Arab youth vent their anger at broken economic promises

Unemployment and lack of reforms underpin protests in Middle East and north Africa

When Lebanon imposed a fee on WhatsApp calls to boost government coffers, it was another example of Arab politicians misreading the public mood. Within hours, hundreds of thousands of Lebanese were on the streets, their disillusionment with their leaders exploding to the surface as mass protests erupted in Beirut and other cities. It was just the latest example of the rage simmering across the Arab world as ruling elites oversee rotten political systems that fail to deliver basic economic needs.

Last month, it was the redeployment of a popular commander of Iraq’s counter-terrorism forces that sparked the worst unrest in Baghdad for years. Before that, it was a little-known contractor’s diatribes against Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egyptian president, and allegations of corruption that provoked rare protests in one of the Middle East’s most oppressive states.

The trigger points were different and each country has its own dynamics. But the roots of the anger are similar and echo those that fuelled the uprisings that rocked the Arab world in 2011: leaders failing to meet the aspirations of their youthful populations.

Experts have long warned about the fragility of the status quo in the Middle East and north Africa, a repressive region blighted by rampant youth unemployment.

Protesters in Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt all chanted similar mantras: regimes must fall. In Jordan, demonstrations last year forced the prime minister from office. In April, popular demonstrations toppled two veteran leaders within days — Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir and Abdulaziz Bouteflika in Algeria. Protests continue in the latter.

“As long as there is inequality, social injustice and marginalisation — political and economic — and corruption, nepotism and patronage exists, the people will not stop,” said Dalia Ghanem Yazbeck at the Beirut-based Carnegie Middle East Centre. “Their patience has reached its apex and they want change.”

As the outrage mounts, so too the social pressures. About 60 per cent of the region’s population is aged under 30. The IMF estimates that 27m youths will enter the labour market over the next five years.

The region’s average economic growth since 2009 has been one-third slower than the previous eight years. Per capita incomes have been “near stagnant” and youth unemployment has “worsened significantly”, the IMF says.

The state is the largest employer in many countries. But young jobseekers complain that patronage networks act as barriers. Many governments, meanwhile, have pushed through austerity measures to narrow budget deficits and keep rising debts in check. But that has meant slashing food, fuel and energy subsidies, squeezing household budgets.

All the while, ruling elites and their cronies are seen to enjoy opulent lives with zero accountability.

Mohamed Ali, the contractor who posted videos that encouraged the Egyptian protests, ranted about the palaces being built by Mr Sisi and the state funds wasted on vanity projects.

Saad Hariri, the billionaire prime minister of Lebanon, a country gripped by its worst economic crisis in years, was recently embarrassed by revelations that he paid $16m to a South African model before he took office.

In Iraq, there are perennial complaints that the system produces weak coalitions that foster rampant corruption, while failing to deliver the development that Iraqis were promised after the 2003 US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein.

Often, the uprisings are crushed by force. In Egypt, more than 3,500 people have been arrested since September. In Iraq, more than 100 people died amid reports of demonstrators being targeted by snipers.

In Lebanon, the government reversed its decision to impose a fee on WhatsApp calls and announced reforms. The protests continue.

Governments have little choice but to push through economic reforms. Lebanon, for example, is burdened with a debt-to-GDP ratio of 150 per cent, dwindling foreign reserves and a stagnant economy. But, as long as measures are imposed by regimes lacking political accountability and failing to address people’s anger over injustices, Arab leaders will continue to stoke the flames of unrest.

Written by Andrew England


Libya: NCUSLR to hold Virtual Youth Summit

By Sami Zaptia

The National Council on U.S.-Libya Relations is to hold its Inaugural Virtual Youth Summit Meeting via Skype on Saturday, 23rd February.

The U.S.-based ngo has invited all youth interested in cooperating with it on youth-oriented projects and programmes to participate in its Youth Initiative.

The meeting will be held in Arabic with participants from Libya and the diaspora. The NCUSLR meeting is the first event being held as part of its Youth Initiative.

It says the first cohort is meeting on the topic of entrepreneurship and will bring together 16-20 entrepreneurs and interested youth in this field.

The objectives for this summit are to educate participants on the Council’s goals in supporting youth, and to establish the basis for a youth network that is actively engaged in participating in events and projects under the auspices of the Council in relevant field areas (i.e. business, health, tech & media, education, and cultural production).

It also aims to host an interactive panel discussion on entrepreneurship in Libya led by two youth business leaders, Tarek Algryani and Mabrukah Abdullah.

The NCUSLR will issue a report detailing the next steps and the structure of the network next week.

Interested parties should contact NCUSLR’s Youth Representative Mohamed Alarabi at in Arabic or English.

Source Libya Herald

Libya, UN discuss support of Libyan youth

By Xinhua

Officials of the Libyan office of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on Wednesday said it will boost plans to empower and support young women and men across Libya.

“We met on Monday with the Head of the Youth and Sports Authority Bashir Al-Qantari to agree on strategic plans for 2019 to empower and support young women and men across Libya,” UNFPA said in a statement.

UNFPA will soon launch a UN Youth Working Group in cooperation with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), with the aim of creating a more effective youth programming, the statement said.

Due to years of armed conflict and political instability, Libyan authorities have been struggling to meet the needs of the young people, mainly by providing employment opportunities and proper education.

According to UNICEF, unemployment currently stands at 48 percent among youth in Libya.

Source Xinhua