With locust swarming Saudi Arabia and neighboring countries, Lebanon's economic collapse escalating, and the coronavirus outbreak spreading rapidly and causing major dips in Arab and Gulf economies, it's safe to say the Arab world has been going through a lot. But perhaps one of the most pressing issues, one that can easily dictate the future of a nation as a whole, is the seemingly unstoppable rise of unemployment across the entire region.
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), one in five young Arab people under the age of 25 is jobless with no skills. In 2018, the total unemployment rate in Arab countries registered 7.3 percent (over 4 million individuals), with the rate among Arab women double that of men.
With more and more people pursuing their higher education degrees, fresh grads have their diplomas resting by their nightstand as they wait for a chance to put their earned knowledge to work. On the opposite end of the spectrum, many others consider job hunting worthless in an economy that has crushed all ambition.
According to a research conducted by YouGov in collaboration with Arab News and Arab Strategy Forum, 55 percent of the youth population (people under the age of 30) believe corruption is the biggest problem their countries are facing. The second major problem is unemployment, followed by a lack of trust in their respective governments.
This study is especially significant considering a number of experts believe the level of system corruption in a given country and the unemployment rate go hand in hand. In other words, it's almost impossible for a country's economy to flourish when its own people do not trust the captain steering the ship, let alone foreigners risking their money in investments.
High unemployment rates, corruption and poverty go hand in hand in the majority of Arab countries
What have protests throughout the history of civilization been fueled by the most? Unemployment and slow economic growth. This answer is especially true in countries across the Arab world, according to a 2019 report published by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
IMF's director for the Middle East and Central Asia Jihad Azour shared insights on the organization's latest report in an interview with AFP. "We are in a region where the rate of unemployment at the youth level exceeds 25-30 percent and this requires growth to be higher by 1-2 percent in order to make a dent in joblessness," he said.
Unemployment is an issue plaguing countries all over the Arab world including those considered to be wealthy, namely Saudi Arabia.
In August 2019, Lebanon's official overall unemployment rate was 25 percent, with the rate for those under the age of 25 at 37 percent, according to the previous Labor Minister Mohammad Kabbara. That means only 63 percent of fresh grads end up finding a job in the country, which leaves around 30,000 young people with not even a chance for a job offer.
The staggering numbers led the majority of those youths to spark nationwide protests starting Oct. 17, demanding the corrupt government that has been ruling for decades to resign. Unironically, many said they will remain on the streets day in, day out because they do not even have jobs to show up to.
The numbers also foreshadow a bleak future in Palestine, where Jamal Al-Khudari, the head of the Popular Committee against the Siege in the Gaza Strip, said the Israeli siege of the Palestinian territory has "pushed the youth unemployment rate up to 70 percent."
"This miserable reality has had a serious negative impact on the unemployment rate," explained Al-Khudari. "There are now more than 300,000 unemployed workers in Gaza and tens of thousands of unemployed university graduates."
With no solutions set in place to combat the increasingly disastrous situation under the Israeli siege, it looks like a growing number of companies and businesses will be shutting down.
A paralyzed government leads to a paralyzed nation, and the vicious cycle seems to keep powering itself with the two continuing to move in a vis-à-vis spiral at the cost of a wasted youth.
How can the Arab world ever get back on its feet?
In 2017, the World Bank reported that the Syrian revolution killed approximately 500,000 people, displaced half the population (over 10 million people), and left two-thirds of Syrians in poverty. That same year, conflicts in both Yemen and Libya displaced more than 15 percent and 10 percent of their respective populations of 4 million and 6 million — and that's three years ago.
While we may not have official figures at the moment, we're willing to bet the numbers today are a lot more upsetting. The infrastructural damage these wars have caused amount to billions of dollars and will take years of economic growth to rebuild.
A starting point may certainly be acknowledging these numbers, disregarding false news, and implementing courses of action backed by research from actual professionals. Tackling unemployment must be prioritized across the region, and the people's trust in their government is key in aiding growth and helping a country get back on its feet once and for all.