RIYADH (AFP) – Arab leaders must treat the region’s 100 million young people as an asset, not a liability, the UN’s youth envoy said in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.
“This is a generation that is so willing to contribute,” but is beset by obstacles in the 22-nation region plagued by conflict since a wave of Arab uprisings demanding reform erupted after late 2010, Ahmad Alhendawi told the MiSK Global Forum.
Releasing figures from a forthcoming study, he said the region’s average age is below 25 — but the average age of Arab world politicians is 58.
“This region has the highest rate of youth protest if you compare it to all other regions in the world,” said Alhendawi, a Jordanian named to the post in 2013.
He said two-thirds of Arab women are looking for jobs.
A separate report by the United Nations labour agency in August showed that Arab states count the world’s highest youth unemployment rate, above 30 percent.
Overall, the region needs to create 60 million jobs by 2020, Alhendawi said.
Even though that figure seems unreachable, he said the region should establish “an enabling environment” which would make it easier for young people to start businesses, and where they are seen “as an asset, not as a liability”.
At the moment, starting a new business “is almost a mission impossible”, he told the forum which brings business leaders together with young Saudis in a bid to inspire their involvement in diversification of the kingdom’s oil-dependent economy.
Alhendawi said young people’s use of social media shows “they are interested in politics and they are interested in public life”, though not in the formal institutions of government.
He said the Arab world itself contains the solutions to its problems.
“This is our region,” he told the hundreds of delegates. “We have to reclaim it.”
The forum, which continues on Wednesday, is organised by the MiSK Foundation which aims to generate youth initiative.
It was founded by 31-year-old Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who in April launched the wide-ranging Vision 2030 plan for enhancing the role of the private sector as part of economic diversification.