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For many, change isn't coming quickly enough. Mustafa Farouq, 28, of Cairo, completed a business degree several years ago but has not been able to find work; he joined the protests against then President Hosni Mubarak's regime, hoping a new government would bring more opportunity. But he is still jobless, and his optimism has faded. "We were hoping that all the money the government stole would come back to Egypt and that corruption would end," he says. "But none of that has happened."
So now Farouq does what other young people have learned to do in the wake of the revolution: continue to protest. On a Thursday afternoon, he sits at an outdoor café with a group of friends outlining a vague set of follow-up demands they intend to take to Tahrir Square, including calls for more jobs.
Certainly, jobs are desperately needed. Youth unemployment in the Middle East, at 25%, is the highest in the world. For young women, the situation is even more desperate, with more than 30% unable to find work. A recent report from the International Finance Corp. (IFC) and the Islamic Development Bank figures that youth unemployment costs the region as much as $50 billion a year--roughly equivalent to the entire GDP of Tunisia or Lebanon. Given the region's extremely youthful population--two-thirds are 29 or under--millions of young people enter the workforce every year, many with university degrees, and the region's economies are unable to keep pace.
The Globalization Game
Creating all those jobs will require a reversal of history. The Middle East is suffering from a half-century of poor economic policy, due in part to the curse of oil, which has bandaged the structural problems of many nations. But it is also a result of corrupt and ineffectual leaders. Back in the 1970s, many Arab nations had income levels on par with or even higher than those of developing Asian countries, but since then, economies like South Korea, Malaysia and China have zipped ahead.
The reason is that Asian policymakers and businesses proved more adept than their Arab counterparts at connecting to the global economy, building export industries with their large pools of cheap labor and capitalizing on offshoring and outsourcing. The governments in the Middle East did just the opposite, often favoring state-dominated models that squelched trade and investment and tied up the private sector in regulatory knots. Some regimes, such as Syria's and Libya's, were openly hostile to the U.S.-led global economic system; in other countries, like Egypt, only a select few close to the authoritarian rulers found a smooth path to prosperity. As a result, the region has been left out of the international supply chains that are driving growth in Asia and other emerging markets. That's why iPhones and their parts are manufactured in Japan, South Korea and China, not Tunisia, Egypt or Yemen.