Factbox: What became of the ‘Arab Spring’?

Factbox: What became of the ‘Arab Spring’?

In a would-be factbox enumeration, what became of the ‘Arab Spring’ by is explored in the aftermath of the not-so-well-mediatised people’s mass movements in specific countries of the MENA, Here is perhaps the exception give or take a few other countries such as Algeria, Sudan, Iraq, etc. 

July 25 (Reuters) – Tunisian President Kais Saied is set to secure more power under a new constitution that is expected to pass in a referendum on Monday, in what critics fear is a march to one-man rule over a country that rose up against dictatorship in 2010. read more

Saied’s opponents fear the changes will deal a major blow to democracy in Tunisia, widely seen as the only success story of the “Arab Spring” uprisings against autocratic rule that elsewhere ended in renewed repression and civil wars.

Here’s a recap of how the Arab Spring panned out for the countries affected:

TUNISIA

Fruit seller Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire on Dec. 17, 2010 after a local official confiscated his barrow.

Protests spread from his town, Sidi Bouzid, across the country, turning deadly. President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fled on Jan. 14, 2011, inspiring revolts elsewhere.

Factbox: What became of the 'Arab Spring'?

Police officers control the crowd while surrounding a man suspected to be involved in opening fire on a beachside hotel in Sousse, as a woman reacts, Tunisia June 26, 2015. REUTERS/Amine Ben Aziza

Tunisia held a first democratic election that October, won by the moderate Islamist Ennahda which had been banned under Ben Ali.

A new constitution establishing a parliamentary system was agreed in 2014, and Tunisians choose their lawmakers and president in free and fair elections, most recently in 2019.

However, economic troubles caused hardship and disillusionment. Illegal emigration to Europe increased. The economy, heavily dependent on tourism, was hit particularly hard by COVID-19.

In July 2021, President Kais Saied froze parliament and sacked the government – moves his opponents called a coup but which were welcomed by those Tunisians who were fed up with political bickering and paralysis. read more

A year later, Saied called a referendum on a new constitution that strengthened the presidency, capping what his opponents called a march to one-man rule. Saied has said freedoms will be protected. read more

EGYPT

President Hosni Mubarak had been in power since 1981, but massive anti-government protests began on Jan. 25, 2011 as activists called a “day of rage”, inspired by Tunisia. As hundreds of thousands of protesters massed after Friday prayers three days later, Mubarak deployed the military.

Factbox: What became of the 'Arab Spring'?

Egyptians rally at Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo February 1, 2011. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Protests gathered momentum, and the army pulled its forces from the protests and Mubarak stepped down – to be tried in August on charges of abusing power and killing demonstrators.

The once-banned Muslim Brotherhood won the 2012 election but a year later the military, encouraged by anti-Brotherhood protests, toppled the new president, Mohamed Mursi, who was put in prison and died in 2019.

Army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi replaced him as president. Rights groups documented abuses in a crackdown on dissent and the military faced a long-running insurgency from Islamist militants in Sinai.

Mubarak died a free man in 2020 aged 91, the case against him having been dropped in 2014.

YEMEN

Crowds took to the streets against President Ali Abdullah Saleh from Jan. 29, 2011, aggravating splits in the army and between political blocs. Saleh was hurt in an assassination attempt in June 2011, forcing him to seek treatment in Saudi Arabia.

Gulf states brokered a transition deal including a “national dialogue” aimed at resolving Yemen’s problems, with Saleh’s old deputy Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to be president until elections.

With an al Qaeda insurgency raging in the east, Sanaa faced new problems in the north from the Iran-allied Houthi group and from a revived southern secessionist movement.

In 2015, after the Houthis seized Sanaa, Saudi Arabia and its allies began a military campaign to keep Hadi in power – a war that soon reached bloody stalemate, aggravating food shortages and cholera outbreaks.

Ex-president Saleh was killed in a roadside attack in 2017 after switching sides, abandoning the Iran-aligned Houthis for the Saudi-led coalition.

A U.N.-backed ceasefire took effect in April, 2022 and Hadi, who had spent years in exile in Saudi Arabia, was replaced by a presidential council.

LIBYA

In first Benghazi and then Misrata, protests broke out in February, 2011, soon turning to armed revolt against Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year rule.

