Recently, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) launched: “the Arab Human Development Report (AHDR) 2016: Youth and the Prospects for Human Development in a Changing Reality.” The report highlights shocking facts and statistics regarding many aspects of the status of youth and the development process in the Arab world. It forecasts the risk of increasing chaos across Arab countries in the coming years.
In the Arab world, the population between the ages of 15 and 29 years is currently at 105 million and unemployment, poverty and marginalization of this population is growing. These and many other issues need to be considered and addressed by Arab governments. The report details growing feelings of inequality and frustration among youth as a result of high unemployment rates and a lack of political engagement. These are historic problems for the Arab world but we already know that increased marginalization and isolation can lead to violence and increased security threats and conflict.
Arabs represent 5% of the global population and are involved in more than 45% of terrorist acts. Arabs also make up a high percentage of the world’s refugee population. The report highlights the illegal immigration of frustrated and desperate people, but does not mention that educated and enlightened Arabs began leaving the region many years ago as they felt there is no place for them in their own countries. Arab immigration can be categorized as those who choose to leave and those who are forced.
The failure to build national identities, and the reliance on religious and tribal identity is one of the major reasons behind these issues in the Arab world. The report indicates that increasingly, Arab youth identify themselves more with their religion, sect or tribe than by their country. In 2002, five Arab states were mired in conflict and today there are 11. By 2020, the report predicts that almost three out of four Arabs could be “living in countries vulnerable to conflict”.
The terrifying facts in this report should urge all Arab governments to adopt effective strategies based on investing in the human-building process. The investment in cultural revolution and in providing people with decent services to give them the chance to build their own future. That is the key to effective change. Investments must be made in everything from culture to agriculture and target concrete issues that can change people’s lives.
For comparison, the report included the level of spending amongst Arab governments on security and foreign arms purchases. It is important to look at various police states that spent billions on security and the military, and still ended up a theater for chaos. Arab Governments should invest in its citizens and culture. The more these governments succeed in engaging their citizens in the political and development process, the safer they will be. The key is to engage their citizens as protagonists for positive change, rather than antagonists to a properly functioning and safe society.
Dr. Amer Al Sabaileh
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