Category Archives: Middle East

Arab World Built Colleges, but Not Jobs (unless they were Govt)

Arab World Built Colleges, but Not Jobs –


Protests erupting across the Middle East are fueled by frustrations ranging from the lack of political freedom to police brutality. But in countries wracked by protest and those that have remained peaceful, a common thread runs: Governments have expanded universities and educated a swelling cohort of youth, without laying the groundwork to employ them.

“Surprisingly,” International Monetary Fund economists Yasser Abdih and Anjali Garg wrote recently, “unemployment in the [Middle East and North Africa] region tends to increase with schooling.” In the U.S., the opposite is true.

In Egypt, where the region’s protests are at their most pitched, the ranks of the college-educated have grown steadily in the past few decades. In 1990, according to World Bank, 14% of college-age Egyptians were enrolled; in 2008, 28.5% were. Egyptian schools expanded, and a crop of European universities opened campuses there. The Egyptian government doubled the funding for higher education in its 2007 five-year plan and sought international advice on revamping the system.

Trying to provide schooling to the largest number of people, many Arab countries spent heavily on higher education.

“The objective was to boost economic growth, boost employment and realize equity in society,” says the World Bank’s Mourad Ezzine, a former Tunisian education expert who worked on the report. “It didn’t work out well. For two reasons. First, the education system delivered quantity, not quality…. And, second, on the economic side, the creation of employment to meet the profile of those graduates didn’t happen. Why? Because the reforms in these countries did not go far enough, fast enough.”

Differences between the Middle East and other developing economies the world are telling:

• Fertility rates stayed higher longer in the Middle East than in East Asia or Latin America. …

• Economies haven’t grown nearly fast enough to absorb these new workers….(because??)

• Unemployment among the young, of all education levels, is particularly pronounced. In Egypt, according to the most recent IMF data, overall unemployment was 8.9%—but stood at 25.4% among those under age 25, the IMF says. In Tunisia, overall unemployment was 14.2%; youth unemployment was 30.3%.

Mohamed Refaat, a 24-year-old Egyptian who followed his brother to the U.S. in 2008… “You don’t have to be educated there,” Mr. Refaat complains about his hometown, 30 minutes outside of Cairo. “It’s not worth your skill. It’s all about the connections.”

While China and other booming economies were cultivating private sectors, Egypt clung stubbornly to a state-dominated model. Outside of agriculture, 70% of Egyptian workers work for the government. Few college grads sought, or even were offered, courses aimed at landing private-sector jobs.

In Amman, Jordan, Ibrahim Taya is the youngest of 12 born to Palestinian refugees. Mr. Taya, 33 years old, didn’t go to college, but took technical training courses, first by correspondence in Jordan and then by going to Canada and China to learn how to maintain pieces of equipment.

Today, he is unemployed and seething. For about a dozen years, he bounced around, working as a technician for mobile-phone networks in Sudan, Morocco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. He returned to Jordan in 2008, started a business that collapsed, he says, when a partner absconded with company funds. (no institutions to help hold people to Contractual Agreements??) He started another last year.

The contrast between his life and those of his older brothers is striking. Four received military-sponsored university scholarships. One became a internist, and found work in Saudi Arabia; another other served as an eye doctor for the Jordanian Army and then began his own practice. A third taught high school in Saudi Arabia, and the fourth became a computer programmer.


Stability’s End -Henninger

Henninger: Stability’s End –


‘Stability” has been the goal of civilized foreign policy since the dawn of the Cold War and arguably since the Congress of Vienna, which posited a framework for international relations in 1815. Stability, whose virtues are many, has had a worthy run. It’s done.

Stability is done as we have known it, at least until political leadership evolves a better understanding than they have shown during the events in Egypt of the permanently unstable world they’ve tumbled into. The man who pitched the curators of national stability into their current shocked state—evident this week in the streets of Cairo and before that in the capital of Tunisia and before that in the U.S.’s November elections—is William Shockley.