In March, the United Nations Security Council declared a no-fly zone to protect civilians from Gaddafi’s forces and NATO started air strikes to halt their advance on Benghazi.

By August, rebels had seized Tripoli and in October Gaddafi was captured hiding in a drainpipe outside his hometown of Sirte and killed.

Local militias seized hold of territory and, as chaos took hold, the country split in 2014 between western and eastern factions. The U.N. helped broker a political agreement in 2015, but in practice the country stayed divided and Islamic State seized control of Sirte for more than a year.

In 2019 eastern commander Khalifa Haftar launched a new war, assaulting Tripoli for 14 months before his forces turned back. By now the conflict was international, with Russia, the UAE and Egypt backing Haftar and Turkey the Tripoli government.

A U.N.-backed election – part of a peace process aimed at knitting Libya back together – was cancelled in December, 2021 for reasons including disputes over the rules.

In March 2022, the Sirte-based parliament appointed a new prime minister but the government based in Tripoli refused to step down, leaving Libya split between rival administrations.

BAHRAIN

On Feb. 14, 2011, the biggest protests in years erupted in Bahrain as demonstrators echoed the Egyptian crowd’s call for a “day of rage” to demand the ruling monarchy grant democracy.

As protesters and police clashed over the coming weeks, sectarian tensions rose in a country where many majority Shi’ite Muslims had long chafed against the Sunni ruling dynasty.

On March 14, neighbouring Sunni kingdom Saudi Arabia sent tanks across the causeway linking it to Bahrain to guard major installations. The authorities declared martial law and cleared protesters from the camp that had become their symbol.

Protests continued for months, leading to at least 35 deaths, but the monarchy suppressed the uprising and restored control.

SYRIA

When the first protests began to spread through Syria in March, 2011, President Bashar al-Assad sent in security forces and there was a wave of arrests and shootings.

Factbox: What became of the 'Arab Spring'?

A youth with his back painted with the colours of Syria’s opposition flag marches during a demonstration demanding that relatives of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh be dismissed from senior army and police posts in Sanaa May 14, 2012. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

By July, protesters were taking up arms and army units were joining the gathering revolt, later backed by Gulf monarchies and Turkey, as Assad hit back with air strikes. Full-blown war erupted.

As chaos engulfed the country, the Islamic State group in 2014 seized a swathe of territory, drawing a U.S.-led coalition to back Kurdish fighters in the northeast.

Support from Russia, Iran and Lebanon’s Shi’ite Hezbollah movement helped Assad claw back control over much of the country, defeating the rebels in areas including Aleppo and Eastern Ghouta from 2015-18.

By the end of the decade, hundreds of thousands were dead and more than half the country’s pre-war population was displaced with the country partitioned between Assad, Turkey-backed rebels and Kurdish-led groups.

Writing by Angus McDowall and Tom Perry; Editing by William Maclean

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Striking the right balance with edtech

Striking the right balance with edtech

 

 

Thanks to the investment made in advanced ICT infrastructure in some parts of the region, technology has provided a lifeline to help keep students learning in the past two years, and this has brought many benefits. It also raises the question: How do you find the right balance of digital and in-classroom learning to ensure education is effective and sustainable moving forward?

This new shared experience of edtech (education technology) has generated some interesting feedback from the education community, and from parents who have undergone the shared challenges in terms of their children’s education. Parents typically believe that technology needs to be used to a certain extent in learning, but not too much – perhaps meaning not an over-reliance on technology.

Balance is something that has to be considered when discussing the evolution of e-learning, because (to use a technology industry expression) children are the end-users. So, while it’s true to say that video tools enabled remote learning and continuity of education during the recent crisis, it’s critical to get children back into classrooms and interacting with their peers and teachers.

According to Microsoft, one in five students in the Middle East & Africa region did not have access to the internet or a device to support them during lockdowns.

Pros and cons of remote learning

When online schooling became mandatory practice, education establishments and parents had no alternative but to adapt quickly and make the best of a difficult situation. Technology enabled online learning, much as it did for remote working. It’s something that simply wouldn’t have been possible even a few years ago, as the technologies and tools just did not exist then to make large-scale online learning a reality.

However, after several months of home-schooling and online learning, some parents began to find their patience tested, reporting that children were becoming more distant, with the lack of social interaction with friends and other students in class becoming a major issue.

