There is a frightening article in The Economist that uses one young man as an example of tens of millions. After describing Muhammad Fawzy, 21, and studying engineering at Cairo University, as someone who “could be a university student anywhere,” the article says that “Mr Fawzy feels the outlook is bleak. He worries that no job he finds after graduation will pay enough to cover his costs, let alone allow him to support his widowed mother. Without a good salary, Mr Fawzy cannot buy a flat; without his own home he cannot marry; and without marriage, he cannot have sex.“
The article goes on to explain that “Mr Fawzy is hardly unique. Arab countries are full of young people frustrated by a lack of jobs; questioning traditional authority; bittersweet about the West, its liberties and its power; and plugged-in enough to know that their lot is worse than that of many of their peers around the world. “Young people just want to live and not make trouble, but they are unable to break into the political, social, economic systems of their countries,” says Rami Khouri of the American University of Beirut. “They have to create parallel universes for themselves because they can’t do anything normal in normal settings.”“
(I recall, about 40 years ago, making the acquaintance of a senior officer in an Arab military and even getting to know his family at a couple of social events. I recall his (and his very modern (1970s) sophisticated wife’s) hopes for their kids to have good educations in an increasingly “modern” (Westernized) Arab world. I was thinking that the young student in the story could have been a grandchild. Things have not gone the way my Arab colleague hoped.)
The Economist says that “Many factors led to the Arab uprisings of 2011, which overthrew old rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, and rattled many other regimes. But there is little doubt that the Arab world’s large youth bulge, and its rulers’ failure to harness it for economic development, was central … [and] … Now that the uprisings have either been beaten down or degenerated into murderous civil war (except in Tunisia), the lot of young Arabs is even worse: they face more political repression and worse job prospects. Economic growth in the region has lagged behind other middle-income countries (see chart 1). The fall in the oil price is now hurting some countries even more, turmoil has spooked investors and terrorism has wrecked tourism. The self-defeating policies of governments clinging to power, such as in Egypt (see article), cause yet more harm … [but] … Elsewhere, a large youthful population would be regarded as an economic blessing. But in the Arab world the young are treated, for the most part, as a curse, to be suppressed. These days life for young Arabs is often a miserable choice between a struggle against poverty at home, emigration or, in extreme cases, jihad. Indeed, in places such as Syria, the best-paid jobs involve picking up a gun.” There is a population explosion without the economic infrastructure to support it.
After the events of fifteen years ago we asked: Why do they hate us? Certainly some Muslim clerics are preaching hate, but the audience, perhaps, is receptive not because it “hates” but because it feels only despair for its own future. What if it isn’t hate but, rather, a sort of nihilistic despair about the future of their world?
I remain convinced that the baleful, medieval (mostly) Saudi/wahhabite religious conservatism is arming and focusing young Arabs, but it, Arab/Islamist terrorism is not a an existential threat to the West. However, the reason that young Arabs are so receptive to the message of hate may be, at least partly, social and economic and, therefore, amenable to political solutions.
How can we help to solve it?
First: disable Saudi finances and provoke a violent revolution in that region … we will, almost certainly, not like the new rulers any better than the House of Saud but they will just be a stepping stone: one revolution foments another, etc;
Second: support liberal Arab leaders (who will often be insurgents) against established, sometimes “friendly,” conservative Arab regimes; and
Third: free trade!
Fourth: we need to have and propagate a better “narrative” to prevent “home grown” followers of radical, conservative, Islamism.