Shockley, a physicist, co- invented the transistor. The transistor replaced the vacuum tube as the central component of all electronic devices. The transistor enabled Twitter, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, an ocean of apps and the unending storm of information that blows all of us, including politicians, here and there like leaves. Why would anyone think it possible in such a world for a Hosni Mubarak to maintain stability with the methods he’s used since 1981?

The point here is not to argue again that information and communication technology (ICT) has caused another colorful “revolution.” Nor is it to overstate the power of these technologies to enable democratic reform.

My point is merely to describe what is going on in front of our faces: This new, exponentially expanding world of information technologies is now creating permanent instability inside formerly stable political arrangements.

This stuff disrupts everything it touches. It overturned the entire music industry, and now it is doing the same to established political systems.


Associated Press photo

Think what this means at the crudest level: Huge swaths of any wired population exist in a state of engagement. Instability. Before, stifled populations were mostly sullen. Now, all the time, they’re in mental motion.

Even if the Mubarak thugs somehow disperse the people in the street, they’ll return some day because there is no effective way to cap their ability to share grievances on a massive scale. Egypt earlier pulled the plug on its entire Internet. So what? No nation will turn it off forever.

The Egyptian government itself has been responsible for expanding ICT, even making cheap computers available. Tunisia’s autocrats wired their own nation, with some 1.7 million Internet users in a population of 10.2 million.

“Stability,” as currently defined by its advocates, is the vacuum tube of national politics—in Egypt, Tunisia and I would argue in the United States, China and pretty much anyplace that isn’t still using rotary phones.

Technologies with goofy names like Twitter and Facebook are replacing political stability with a state of permanent instability.

Barack Obama and the Democrats just got hit with the same disruptive force in the U.S.  Whatever the health-care bill’s merits, Nancy Pelosi and her colleagues legislated as if living inside the old status quo when no one beyond the Beltway understood what their lawmakers did.  In the 1960s, when Congress created Medicare and Medicaid, can there have been 100 nonspecialists who had any clue what Congress was doing? But for a year millions read daily ObamaCare’s arcane details and shared opinions. That engagement fed directly into the historic November election shellacking.

This constant chatter about what government is doing to whom is why amped-up emotions are coursing through formerly stable places. Before ICT achieved critical mass, there was no chance that Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Jordan would erupt seriatim.

Nor is any of this a revelation. But somehow people in positions of political authority, whether Hosni Mubarak or foreign-policy establishments everywhere, including our State Department, act as if this is just troublesome background noise. Understandably so. It is hard to ascribe primal power to things with goofy names like Twitter and Facebook.

Nor is it obvious how political systems should adapt to an exponentially larger population of always-engaged people. One answer may be struggling to emerge in Egypt: elections. What’s the alternative? All the new political energy that Shockley’s tiny transistors unleashed has to go somewhere. Either it flows into the exhausting channels of organized politics, or it flows like hot lava into the streets. Iran is pursuing a third way: constant executions. Here’s guessing medieval tech won’t win.

Instability is the new status quo. As always, the politicians are the last to notice. Across the postwar period, stability has been plan A. It’s time for the smarter people in public life, from Riyadh to Washington, to start thinking about plan B.


How Cairo, Washington Were Blindsided

How Cairo, Washington Were Blindsided by Revolution –

Seems Obama wasn’t doing “enough talking” – that’s all it takes, you know.


Two months before Egypt exploded in popular rage, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Egypt’s foreign minister, in her seventh-floor offices in Washington.

U.S. officials were miffed that Cairo was ignoring their pleas to make coming legislative elections more credible by allowing international ballot monitors.

But after the meeting, neither Mrs. Clinton nor Mr. Aboul Gheit mentioned that disagreement when they spoke publicly. Mrs. Clinton praised the longstanding partnership between the U.S. and Egypt as the “cornerstone of stability and security in the Middle East and beyond.”

In Al-Arish, a town in northern Sinai near the border with Israel, a group of protesters took to the streets after prayers in solidarity with protests in Cairo.

Months later, that cornerstone is crumbling. . . .


Israel Asks West to Help Guard Pact With Egypt

Israel Asks West to Help Guard Pact With Egypt –

The Israeli question – something I did not think could “hide” for very long.


