The article originally appeared on India Today.
Here it is a bit modified and extended.
“The prospects of young people in the region are, now more than ever, jeopardized by poverty, economic stagnation, governance failure and exclusion, all compounded by the violence and fragility of the body politic.”
That, we can say is the central theme of the latest Arab Development Report (ADR 2016) released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) recently.
UNDP, so far, has released six ADRs and the themes of the reports say how the condition has worsened in region from 2002 to 2016. The first ADR, in 2002, was themed on opportunities, while the latest one, in 2016, raises tough questions on the very real possibility of yet another round of the Arab revolution or awakening, five years after the Arab Spring of 2011.
WILL IT BE ARAB SPRING 2.0?
It seems so if we go by the findings of the latest ADR – “Arab Human Development Report 2016: Youth and the Prospects for Human Development in a Changing Reality”.
The 2011 Arab Spring was largely youth driven who were well connected through social media. They were staring at a blank when it came to future security. Five years later, the Arab unemployment rate remains abysmally low. At 30%, it is double the global average. Moreover, today’s youth are more educated and more connected but less employable. The discontent is brewing.
The ADR says, “Events in the region since 2011 have demonstrated the ability of young people to initiate action and catalyse change. They demonstrated young people’s awareness of the serious challenges to development posed by current conditions, and their ability to express the dissatisfaction of society as a whole with those conditions and its demands for change. These events also revealed the depth of the marginalisation that young people suffer and their inability to master the instruments of organised political action that could guarantee the peacefulness and sustainability of such change.”
The youth in the region are cursed to live in a region of despotic leaders that, with a population base of just 5% of the world, has seen 14% of the world’s terror. The corresponding data set is even worse. The Arab region has 57.5% of the world’s refugees and 47% of the world’s internally displaced. The region saw the world’s 68.5%% of battle related deaths from 1989 to 2014. The global average is 27.7%. Average military expenditure per capita of the region is over 65% of the global average. The report indicates rapidly increasing conflict zones in the region and says by 2050, 3 of 4 Arabs would be living in the high conflict zones.
IT LOOKS SCARY
Such abysmal figures tell of a bleak future, especially for its youth who have even fewer opportunities than 2011 and are now compartmentalized in different conflict zones and are therefore unable to move, the report says. And they are the largest chunk of the Arab population – two-thirds of them are below 30 years.
And they have nowhere to go. The report writes, “Young people’s awareness of their capabilities and rights collides with a reality that marginalises them and blocks their pathways to express their opinions, actively participate or earn a living. As a result, instead of being a massive potential for building the future, youth can become an overwhelming power for destruction.”
The report paints a worrying scenario, “Youth in the Arab region suffer to varying degrees as a result of the state of human development. Young people feel deeply anxious about their future and are gripped by an inherent sense of discrimination and exclusion. Many of them do not receive good education, find suitable employment, or have appropriate health care. Moreover, youth in Arab countries are insufficiently represented in public life, and have no meaningful say in shaping policies that influence their lives.”
THEY ARE NOT VOTING..BUT THEY ARE PROTESTING..
When we see the youth voting rate, at 68.3%, it is lowest in the world. The global average is 87.4%. But it doesn’t mean that they are not participating in the sociopolitical processes. They are voting less but are protesting more. It means they don’t have faith in the existing governments. According to the report, over 18% of the Arab youths participated in protests in 2013, almost double of the global average of 10.8%.
What other options do they have? A region run by ruthless military rulers or monarchs that believes in spending more on arms and terrorism than human development, as the figures above say, was waiting for this to happen. All was well till easy oil money was there, as the state could co-opt the dissenting voices, while building palaces and businesses of those who roamed in the power corridors. It is well known that most outfits and jobs in the Arab countries are in the government sector. But now, as the oil prices are historically low and future looks grim on price revisions despites the oil producing block OPEC’s repeated attempts, that easy option is gone.
The report says, “The gains in human development rarely translated into gains in productivity and growth because the model trapped human capital in unproductive public sector jobs, while building up a pyramid of privilege that gave economic advantages to companies and individuals closely linked to decision makers and reinforcing structural alliances among political and economic elites so they could protect their own interests. Ultimately, the model supported individuals from cradle to grave, but bequeathed a negative legacy.”
2011 ARAB SPRING
The 2011 Arab Spring had swept the Arab world in the Middle East and North Africa but it remained far from achieving its desired end. It resulted in removal of four despotic rulers – in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen – ongoing civil wars in Syria, Yemen and Libya – and series of large scale protests in Bahrain, Algeria, Somalia, Lebanon, Kuwait, Morocco and many other Arab countries. Saudi Arabia, the largest oil producer which is ruled by a strict monarchy, also saw protests and its echoes are still felt with its continued purge of dissenting voices. In January this year, the country executed 47 people including Nimr al-Nimr, a Shiite Arab Spring voice.
Except Tunisia, nowhere we have seen a successful power transition towards a democratic process. Egypt had a democratically elected government of the Muslim Brotherhood but its fundamentalism pushed people again to protest and now the army is back in the controlling role. Libya and Yemen are dark patches of civil and faction wars. Syria has become the scourge of the modern times pushing the largest contingent of refugees across the world.
The revolution that had begun in 2011 is still half done – and the factors that led to the massive protests then – have become more painful now.