IMF: ‘jarring’ unemployment in Arab countries

IMF chief says youth unemployment is the main challenge facing all Arab countries

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IMF chief Christine Lagarde praised Arab Spring countries Thursday for making economic progress but warned that they are still facing a “jarring job crisis.”

Speaking in Morocco, the director general of the International Monetary Fund said youth unemployment in those countries are among the highest in the world.

Since 2011, uprisings have swept over Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, forcing out veteran strongmen, and protests calling for change have also shaken Bahrain.

In Syria the uprising to topple President Bashar al-Assad has turned into a civil war with no end in sight that has killed an estimated 150,000 people, forced millions to free and destroyed the infrastructure.

Lagarde said that despite the bleak political situation of what she termed the “Arab transition countries” and its effect on other regional nations, there is some good news.

“The good news is that the economic situation in the Arab transition countries is looking up -- higher exports, higher public investment and signs that private investment will rise.”

“Still, progress remains fragile,” she warned.

“We can see the dark clouds of political and security tensions hovering over the region -- just look at the heartbreaking tragedy that still besets Syria. We also know that a turning tide in the emerging markets, Europe, or the Gulf could have ripple effects in this region.”

The IMF chief said youth unemployment was the main challenge facing all Arab countries and must be met by efforts to increase growth that would create jobs and strengthen the middle class.

“The Arab transition countries are today facing a jarring jobs crisis, and this must be addressed.

“The unemployment rate averages 13 percent, with youth unemployment more than double that at 29 percent -- among the highest in the world. Since 2010, the number of people out of work has jumped by 1.5 million,” said Lagarde.

She insisted on a solution she said involves “strengthening the middle: the middle of the economy, the middle of society and also the middle ground for the state that neither suffocates nor stands aloof from the real economy.”

Achieving this, she said, means “giving a shot in the arm” to small- and medium-sized enterprises.

Lagarde, who praised Tunisia, Morocco and Jordan for taking steps to reform their economy, is to hold a news conference in Rabat on Friday.

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