x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Reforms can lead to job creation

High unemployment across the region was one of the main causes of the Arab uprisings; bureaucracy, corruption, crony capitalism and lack of official enthusiasm for job creation impeded any hope of an employment boom.

As the Arab Spring began and spread, many small-business people across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region, including some who supported the protests, began to worry that unrest would disrupt, even destroy, their businesses, leaving them and their employees out of work. They were not all wrong in this fear.

Jobless rates, previously high across most of Mena, have now been driven higher in several countries by the tumult. Once the political situation stabilises, country by country, governments and entrepreneurs alike will have their work cut out for them in putting people back into jobs.

High unemployment across the region was, after all, one of the main causes of the Arab uprisings; in too many countries bureaucracy, corruption, crony capitalism and lack of official enthusiasm for job creation impeded any hope of an employment boom. Indeed the street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi's self- immolation in Tunisia, which sparked the unrest across the region, came about after his grocery business was confiscated.

The International Labour Organisation reported last week that over a quarter of youths aged 15-24 in Mena are now unemployed. That's more than twice the global average. Meanwhile the region lags badly in postsecondary education rates.

The Mena region's hope must be that the Arab Spring will bring reforms allowing businesses, large and small, to take root and flourish. There is real promise of this in some countries, such as Tunisia and Egypt, provided that political squabbling can be brought to an end and give way to economic liberalisation.

In Yemen, Libya and in particular Syria, however, the immediate situations are even more perilous and short-term pain will probably worsen before any long-term economic and political gain arrives.

To many across the Arab world, the UAE remains a land of opportunity where small businesses can flourish, and steady employment is more readily available. But even here there is room for improvement - certainly in the ease of starting small businesses. Still, many Arabs certainly see opportunities here they do not see at home.

In the long run, political and economic reforms across Mena should lead to more job creation, better educational opportunities, and a reduction in the sad waste of talent reflected in the region's jobless rate.