Peer-to-peer interaction has positive effects and can help pupils be more stimulated and engaged in classes, and it can help them establish emotional bonds with teachers and other children. Without these interactions, some students began to feel isolated.

Hybrid work, hybrid learning?

There are commonalities between remote working and remote learning, and the impacts of both practices on adults and children are similar. So perhaps one of the ways forward those enterprises have embraced could also apply to education, too: a hybrid model.

Recent times have seen many children engage in hybrid learning models without even knowing the term. Hybrid classes can be a mix of online exercises, pre-recorded videos, and other educational materials that support in-person classes.

When done with the right balance and tools, this approach offers the combination of the best aspects of in-person and online learning and gives students and parents the choice of what learning format suits them best at different times. Hybrid learning might fit very well but is indeed a challenge as it will not always be the perfect solution for some children.

Many of the same technologies apply in hybrid education as in hybrid working. Cloud-based infrastructure and use of managed mobile and video communication and collaboration systems can help education establishments keep students connected, engaged and participating.

According to Jaime Saavedra, World Bank Global Director for Education, “Hybrid learning is here to stay. The challenge will be the art of combining technology and the human factor to make hybrid learning a tool to expand access to quality education for all.”

Indeed, the hybrid model appears as a positive way forward, but education establishments will need the expertise and experience of technology providers to help guide them along that journey and to strike the right balance.

Sahem Azzam is Vice President for the Middle East, Africa & Turkey, at Orange Business Services.

Lebanon faces exodus of its most educated citizens

Lebanon faces exodus of its most educated citizens

Like most of the MENA region non-hydrocarbon producing countries, Lebanon faces an exodus of its most educated citizens. This Financial Times article is about those reasons prevailing in this conjecture. It must however be noted that the country where the moving out attitude is known to be millennia old, is perhaps going through a first in terms of a democratic claim by its people.


Many doubt their future prospects as country sinks into economic meltdown

By Heba Saleh in Beirut

Lana Noura is only 18 and a first-year computer science student at the prestigious American University in Beirut. But like many of her classmates, she already knows she wants to leave Lebanon once she has finished her course.

“I will leave for work and hopefully take my parents with me,” she said. “Anywhere would be fine, but I would prefer somewhere in the Middle East. It’s for a good life. Here it’s not stable and you never know what will happen next.”

Jad Masry, a fifth-year medical student, also plans to leave, either for Germany or America. “It will be a better income, better education and better lifestyle,” he said. “The politicians in Lebanon cannot bring us a good future because they are corrupt.” 

Lebanon has always had a huge diaspora after waves of emigration over the past two centuries, particularly as a result of the 15-year civil war that ended in 1990. Now, once again, as the country sinks deeper into economic meltdown, it faces a new exodus of its brightest and best-educated citizens.

Forced to grapple daily with hyperinflation, power cuts and shortages, many Lebanese have little confidence in the future. They have lost hope their fractious leaders will take action to reverse the country’s catastrophic financial collapse. Two years after the onset of a fiscal and banking crisis, little has been done to salvage the sinking economy in what the World Bank has called a “deliberate depression . . . orchestrated by an elite that has captured the state”.

Students protest outside the American University of Beirut in December 2020 against the rising cost of tuition © Oliver Marsden/FT

“Lebanon has yet to identify, least of all embark upon, a credible path toward economic and financial recovery,” said the World Bank in December. “In consequence, highly skilled labour is increasingly likely to take up potential opportunities abroad, constituting a permanent social and economic loss for the country.”

Lebanese people seeking jobs abroad include formerly well-paid professionals whose dollar accounts are blocked by the banks and young people who see no future in their home country. About 40 per cent of the population of almost 7m is considering emigrating, according to a recent survey commissioned by Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, a German think-tank.

About 40 per cent of Lebanon’s doctors have already left for the Gulf or the west, either permanently or temporarily, according to the World Bank. At least 10,000 teachers have also found jobs abroad, according to some estimates, cited by the World Bank. The Lebanese lira has lost more than 95 per cent of its value against the dollar over the past two years, rendering teachers’ salaries almost worthless.

The German survey found that 40 per cent of Lebanese have had to cut down on food and a third are unable to afford their medication. Three-quarters of the population has been plunged into what the UN terms “multidimensional poverty” — a measure that includes access to health, education and public utilities in addition to income poverty. 

