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EDITIONS
Monday, 9 September, 2002, 10:56 GMT 11:56 UK
Arab world 'faces further stagnation'
Palestinian young people squaring up to Israeli forces
Sky-high youth unemployment is causing disaffection
The Arab world risks trapping its growing and youthful population in poverty if it does not start modernising fast, a report suggests.

In its Arab Competitiveness report, the World Economic Forum - best known for its annual summit of the global great and good each January in Davos, Switzerland - says Arab countries have squandered their mineral wealth.

Rock-bottom educational standards, high tariffs, closed economies, rampant corruption - are all contributing to the stagnation of the 16 countries the 400-page report identifies as making up the Arab World.

Combined with "exploding population growth" (as the report puts it), urgent change is needed, the report says.

Change or be changed

The release of the report coincides with a conference on Arab competitiveness in Geneva.

Countries covered by the report
Algeria
Bahrain
Egypt
Jordan
Kuwait
Lebanon
Libya
Mauritania
Morocco
Oman
Qatar
Saudi Arabia
Syria
Tunisia
United Arab Emirates
Republic of Yemen

It also comes as the world examines the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US.

The increasing likelihood of a US assault on Iraq, with its potential to spill over into renewed unrest or civil conflict in Palestine, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East, is making the subject of the Arab world's economic success or failure ever more topical.

The report suggests that this could increase pressure on the Arab states to change or be changed from the outside.

Younger and angrier

Given the WEF's status as a bulwark of western-led globalisation, the solutions it offers for the Arab world's problems are the familiar set of promoting entrepreneurship, accelerating tax reform, improving the environment for innovation and making technology transfer easier.

But the report also stresses the need to improve educational systems, as one means of tackling the endemic unemployment in the region.

It also notes the problem of rising youth unemployment.

According to a recent United Nations Development Programme report, the Arab world's population is set to swell from 280 million now to 410-460 million in 2020, while even today as many as 40% of the population are under 14 years old.

Unemployment across the region tops 15%, with young people especially afflicted.

The UNDP report pulled no punches, saying the region's refusal to grant women more rights, open up the political process, improve education and crack down on widespread corruption left it incapable of pulling itself out of a two-decade slump.

Eye on the ball

Part of the problem, the report says, is that policy-makers are concentrated to such an extent on the geopolitics of the region that more micro-level efforts to build engines for growth are ignored.

There has also been a failure to tackle the obvious limitations of natural resources including scarce water and arable land, the WEF says, adding that the region's governments needs to make more effective use of their relatively high levels of investment.

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 ON THIS STORY
Peter Cornelius, The Arab Competitiveness Report
"Tunisia and Egypt have made considerable progress in more recent years"
See also:

06 Sep 02 | Business
05 Sep 02 | Middle East
05 Sep 02 | Middle East
02 Jul 02 | Middle East
11 May 02 | Middle East
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