Twenty-five years ago the Berlin Wall fell, ushering an end to the Soviet Union and the genesis of a “New World Order” as described by George Bush Sr during his address to the U.S. congress in 1991. As a result, many countries, particularly in the Arab region, lost significant political stature and strategic value as they were no longer needed to tip the scale between the two superpowers of the time.
The new diminished status put many countries on the path of becoming failed states as they no longer orbited within a structured system that dictated many of their policies; both domestic and foreign. That was also the genesis of rapid deterioration in the political and socio-economic conditions of most Arab countries with some aberrant successes found in the GCC region.
This is significant as 60 percent of the population in the Arab World is under 25, and youth unemployment stands as high as 51 percent in some countries, according to a World Bank report. What is even more alarming is that unemployment is highest among the more educated of society, a result of closed economies dependent on the public sector and outdated education systems.
Meanwhile, many of today’s global leaders of industry and commerce like South Korea, Malaysia, and India, who had similar key performance indicators (KPIs) compared to many Arab countries in the 1950s and 1960s, developed modern innovative and value adding economies through advanced industries and robust education systems. Arab countries, on the other hand remained low tech commodity producers limiting their role to being consumers of almost everything, sadly even culture, and in the process wasting valuable demographic dividends.
Today, the world is evolving at an even faster rate towards a zero marginal cost economy propelled by disruptive technologies like Blockchain, advanced robotics, drones, and artificial intelligence. Societies unable to evolve with it will cease to be relevant, which will further diminish their significance and hence their ability to shape even their own destinies. So radical the change will be that the 21st century might witness the evolution of the human species itself. Research is being done at present on the ability of the human body to evolve such that it can live in a high carbon dioxide, low oxygen environment which will allow humans to live in Mars in this century.
Ours will be a significantly changed world and most Arab youth will not stand a chance to be productive and effective participants in it, so long as they receive inferior education and be viewed as a “problem” by their governments, consumers by multinationals, and cannon fodder by the global powers and radical groups with geopolitical interests in the region.
Arab governments, private sector, and academic institutions must work together to ensure that their youth have a place in the new economy that is taking shape so rapidly. They must be armed with the tools needed to effectively participate and make positive contributions in this rapidly-evolving world, because if they do not, then the world will find itself dealing with a more volatile Middle East, resulting in a bigger refugee problem and a less secure and peaceful world. That would be a lost opportunity for us all as we will never get to know who among them could have been the next Ibn Khaldoun, Al Farabi, Ibn Al Haytham or many of the countless Arab greats whose contributions have had, and continue to have, significant impact on the advancement of humanity until today.
Amro Zakaria Abdu is a global markets consultant with 15 years of experience in the financial services sector.