Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Population Boom or Bomb? Population Trends in the Middle East

Event Title: Population Boom or Bomb? Population Trends in the Middle East
Sponsor: Global Strategy Institute
Location: CSIS
Date: Friday, September 29, 2006
Time: 8:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
Approximate Number of Attendees: 60
Intern Attending: Kristin Broyhill

Speakers: Dr. Steven Kull, Director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) and the Center on Policy Attitudes (COPA) and Dr. Jon Alterman, Director and Senior Fellow of the CSIS Middle East Program

According to Drs. Kull and Alterman, Middle Eastern states have a small window of opportunity to capitalize on the size of their young generation. The number of youth in this generation gives these states a unique economic advantage to develop and stabilize, in turn making way for foreign investment within the region. If this advantage is not realized, the difficulties this generation encounters while coming of age will translate into radicalization and conflict, and these will be felt throughout the world. While Europe will encounter the social and economical problems of this young Arab generation, the United States will endure political and military conflicts. The West must work with the willing Arab states to establish sustainable economies and to create a diplomatic environment that promotes alliance between the Western and Arab states.

The speakers noted that in most young Arab eyes, joining Al Queda and other radical organizations is their way of finding a voice, an identity and a place in the newly liberalized Arab world. Many feel that Western policies inhibit them from realizing the economic gains other regions have enjoyed. Membership is primarily not about creating an Islamic state or promoting fundamentalist ideas. Most of the youth agree with the values the West proclaims, but are disillusioned because those values appear hypocritical in Western domestic politics and foreign policy.

Statistically, 39 percent of the Arab youth who join Al Queda do so because the organization challenges the West, the United Nations, and the values of democracy and liberalism, while only 6 percent join to create an Islamic state. Fifty-four percent wish to separate church and state; 66 percent would like to see government decisions and policies based in the interest of their country, not Islam; seventy-seven percent think the United States aims to establish a permanent presence in Iraq; 78 percent do not believe the US would leave Iraq if asked; 68 percent approve of attacks on the US.

Out of principal, Arab states support those who are victims of or who are defaced by Western policies, such as the Palestinians or the Iranian state, even though such stances may hurt their own interests. They do not believe that the West should deal with Iran in such a confrontational way, and President Bush’s “Axis of Evil” label is alienating and insulting.

Between now and 2050, the majority of the Arab population will be at the prime age of productivity. However, 70-90% of those who have finished their studies and are job seeking, remain unemployed. With the lack of jobs, the traditional behavior regulating institutions such as marriage, family and education have broken down. When possessing a skill is not rewarded in their own country, most drop out of school to become migrant workers and end up working away from home in harsh conditions for low wages. With broken institutions and with no jobs, pride or voice, many of these men become radicalized. Those who are educated and skilled migrate out of the country, seeking employment in the West; taking with them their state’s chances of development and foreign investment.

The instability and feelings of resentment within Arab states are being felt throughout other geographical regions. Many Arabs are finding jobs in an aging Europe. However, the picture in Europe is a complicated one — European states face problems of low assimilation, public resistance and opposition from Arab migrants, and the importation of the very instability plaguing Arab homelands.

The US, on the other hand, will encounter more political and military issues with the booming young Arab population if certain measures are not taken. The U.S. needs to provide support to reestablish Arab states’ economies, institutions and quality of life. In addition, the West must rethink their alliances and policies, and take diplomatic measures so that together with the Arab world, they can take on more prominent global threats in the Middle East instead of generating new ones.

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