For far too long, Arab governments have failed to provide job opportunities to their young populations.
Youth employment no longer optional
The Middle East is the youngest region in the world, with roughly 60 per cent of its population under the age of 25. This avalanche of youth brings with it tectonic challenges - unemployment, low career prospects and minimal political involvement chief among them.
And yet, despite years of warning, Arab governments have consistently failed to devise efficient economic policies to create jobs and opportunity for young people. These deficiencies helped spur the unrest in the Arab world this year, and will continue to test the capacity of governments going forward.
As The National reports today, 70 per cent of Arab youth want to emigrate from the region because of a shortage of job opportunities and a lack of political involvement. Add to this corruption, oppression and the lack of rule of law, and many of the region's brightest young people are seeking to leave their countries.
To stem this outflow of talent regional governments will need to create as many as 75 million jobs over the next decade. Khalid Al Wahishi, director of Population Policy and Immigration at the Arab League, reports that 26 per cent of Arab youth are unemployed. Luckier ones get employed but with low wages, and a lack of career prospects.
Youngsters need to be empowered with opportunity, and a robust private sector is the best way to do that. Arab governments need the political will to sustain that growth, first by stamping out corruption and then reducing the onerous red tape that keeps some promising ventures from ever taking off. In the Gulf states, opportunities for the young are mainly found in the public sector. This is unsustainable in the long-term.
Governments must also end restrictive labour regulations, open new lines of credit and ensure transparency in markets to spur investment. Reforming the education system, with a focus on meeting market demands, is essential in this process and for economic competitiveness.
The youth bulge is a force that can be harnessed for greatness, but as 2011 has taught, it can also cause a ruckus.
Redoubling a commitment to youth employment - and keeping youngsters in the region - must be a priority for new governments going forward.