old solutions of stuffing young people into government bureaucracies while closing the door to foreign investment or domestic entrepreneurs will not work any more.
These lessons are being learnt at great human and economic cost in North Africa. Thankfully, the Gulf has the luxury of time to prepare for the day when its young people will also look to the private sector for the dignity of a decent living wage.