Hospital workers at an intensive care unit in Beirut. The debilitating impact of the brain drain is being felt in the health sector © Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty

The debilitating impact of the brain drain is already being felt in the health sector. Charaf Abou Charaf, head of the doctors’ union, said the main university hospitals in Beirut, which employed highly skilled specialists, had each lost between 100 and 150 doctors. “It means some specialised procedures cannot be carried out,” he added. “And it is not just a question of doctors, there is also a shortage of supplies and medicines. If the political and financial situation are not quickly rectified, the health situation will be in danger.”

At the American University of Beirut Medical Center, Mona Nasrallah, an endocrinologist, said three out of the 10 doctors in her department had gone abroad. “The clinical, teaching and administrative load has increased, taking time away from my research,” she added. “It is also more complicated now because you can’t refer patients to certain specialists if they are no longer there. You have to work to find suitable replacements.”

Nasrallah said the government had made no effort to retain doctors, but individual hospitals were trying to find ways to keep them by paying a proportion of their salaries in “fresh dollars” — a term that refers to money transferred into the country from abroad or to new cash that enters the system that is exempt from restrictions on bank accounts. “It’s not a lot of money, but enough to get by on,” she added. “If you have already made up your mind to go, it won’t make you stay. But if you want to stay, it will keep you afloat.”

A Beirut resident watches the sunset. Forced to contend with hyperinflation, power cuts and shortages, many Lebanese people have little confidence in the future © Oliver Marsden/FT

Experts warn of the long-term impact of the mass emigration of the skilled. Saroj Kumar Jha, World Bank Mashreq regional director, said that the quality of education in Lebanon had been declining even before the crisis and the departure of highly skilled doctors and teachers meant there was not the flow of “human capital” to replace them.

“The Lebanese children born in today’s times when they become 18 years old, their productivity will be only 48 per cent of their potential, which means that there is structurally something wrong with the quality of learning in the schools.”

Nasser Saidi, a Lebanese economist and former minister, also warned of the dangers of the depletion of Lebanon’s “stock of human capital”.

“When you have skilled people working alongside unskilled people, they help them improve because they teach them,” he said. “If the skilled people and the educated people are not there, then we just have misery.”

Such long-term considerations, however, are not a priority for those grappling with the everyday realities of a worthless currency, lengthy power cuts and expensive food and fuel. “If I knew it was going to be like this, I would have left a long time ago,” said Zaher Nashabe, a fourth-year chemistry student who plans to go to the US. “I will work there for a few years, get some financial stability and maybe return. But if my family come too and I find work, I will stay there.”

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Promoting Entrepreneurship in MENA

Promoting Entrepreneurship in MENA


A Catalyst for a Sustained and Inclusive Recovery from COVID-19

By Bessma Momani

Read in PDF

February 9, 2022

What’s at Stake?

Academic and policy-based research demonstrates that women and youth in most Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries face legal, regulatory, and socio-cultural barriers to entering the formal labor market and generating income. The economic role of MENA women and youth is vital, as they represent the demographic majority and are highly educated. Nonetheless, they control fewer assets than men.1

Entrepreneurship can be a viable alternative for MENA women and youth because of its prestige in the region and its ability to catalyze inclusive growth.2 Women and youth, however, are less likely to own small businesses and experience greater difficulty in starting and sustaining them. MENA women have lower entrepreneurship rates than men and this has been trending downward over the past decade despite increases in overall entrepreneurship rates. This brief draws on research and evidence to formulate policy advice on how support for entrepreneurship can enhance the economic security of women and youth in what will be a slow and painful post-pandemic recovery.

Prior to the pandemic, extreme poverty was trending downward globally, except in MENA. Extreme poverty in general is likely to worsen as the COVID-19 pandemic persists. The pandemic has compounded the pre-existing economic hardship of both women and youth (age 15-24) in MENA, although individuals in some countries are faring better than others. The MENA region faces rising unemployment, declining household incomes, and deteriorating livelihoods. Furthermore, countries like Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon are hosting millions of refugees, and Syria and Yemen have a significant portion of their population internally displaced. The prospects of a very uneven two-speed global economic recovery and rapidly rising public debt will limit MENA governments’ spending on social protection for their citizens and refugees alike. As a recent World Bank report notes, the MENA region is expected to face rising poverty, exclusion, inequality, food insecurity, and growing gender divides.