JERUSALEM—Unnerved by the quickening collapse of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s regime, Israel is pressing the U.S. and other Western leaders to demand that any successor in Egypt preserve that country’s peace accord with the Jewish state.

The diplomatic push, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, comes as Israel’s top security officials are huddled in strategy sessions to reassess their most important Middle East relationship, one that has helped Israel weather decades of sporadic conflicts with militant Islamist groups backed by Syria and Iran.

Egypt’s transition to a new and still-uncertain leadership, Mr. Netanyahu told his parliament Wednesday, conceals a struggle between democratic and Islamist forces that could tip the balance of an increasingly hostile region more firmly against Israel.

“There are two worlds, two opposites, two world views,” he said. “One of the free world. The democratic. And one of the radical world. Which world view will win?”

“It could be,” he added, “that there won’t be a decisive end for a long while and there could be ongoing instability for many years.”

The prospect of prolonged uncertainty has led some Israeli officials to suggest that the country might be forced to significantly expand its army and defense spending, and to abandon what little efforts Mr. Netanyahu’s government has made to restart peace negotiations with the Palestinians on creating their own state.

“It’s very scary what’s happening in Egypt, especially for Israel,” said Adva Gilboa, a 33-year-old store manager in the town of Kiryat Tivon, reflecting the Israeli public’s heightened fears for the survival of their state. “Mubarak was good for Israel, maybe not for Egyptians.”

The 1979 peace treaty, achieved after a generation of sporadic wars along the lengthy Israeli-Egypt border and defended by Mr. Mubarak against popular disapproval at home, has given Israel a relatively quiet southern flank.

On Tuesday, Mr. Netanyahu led a round of urgent consultations with senior intelligence analysts and cabinet officials to evaluate events in Egypt. Shaul Mofaz, head of parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, called for a full-scale “strategic review” of threats Israel faces.

Officials here say they are helpless to control events in Egypt. Israeli leaders have refrained from commenting on how soon Mr. Mubarak should step down or who should replace him.

Instead, officials say Israel has limited itself to reminding Western allies of the importance of its 1979 peace treaty with Egypt. Mr. Netanyahu pressed the point in a meeting here this week with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and in phone calls to U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Israeli officials said.

“What else can we do?” said one senior Israeli official, who declined to be identified because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about Egypt. “We’re spectators. Everyone’s a spectator.”

In his speech, Mr. Netanyahu drew parallels between Egypt’s transition and Iran’s revolution in 1979, when an ostensibly democratic revolt against the shah gave way to a Muslim theocracy.

“The optimistic scenario, which undoubtedly unites us all, is that these hopes for democracy and peace will be realized in Egypt,” he said. But he quickly added that Iran’s leaders want to take advantage of the turmoil in Egypt to promote the rise of a similar regime there.

Israeli officials have been alarmed by how swiftly events have unfolded in Egypt and how swiftly, in their view, the Obama administration and other Western governments have appeared to withdraw their long-standing support for Mr. Mubarak. Until this week, Israeli officials had been saying the 82-year-old Egyptian leader could weather the protests against him.

“For many people in the West, the upheaval in Egypt is like 1989 in Europe,” the senior Israeli official said, referring to the collapse of Communism and the rise of democratic rule in much of Eastern Europe. “We’re concerned that it’s like 1979 in Tehran.”

If Egypt comes under leadership hostile to Israel, the official said, “that would be a real game changer” that would upend the regional balance.

Israelis are already worried that Jordan, the other Arab nation with a peace treaty with the Jewish state, would come under growing pressure to abandon the deal. Jordan’s King Abdullah II dismissed his Cabinet on Tuesday after weeks of demonstrations challenging his regime.

Israel’s adversaries in the region, including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, view the massive protests in Egypt and Jordan as a sign of the weakening position of the Jewish state along with that of its American ally.

“As long as the people have a major say in the future [of the Middle East], then you are going to have a minor say, in the United States,” Mr. Assad said in an interview Sunday in Damascus.