First Published: 2009-11-14

The Challenge of Arab Unemployment

While the problem of unemployment in the Arab world seems insurmountable, there are a number of initiatives being implemented and proffered in the region to begin to put a dent in the problem, says Yvonne R. Davis.


Middle East Online


The 10.2% unemployment rate in the US has the citizenry completely disillusioned and vexed with our government. Despite the “Average Joe/Jane” outrage, a slight fall in jobless claims this month, a number of the unemployed live in neighborhoods with foreclosure signs over their heads. They hang on by their fingernails praying for economic relief. Never perhaps returning to the days of “good and plenty,” fear runs rampid with an aging “Super Power” population. According to the US Census by 2030, 1 and 5 Americans will be 65 years and older. Our Nation’s fastest growing population is 85 and above.

As the “Senior Citizen Hegemons” go through its most painful metamorphosis to facilitate in a Google Economy, another part of the world we are appendaged to due to our devoted dependency on its natural resources, foreign debt, Wall Street ownership, wars and terrorism, is facing perhaps its most solemn challenge in its entire existence – massive unemployment in the Arab World. And while we in America might want to be NIMBYish (Not In My Back Yard) about it, we can’t. There is a link between violence, terrorism and Arab youth many educated not having the ability to have pride and self-esteem because they lack gainful and respectable employment to take care of their families. Whether we like it or not, the issue of Arab unemployment is on our front step and maybe the very thing that ultimately turns the world upside down economically, socially and politically if we do not begin to face this reality.

Saeed Al Khabaz, a retired Human Resources professional and father of four is a successful business owner and communitarian from the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. Al Khabaz lives in the economic fulcrum of the Kingdom. Beyond the black gold that flows from the oil refineries, the region heavies with industries of steel, glass, construction materials, foodstuffs, aluminum products, pipes, air-conditioners, electrical equipment, carpets, soap, and rubber products. With all of this stuff going on, unemployment in the Eastern Province is climbing and so is the crime. “Right now in Saudi Arabia and throughout the entire Middle East and North Africa region, we are weathering a typhoon of unemployment,” declares Al Khabaz. “With an average jobless rate in some regions of 25%, the huge numbers of unemployment in the Arab world is creating all kinds of social problems, and no community can continue to survive this way.”

Ten years ago, after doing a very successful “turn around” on a medical clinic that was barely treating 40 patients per day, to over 100,000 annually, Al Khabaz made sure all of the employees he hired in his Al Hadi Medical Clinic in Qatif, Saudi Arabia were women under the age of 40. All of the women who work for Al Khabaz never want to leave him; despite receiving bigger opportunities because he believed in them and gave them a chance when no one else would and they succeeded. He meets the needs of a demographic with the greatest hardship. “You are talking about millions of young people who have the energy and they are frustrated and they have to vent their frustration at something,” says Al Khabaz. “I don’t think any community in history has been challenged like this before.” By 2015, the Arab population will be over 435-million. The United Nations and the International Labor Organization predicts by 2020, 100-million will unemployed in the MENA region. “No society can sustain that level of unemployment without exploding,” declares Al Khabaz.

Although reported to having some of the lowest crime rates in the world, in areas where unemployment is high with Arabs living on less than $2 per day in penury, coupled with the growing problem of jobs, there is a direct correlation between economic disadvantage and higher crime rates; especially among youth.The Investigation and Prosecution Commission (IPC) in Saudi Arabia reported a jump in reported crimes in 2009. This dynamic of low crime may change rapidly if solutions are not in place quickly enough to buffer the population explosion and need.

While the problem of unemployment in the Arab world seems insurmountable, there are a number of initiatives being implemented and proffered in the region to begin to put a dent in the problem.

Her Royal Highness Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al-Missned, the consort of the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, is the Educator in Chief in her country chairing the Qatar Foundation for Education. She is the first Royal in the Middle East to create an Education City initiative that brings together world class Universities under one roof to educate students in her country and the region.