The Political Economy of Protest, Violence, and Extremism

A decade on, the drivers of the Arab Spring, such as youth unemployment, worsening socioeconomic conditions, and dim future prospects, have not been addressed. As noted, the pandemic has only worsened these regional trends. Considering that life satisfaction in MENA was falling over the past decade while the global average was rising prior to the pandemic, the prognosis for MENA’s current political instability must be considered as part of recovery support efforts. It is notable that a majority of MENA academic experts (76% of 1,293) believe that the region is still in a state of protest or will experience another mass wave of protests within the next 10 years. Indeed, many young people recently surveyed by Arab Barometer have continued to say they have lost trust and confidence in their governments.

Research suggests a correlation between higher economic security and lower rates of conflict. Moreover, inclusive governance that promotes transparency and accountability demonstrably improves economic performance. Inversely, corruption and loss of public trust in governments exacerbate political instability and economic stagnation. Hence, regional specialists concur that the Arab Spring was an expression of discontent with governments’ economic policies, which led to unequitable wealth distribution, stagnant social mobility, and the ascent of oligarchic crony capitalists. In essence, a strong and widespread societal perception of economic and political exclusion can contribute to conflict and unrest; when people perceive their prospects of economic security to be deteriorating and they lack hope that things will improve, they are prone to unrest, violent conflict, and protest. This was a contributing factor to the Arab Spring.

While academic studies show that economic insecurity can lead to youth (and wider social) protest, it rarely explains radicalization and violent extremism. Nonetheless, youth perceptions of governments being unjust and corrupt can partly explain radicalization; for example, many ISIS members were attracted by its perceived moral clarity and commitments to economic justice. Disaffected youth who blame the state for their economic insecurity are a powder keg and need more attention from global and regional actors. Improving the livelihood and economic security of women and youth can mitigate civil disorder and stem irregular migrant flows. Moreover, women’s economic empowerment improves their agency and advances women’s rights, promoting economic growth and inclusive governance.

Entrepreneurship among women and youth can be a pathway to the prevention of conflict and inclusive growth. Entrepreneurship can help improve inclusive governance by disrupting rent-seeking crony capitalism whereby economic elites have been protected by political authorities.3 Entrepreneurs push for liberalizing the regulatory environment and removing rent-seeking advantages that insulate crony capitalists from free-market forces. Enhancing inclusive governance can mitigate against political instability and radicalization by promoting transparency, reducing corruption, and raising people’s hope for a better future. As the joint U.N. and World Bank Pathways to Peace report aptly notes, preventing conflict and instability is not only a moral responsibility, it is also far more cost-effective than responding to violence and instability after the fact. The report notes, prevention is best realized through “investment in inclusive and sustainable development. For all countries, addressing inequalities and exclusion, making institutions more inclusive, and ensuring that development strategies are risk-informed are central to preventing the fraying of the social fabric that could erupt into crisis.”

With this appreciation of the political and economic forces currently at work in the MENA, this policy brief draws on academic research and related literature and includes input from internal consultations with Global Affairs Canada (GAC) officials on the challenges of women and youth in advancing their economic security through meaningful employment and income generation. This brief also argues that success on this front can help to address the main drivers of political instability across many countries in this diverse region. This brief identifies avenues for supporting entrepreneurship to advance both inclusive growth for everyone and gender equality and empowerment. In MENA, attention to these opportunities can catalyze a more inclusive recovery from the pandemic while also demonstrating the wider economic benefits for society from progressive reforms and shifts in gender norms.

To this end, development assistance policies, as well as trade promotion and diplomatic engagement, must consider MENA’s social and cultural norms. Both family honor and social respectability are highly valued, and entrepreneurship has a positive socio-cultural connotation in many MENA societies. Supporting MENA women and youth entrepreneurship provides a niche for Canada and other Western countries’ international assistance and related policies in the region and this brief demonstrates the ways in which it can catalyze economic security more broadly.

