Political and economic challenges, Middle East’s major quandaries

Shehab Al-Makahleh
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The Middle East faces unprecedented challenges and transformations that are sweeping the region at a dramatic pace, which not only would shift geographical boundaries, but also change social, political, economic, security and military scenes.

The region is plagued by many challenges, which are not restricted to political and economic, but rather to internal and regional conflicts. With each passing decade, the region has been witnessing a bone-breaking war since the end of World War II.

In the past, countries in the Middle East were seeking their own identity, looking for setting up their own new political economy to determine their relations with world powers. However, due to superpower interventions in regional affairs, uncertainty has marred the future relationships.

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This has led to the decline of Mideast countries’ importance to international powers. Yet, this does not mean leaving the region for other international players to take over.

The transformation the region has undergone since 2006 to cope with the challenges that threaten Middle Easterners’ survival and their capability to accomplish their dreams has been a burden for some states as some regional and international powers have manipulated these needs and demands, seeking concessions from these countries which are in dire need to turn these aspirations of their citizens into reality.

The biggest problem is that the Middle East countries have never been stable since the end of WWII, with many wars and conflicts having negative economic and political impact on the region

Shehab Al-Makahleh

Gloomy outlook

A quick look at the social and economic conditions in many Arab countries undoubtedly demonstrates that they continue to suffer from human resources underdevelopment, widening gaps between the rich and the poor in every community, lingering and mounting poverty and joblessness and dearth of political freedoms with no reform agendas.

Such countries are plagued by absence of liability, transparency and governance as high rates of nepotism and corruption do exist at various levels. The situation exacerbates when it comes to political engagement and contribution. This provides a fertile soil for demonstrations and sit-ins as some Arabs countries have been witnessing for the past few years.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)’s figures revealed that hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives in Iraq, Yemen, Syria, and Libya and more than 8 million Syrians and 6 million Iraqis have been displaced. Consequently, the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen have resulted in massive economic losses to Arab economies, estimated at one trillion dollars.

Economic growth

Economic growth in Arab countries declined from 6 percent in in the past decade to 3 percent from 2011-2017. GDP growth rate in Syria fell to zero at present down from 7 percent in 2007. Lebanon faced the same scenario with a 1 percent growth rate down from 5 percent in 2007. The same applies to Yemen and Libya.

Up to 50 percent of Syrians are living under poverty line with joblessness rates rocketing to 45 per cent. The cost of damage of Syrian infrastructure is estimated at $500 billion to $700 billion while in Libya the cost is $300 billion. The reconstruction of war-torn Arab countries would require more than $1.5 trillion to rebuild new cities in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, Libya.

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The biggest problem is that the Middle East countries have never been stable since the end of WWII, with many wars and conflicts having negative economic and political impact on the region. Every war yields to another.

Every settlement results in dilemmas and predicaments. What are these regional transformations? Some of which are recurrent and some are modern, which cause regional tensions unless resolved: the Palestinian issue and Iranian expansionism, Turkish ambitions and rigid Israeli policies.

The backbone of Arab population

The overwhelming majority of the Arab countries’ population is the youth who constitute more than 72 per cent. The young generation, under the age of 30, are striving to integrate themselves into the system to help develop their communities; yet, government’s reaction and support to their initiatives in many states is far less than expected.

The young are not given the necessary attention to be involved in community building process as they are not granted the opportunity to contribute to their societies due to many hindrances.

PPP a must

Though oil prices will be fluctuating in the coming few years to the ceiling of 100 dollar, many countries will resort to alternative energy resources and this would pose a threat to oil producing nations as they are apt to face significant financial constraints.

In most Arab economies, the state controls all sectors. This is a key challenge to development. Unless there is a cooperation between both private and public sectors to boost development and bring about the required transformation, the Middle East states will not be able to cope with the future challenges including political, economic and social transformation.

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Thus, Arabs should reprioritise their own interests to shift their societies to the next level of transformation that meets up the 21st century challenges because yesterday’s allies are no more today’s allies. This is very well known in politics.

Western policymakers recognize that they cannot continue to rely on old allies in the Middle East forever as they have their other interests elsewhere. Therefore, how will the Mideast future be? The main concern is the stability of the Middle East for international security.

As long as the gap between Arab states is almost widening every time and then, Arab leaders should adopt a strategy to turn their people’s aspirations into reality and to reap the benefits from changing political and economic scenes.

Shehab Al-Makahleh is Director of Geostrategic Media Center, senior media and political analyst in the Middle East, adviser to many international consultancies. He can be reached at: @shehabmakahleh and @Geostrat_ME.

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