A study released Thursday shows that young people in the Arab world overwhelmingly want greater economic freedom and opportunity, and that conditions prior to the current uprisings left them “crying out for change.” Gallup conducted the large poll before the current unrest began, providing a unique, retrospective look at conditions prior to the uprisings.
The poll asked over 16,000 nationals, aged 15 to 29, from 20 Middle Eastern and North African countries questions about job creation, access to job-related tools, and obstacles to their success. Young people reported feeling “unable to fully integrate economically into their societies despite their strong entrepreneurial aspirations.” Young people also have a hard time finding jobs; the poll shows the region having one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world. The overarching attitude is that their countries are not allowing them to achieve their full potential.
They are not alone in that belief. Heritage’s Index of Economic Freedom ranks countries annually on the openness and freedom of their economies. Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Syria all qualify as “mostly unfree.” Libya is ranked a lowly 173rd out of 183 ranked countries and is defined as repressed.
It is widely accepted that in order to develop, a country must invest in its human capital through, for example, education and basic healthcare for its people. Much of the Arab world has this part of development figured out; they have relatively well-educated, healthy workforces. But they missed the next step, which is absolutely necessary for prosperity.
Countries must allow their people to make use of this investment by opening their economies and allowing business creation, investment, and economic freedom. The young Arabs polled know how to make their countries prosper. Now hopefully they will have the opportunity to do just that.