Key Findings

While women in MENA surpass men in post-secondary education, their labor force participation is the lowest globally and these figures have barely budged in a decade. While more men than women work in the informal sector — which in MENA accounts for 68% of total employment and is predominantly in the agricultural sector — these vulnerable workers may be unreported and undercounted. Similarly, MENA youth are far more educated than previous generations, but their unemployment rates are often double their countries’ national averages and double the world average (13.6%) with an unemployment rate of 28.1% in 2018. Until the post-COVID recovery becomes firmly entrenched, labor market participation rates of women and youth will certainly worsen before they improve.

Why are women and youth under/unemployment rates so high? There are socio-cultural barriers that prompt women and youth to choose not to work. For example, the phenomenon of “reservation wages,” or the lowest wage one is willing to accept, can be relatively high in the region, distorting incentives in the labor market. They are higher for relatively wealthier MENA women and youth such that they are voluntarily unemployed. Reservation wages are often higher for young MENA women than for young men; reservation wages are also higher for married MENA women than for unmarried women. Moreover, MENA women with post-secondary education are more likely to be unemployed than women without post-secondary education. Women who obtain post-secondary education thus represent a significant underutilized knowledge and skills resource. Moreover, this also suggests that reservation wages are higher for middle-class MENA women than for poor, rural women. Consequently, introducing more MENA women and youth into the labor market requires an understanding of intersectional and demographic identities; there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

Another factor in MENA women and youth unemployment is their common preference for working in the public sector, which is bloated and unable to absorb additional labor. Often MENA women prefer to work in the lower-paid public sector (although Gulf countries’ public sector wages are higher than the private sector) because of shorter workdays for those with care responsibilities. Similarly, MENA youth have historically preferred to work in the public sector for its perceived security. That said, these attitudes are rapidly changing, particularly outside of the Arab Gulf countries.
 

Promoting Entrepreneurship in MENA

Women wearing face masks walk on a street in Amman, Jordan, on March 24, 2020. Photo by Mohammad Abu Ghosh/Xinhua via Getty Images.
Women wearing face masks walk on a street in Amman, Jordan, on March 24, 2020. Photo by Mohammad Abu Ghosh/Xinhua via Getty Images.

Despite high reservation wages and preferences for public sector jobs, there are very strong favorable socio-cultural attitudes toward entrepreneurship in MENA.4 Notably, the region is second only to sub-Saharan Africa in the favorability of public attitudes toward entrepreneurship: 73.4% of the surveyed MENA public believed that “starting a business is considered a good career choice” and 77.8% believed that “persons growing a successful new business receive high status.” Youth in MENA have high aspirations to start a business; 84% want to be entrepreneurs. A persistent challenge, however, is involving MENA women and youth in entrepreneurial activity; while aspirations and respect for starting a business are high, actual entrepreneurship rates are relatively low compared to other developing regions. Identifying and addressing the impediments is an urgent priority for economic security and for an inclusive and sustainable recovery.

Many entrepreneurs gain valuable employment experience before starting their own businesses. Yet, for both women and youth, there are socio-cultural, legal, and regulatory barriers to participating in the labor market. Moreover, these barriers are often worse for women in MENA than in any other region of the world. Persistent legal and regulatory barriers across MENA that disadvantage women include low public sector retirement ages (50 to 55 years), which can impede women from entering the labor force after rearing children, inadequate childcare benefits and maternity leave, and the absence of legislation (in 70% of MENA countries) protecting women from workplace harassment. In a survey of young MENA women, they noted that flexible working hours (part-time and home-based work), nursery and daycare facilities, soft skills training, and on-the-job training would help them to enter and stay in the workforce

The absence of safe public transportation in MENA is a notable impediment to women’s full labor force participation in two respects. First, women are in general subject to physical and verbal harassment by men when riding buses and minibuses. Second, safe public transport is often unavailable into the evening hours when private sector owners expect their employees to continue working. Notably, in 55% of MENA countries, women are legally restricted from working night hours. Certainly, gender norms remain conservative throughout the MENA: Women experience the “double burden” of trying to balance paid employment and unpaid domestic work, and find childcare challenging. Women’s income is perceived as disposable rather than necessary, as men are still perceived as responsible for providing for their families. Successful entrepreneurship by women can help shift these norms in a more progressive and inclusive direction.

