With an unemployment rate of around 14%, and four million graduates joining the job market every year, Arab countries need to urgently develop a comprehensive strategy in order to resolve the issue of employment.
The first Arab conference on employment, held from 15 to 18 November in Algiers, was the first manifestation of the Arabs’ awareness of the enormous challenge of creating nearly 40 million jobs, according to the World Bank estimates, in these countries that often have exploding populations.
Governments and specialized social organizations are right; there is actually a need for concrete projects and a common and consolidated approach to enable Arab countries to provide a satisfactory solution to the problem of youth employment.
There is a lot to say regarding this common approach, because Arab states obviously have such different economies that would not allow them to follow a common approach yet.
Reforming the systems cannot be done easily in a context that requires urgent decisions.
In an economic liberal context (the degree of liberalism varies among Arab countries), it is commonly admitted that the public sector is not sufficient by itself to satisfy the demands of employment.
Therefore, the private sector needs to be stimulated through investment and entrepreneurship. However, the context is becoming increasingly difficult for the private sector as well, due to the global financial crisis on the one hand, and to the barriers that the Arab states set up between each other on the other hand.
Good intentions are obviously there as evidenced by the Economic and Social Summit that was held in Kuwait in January 2009, and which recommended reducing the gap between rich and poor Arab countries, with the objective of reducing unemployment by 50% by the year 2020.
In my point of view, although it is beneficial to see this collective awareness among Arab leaders to take joint actions and seek sustainable solutions for the issue of employment, it is also necessary to take precautions regarding their implementation, because the pan-Arab structures that will be in charge of monitoring the issue of employment do not exist yet, or are still at their first uncertain stages, or they exist but need to be reactivated through deep reforms that involve good governance and transparency.
It seems that each country is managing its own matters alone for the moment, claiming that they have found the right solutions for their citizens. In the Maghreb, for instance, leaders put forward the idea of creating small and medium businesses in order to spur employment, but these are individual solutions that are specific to each country. What the Arab world really needs is an integrated, or even unified, economy.
Another proof of the demobilization of common Arab structures is that many Arab countries have developed bilateral co-operation or initiated partnerships with European countries. Moreover, multilateralism is virtually nonexistent in the Arab world where mutual distrust still prevails.
In terms of solidarity, however, solutions may exist, even though they may be only temporary.
Countries such as Algeria or Libya, which are conducting major projects involving infrastructure and the services’ sector, offer great employment opportunities for their citizens and neighbors. The Gulf countries may also represent an interesting opportunity, especially in the same areas, provided that clear investment programs are adopted and that ideological conflicts are ignored, in order to focus on the interests of Arab citizens only.
The Arab oil-producing countries are actually the only ones capable of mobilizing financial resources for large-scale investments, thus creating both employment and wealth.
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