Sheikha Mozah founded Silatech (Sila means Your Connection in Arabic), to meet the urgent need to create jobs with a primary focus in the Arab World where the need is greatest. A social enterprise, her organization creates signature level East-West partnerships with the private sector to provide opportunities for the youth in diverse markets. Silatech works on several levels, policy (government participation), psychological (mindset), programmatic (training) and practical (partnerships for actual jobs). Thus far, Silatech has launched a number of initiatives that include intensive training programs in the areas of media, hospitality and tourism, and leadership for women. Partnerships include: Fortune 500 companies like Cisco and Manpower, senior academic institutions, research centers such as Gallup and sister countries i.e. United Arab Emirates, Syria, and Lebanon for various training, banking and financing initiatives for young entrepreneurs.

After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Ron Bruder wanted to make a huge difference by taking not taking an American isolationist approach to dealing with the tragedy. A powerful man on Wall Street, Bruder left his profession and founded the non-profit Education for Employment Foundation (EFE). EFE’s mission is combat chronic unemployment in the Arab World by providing young men and women professional and technical training. What makes his organization special is that it guarantees jobs for Arabs when they graduate from the program. Bruder believes his organization can contribute a great deal to promote peaceful environments by eliminating the despair, doubt and rage caused by not having a job. “In order to have world peace, the youth must have piece of the global pie,” said Bruder. “The key component of that is an education that enables one to be employable in the country’s labor market. Our mission is to train youth in cutting edge skills that will enable them to immediately enter the labor market.”

Located in Jordan, Gaza/West Bank, Egypt, Morocco and Yemen, the EFE has remarkably changed the lives of several thousand Arab Youths and their families. His latest initiative includes establishing a partnership Prince Sultan University in Riyadh. “We helped launch the "Prince Salman Education for Employment Initiative" and an accelerated a second Bachelor’s of Science nursing program for unemployed young Saudi women in association with Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts,” announced Bruder. Classes are expected to begin in January 2010.

While Al Khabaz clearly articulates the problem of youth unemployment in the Middle East, he believes Arabs in the region should first seek find their own solutions by forming strategic mentor/protégé partnerships that expands social capital by investing in human capital on a multi-community and multi-country level. He is not for any “token support” that foreign enterprise gives often times in the Middle East. “We want foreign expertise, but it is better when the local people come together,” states Al Khabaz. He strongly believes local level investment must always be the priority. He also feels any plans created must be cohesive and involve the people on the ground at all times. “We have to be self-determined.”

His thoughts are evidenced by establishing the Qatif Youth Achievement Award and launching a virtual world initiative entitled Arab Youth Supercomputer 2010 Project. In its second year, the Qatif Youth Achievement Award annually recognizes seven men and women who have demonstrated skills and talents in a most distinctive way. Judges select winners based upon creativity, leadership, ingenuity, invention and drive. This award encourages small and medium sized enterprises to take serious looks at youths involved in Qatif; hiring them for jobs.

The Arab Youth Supercomputer 2010 Project challenges Arabs 40 and under from all over the MENA region to build a Supercomputer by year end 2010. With nearly 300 members world wide supported by a sister organization of about 500, Al Khabaz is leading a worldwide movement for change for his people. Khabaz has garnered support for this program from business leaders, marketing professionals, academics, IT technology professionals, and security specialists from as far as Europe, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and the United States. Those who support his initiative subscribes to the mission of building Arab economic sustainability – “so that all that is being done benefits our community.”

Yvonne R. Davis, President and CEO of DAVISCommunications, is an internationally recognized leadership development coach, speaker, and award winning journalist. She is an expert in cross-cultural and global emerging markets. A hard-hitting political columnist, Ms. Davis is passionate about critical economic and socio-political issues in the Middle East, Central Asia, the Balkans, and Eastern Europe. She continues to play a crucial role in developing strategies to advance the status of women in these developing regions.


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