In most countries around the world, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has often received bad press. It must be said that this organization has often advocated drastic remedies for failing or moribund economies, particularly in Latin America.
This week (on January 29-30) the IMF organized a major conference in Marrakech on the economies of Arab countries. “The lack of employment opportunities and access to affordable and quality public services is causing great frustration”, the Arab world IMF note said.
Taking stock of the situation doesn’t require major economic and social studies. The Arab world seems to be hitting a sort of development curse, while some African countries, which are indeed catching up. Yet the Arabs have all the assets to succeed: a young population, an abundance of energy sources (oil, gas, solar), breathtaking tourist destinations, an exceptional geographical location at the crossroads of Europe, Africa and Asia, etc.
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The great tragedy is first of all the conflicts that create tension and political insecurity in both the Maghreb and the Mashriq. But this does not explain everything. Take Lebanon for example, the country experienced a nightmare during the civil war (1975-1990). Once the guns went silent, Beirut was rebuilt and real estate boomed.
And yet, what do we see today? More than 25 years after the end of the civil war, the Lebanese have dilapidated infrastructure, electricity is intermittent, running water is poorly distributed; garbage cannot be processed properly, low internet coverage. Let’s stop here, because there is more on that list.
Young people under 30 are a majority in the Arab world. They represent future of the region. As such, they must be the priority of governmentsChristian Chesnot
The great despair
This observation could be made in many Arab countries. And it is first of all what feeds this “great despair” in people who basically aspire like everywhere on the planet to a decent and dignified life. But in his daily life, the citizen feels racketed and exploited. And yet, the Arab world is rich, but the hydra of corruption seems invincible.
Where are the billions of dollars that should have provided the Lebanese with water, electricity, garbage treatment, etc.? Corruption and nepotism (the famous “wasta” in Arabic) have destructive and demobilizing effects. We could say the same thing for Iraq.
The Tunisian example is also interesting. Recent protests in several cities have once again proved that democracy is an important condition of development but not the only one. Tunisians have got rid of Ben Ali but young people still cannot find jobs. A Tunisian minister once told me that much had been accomplished since the 2011 revolution.
Significant investments have been made on the ground. He then said: “Once you have built the roads, the bridges and the electricity grid, you have to give people jobs. In Tunisia, we urgently need productive investments.”
To produce and invent rather than live on the rent of the state is the challenge of the Gulf countries. They too face enormous corruption problems – at the level of their fortunes – as shown by the “clean hand” operation launched in Saudi Arabia by Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman.
In this kick on the anthill, there is undoubtedly a sense of urgency: Saudi Arabia can no longer continue to see its wealth squander while youth seek jobs. Building the post-oil economy is no longer just an option; it is a burning obligation.
Young people under 30 are a majority in the Arab world. They represent the future of the region. As such, they must be the priority of governments. Otherwise, the “great frustration” diagnosed by the IMF will be passed on to new generations with all the risks of a social explosion.
Christian Chesnot is grand reporter at Radio France in Paris in charge of the Middle East affairs. He has been based as correspondent in Cairo and Amman. He has written several books on Palestine, Iraq, Syria and the Gulf. Chesnot tweets @cchesnot.