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Brain Drain: why a quarter of young Arabs want to leave their countries

The influence of globalisation on the region is substantial; from fashion to food outlets

Yara al-Wazir

Published: Updated:

Young people under the age of 25 make up over 60% of the Middle East’s population. The wave of young people temporarily moving abroad to further their education is not a new phenomenon.

However, despite tough international visa restrictions, more and more young people are choosing migrate permanently. A study by Silatech showed that a staggering 26% of young people across the region want to migrate and leave their countries in search of better opportunities.

The influence of globalisation on the region is substantial; from fashion to food outlets, it can sometimes feel that one is not in an Arab country anyway. So why do young people want to leave?

Youth unemployment

Jobs - or lack thereof. The Middle East has one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world. Coupled with a poor economic climate that leaves very little opportunity for local job growth, nepotism, and poor investment in employability skills, as well as selective access to tertiary education leaves young people of the region with a feeling of despair and distrust in the regions ability to grow.

The truth is, young people are not searching for the American Dream and are most definitely not flying out on the wings of freedom; they’re fleeing tyranny

Yara al-Wazir

The importance of human development and respect received at the workplace was also found to be a driving factor behind the rising numbers of young people wanting to leave their home countries.

The lack of respect suffered at the workplace comes in many forms, whether it be delays in payment, an expectation to work (or ‘train’) for free, as well as disrespect from the superiors and poor opportunities and investment by the companies in their own employees.

Leaders of the revolution

The truth is, young people are not searching for the American Dream and are most definitely not flying out on the wings of freedom; they’re fleeing tyranny. Young people are the ones who took to social media to topple oppressive regimes. Young people are the Bouazizi’s, the Khaled Saeed’s the Ahmed al-Khatib’s – the symbols of the Arab Spring.

Yet, years after the first revolution ‘succeeded’ in toppling the Zine el-Abidine ben Ali, young people have been left worse off. The instability in the political climate has halted economic growth all across the region.

Young people may have lead the overthrowing of the governments, but they have been side-lined and marginalised by the new governments, a tradition kept rom past governments. Moncef al-Marzouki, Tunisia’s new president is 68 years old; Mohammad Mursi was 60 when he assumed office. Regardless of the age of the new democratically elected presidents, young people must be given an active role in government, society, and the economy, in order to amplify their commitment to better themselves in their own countries, rather than in rival economies.

What this means to the region

The loss of local and regional human capital means that the regions brightest minds are being lost to the international arena. The growth potential, the ideas, and possible discoveries made by these young Arabs who migrate from their homeland are lost by their respective countries. The revolutions have created a culture of entrepreneurialism, but it is the employed, educated, and entrepreneurial who are most likely to want to migrate abroad, according to the study.

However, migrating isn’t fool proof; one of the biggest downsides, especially in migrating to Europe, is the high tax rate. Yet it seems that young people would rather pay taxes than stay in what they perceive to be dead-end countries.

Ultimately, this means that when the region does decide to grow, if ever, it will have face extra challenges: filling the labour gap without relying on international labour, and the challenge of convincing their won people to come back to their own countries.


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Yara al-Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.