Arab countries are full of young people frustrated by a lack of jobs; questioning traditional authority; bittersweet about the West, its liberties and its power; and plugged-in enough to know that their lot is worse than that of many of their peers around the world.
Many factors led to the Arab uprisings of 2011, which overthrew old rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, and rattled many other regimes. But there is little doubt that the Arab world’s large youth bulge, and its rulers’ failure to harness it for economic development, was central.
Young people in the Arab world, as elsewhere, come in endless varieties. But taken as a whole, several trends stand out. First is a demographic explosion. The Arab world is growing fast. The region’s population doubled in the three decades after 1980, to 357m in 2010. It is expected to add another 110m people by 2025—an average annual growth rate of 1.8%, compared with 1% globally. The demographic stress is compounded by rapid urbanisation. In 2010 the proportion of Arabs who are aged 15-24 peaked at 20% of the total population. But the absolute number of young will keep growing, from 46m in 2010 to 58m in 2025.
A second striking aspect is the scale of youth unemployment (see chart 2). In 2010, on the eve of the Arab uprisings, total and youth unemployment rates in the Arab world were already the highest of any region, at 10% and 27% respectively. Since then these figures have risen further, to nearly 12% and 30%.
Here is how Debbie Fugate and I put it in the introductory chapter of our book on The Youth Bulge: Challenge or Opportunity?
...[a] young population—the characteristic of most societies for most of human history—is not the same as a youth bulge. The “bulge” comes from demographic change, typically from a decline in mortality that is not immediately followed by a decline in birthrates—thus increasing the rate of growth and altering the age structure of a society. So, the real story of youth is not simply how many there are in relation to the rest of the population, but rather their changing numbers. As the late professor of history Herbert Moller says later in this volume, “As a rule, young people become conspicuous in public life in periods of rapid demographic growth.” Every society has to balance its population with the resources available to support that number of people.The Economist notes ominously in the article's final sentence that: "The evidence from around the world is that lots of jobless young men are a recipe for instability. And Arab rulers, in fearing the young and failing to help them, are creating the conditions for the next explosion."