By Nour Al-Ali
The youth unemployment rate stands at 25 percent in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, measuring two-and-a-half times higher than the world average, former United States Senator George Mitchell said Tuesday at American University of Sharjah.
Speaking in the Main Building’s Lecture Hall A, the former senate majority leader said nearly one out of every four young people in the MENA region is unable to find work. This, he told the standing-room crowd of about 200 people, should be a concern for long-term stability.
Prior to Mitchell’s talk, His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qassimi, Supreme Council Member, Ruler of Sharjah and President of AUS, met with Mitchell at his office on campus, where they briefly spoke about local and regional affairs.
In order to meet the world unemployment average of 10 percent, the region must provide “85 million additional jobs in the next 10 years,” said Mitchell, emphasizing that half of the MENA population is aged below 25.
But he noted that the MENA nations have many opportunities present when measured against other international entities. They “represent the fifth largest economy” in the world, he said, adding that their “gross domestic product rate over the past decade is fifth among all regions, and the forecast of gross rate over the next several years is third among all regions, second only to China and India.”
Conflict and Instability Yield Unemployment
The real challenge, he said, is to encourage investment and growth in the MENA region and elsewhere through knowledge and skill. But he cautioned that education required “some degree of stability, prosperity and opportunity.”
“In no society can there be opportunity and growth in a climate of violence, fear and hostility,” he said. While each conflict is unique and must be resolved on its own terms, Mitchell noted, the one common ground between them all is unemployment, lack of opportunity and lack of hope.
“Where men have no state in a society, [and] when they have no prospects in life, they are far more ready to take up arms and engage in violence,” he explained. Those factors alone do not explain all forms of violence, nor do they dismiss other circumstances, he added. Instead they depict “a reality we are all aware of,” he said, adding that “despair is the fuel of instability anywhere it exists; no society is immune.”
Mitchell’s experience includes chairing the Northern Ireland peace talks during the Clinton administration from 1995–2001, after he retired from the US Senate; as well as his recent position as Obama’s special envoy for Middle East peace from 2009–2011.
Watch the whole talk on the AUS Youtube Channel below:
Nour Al-Ali is an English literature and mass communication double major senior at the American University of Sharjah.