June 24, 2009

Egypt's Young Unemployed

That 2/3 of the entire MENA region is below the age of 24 is a problematic prospect (an exponential population boom in lands encompassing few renewable water resources). That many of the young are unemployed is even more ominous.

Figures released yesterday by the Information and Decision Support Center of Egypt's Council of Ministers paint a grim picture of the situation in Egypt. About 21% of work-eligible young Egyptians (29 years old and younger) cannot find a job. To put matters in perspective, the current unemployment rate in the U.S., during one of the country's worst economic recessions, is below 10%.

But, I am not surprised. The state in Egypt has failed to regain jobs lost during the transition from a statist economy devised by Nasser into a semi-capitalist one championed by Sadat, and aggressively pursued by Mubarak. This spells trouble for Egypt's "social contract." The Egyptian population has surrendered the right to political participation, since Nasser's rule, in exchange for government employment. In fact, Nasser promised every university graduate (education is free, it should be noted) a government job. For better or worse, Mubarak has spent much of his time in the 'Abdin Palace trying to wean Egyptians off the government. The problem, however, is that Egyptians are failing to create jobs, or are simply ill-prepared to assume the kind of jobs a modern economy requires. This spells trouble for both Mubarak and the United States. When 20 of every 100 young Egyptians spend most of their time hanging out at the local coffee shop, smoking shisha financed by the meager allowance their parents give them, they are unlikely to silently accept the probable transfer of power from Mubarak to his son. Additionally, they are likely to fall prey to all sorts of "isms" that tell them why the world is such a nasty and an unjust place.

Unemployment in the Arab world was a problem, is a problem, and, unless something is done, will continue to be a problem.

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