Policy Insights

Policy research suggests that when entrepreneurs take off, they can be valuable sources of new job creation. Indeed, early-stage entrepreneurs in MENA noted that they expect to employ 45 individuals in the first five years of their operations. Research finds that women-led micro, small, and midsized enterprises (MSMEs) can improve household welfare more than men-led businesses, provide women the flexibility to work from home, and enhance their empowerment and stature in households and society. Increasing rates of entrepreneurship among women and youth in MENA requires a multifaceted approach that includes promoting business development literacy, providing mentorship programs for less experienced entrepreneurs, and encouraging incubator-like programs in both the public and private sectors.

Many MENA countries have improved considerably in the World Bank’s Doing Business indices in the past decade, particularly in the Gulf. Nevertheless, there remain many gendered impediments: 13 MENA countries have regulations for women entrepreneurs that men do not face. In a survey of 1,210 MENA women entrepreneurs in select countries, they noted that their most significant barriers were accessing financing, lack of personal business or other work experience, and absence of networks and contacts. This ease of doing business, from business registration to obtaining financing, can facilitate or hinder entrepreneurs’ success. Without regulatory reforms, the environment for private sector-led sustainable economic growth remains constrained.

Accessing credit remains more difficult for women and youth in the MENA region than anywhere else in the world. On average, it costs MENA entrepreneurs 26% of income per capita to start a small business compared, for example, to just 3% in OECD countries. MENA youth and women report that financial support, such as accessing microcredit loans in mainstream banks, remains the greatest impediment to starting and expanding a business. MENA women’s MSMEs have the second highest financing gap after East Asia and the Pacific region: 29% of total finance gap amounting to an estimated $ 16 billion compared to 37% of $103 billion. MENA’s women entrepreneurs concentrate in personal services, creative sectors, and health care. Venture capitalist rarely invest in these areas, but banking loans are difficult to access due to high interest rates and requirements for collateral assets against potential insolvency. These requirements are known to disadvantage women and young clients, particularly because of wide and persistent gender gaps in asset ownership. Only 38% of MENA women have bank accounts, and gender discrimination in both investment and inheritance laws hinder potential women entrepreneurs from accessing the resources their businesses need to take off.

Entrepreneurship in MENA is also hampered by poor R&D scores, which look at “research and development transfer from universities and research centers to the business sector and to what degree engineers and scientists can commercialize research findings and bring them to the market.” Despite these challenges, there are significant untapped opportunities for aspiring women and youth entrepreneurs in MENA.

While most entrepreneurial activity is currently in wholesale and retail, followed by professional and other services, communications, financial services, and information technology are growing rapidly. Nearly 37% of MENA entrepreneurial businesses are deploying new technologies and 25% are offering new services or products to the market. When compared to other regions, the MENA has a far higher technology orientation. Most of the region is online, yet digitized services remain untapped, including e-commerce.

Concluding Note

This policy brief provides a review of entrepreneurship in the MENA region as a promising entry point for policy dialogue, programs, and trade and investment promotion. As labor market participation of youth and women in MENA remains stagnant, entrepreneurship can be a viable alternative and catalyst to the promotion of economic security among these groups. Policy options should be tailored to reflect the size and scale of firms and consider the intersectionality of entrepreneurs. Foreign countries have an important role to play in fostering entrepreneurship for women and youth in MENA. Canada has programming experience in this space, such as the Launching Economic Achievement Program for Women in Jordan (LEAP), that can inform its policy toward the region. As MENA faces a tough recovery from the pandemic, preventing conflict and instability are cost-effective and smart. International assistance entails programs that can give people in the region hope that their livelihoods will improve. There is still much to do to provide a positive ecosystem for entrepreneurs in MENA countries, and Canada and other Western nations can convene donors to share best entrepreneurial practices that can assist MENA’s economic and socio-political development. The MENA region needs specialized tools for women and youth to enhance their financial inclusion, break down regulatory barriers, access microfinance, and acquire valuable skills. Western countries can deploy their international and regional leverage in this crucial policy area.

Dr. Bessma Momani is Full Professor in the Department of Political Science and Assistant Vice-President, Research and International in the Office of Research at the University of Waterloo. She is a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, a non-resident fellow at the Arab Gulf States’ Institute in Washington, DC, a Fulbright Scholar, and a member of the Advisory Council for MEI’s Program on Economics and Energy. Dr. Momani was the second Global Affairs Canada International Assistance Visiting Scholar in 2021 and Global Affairs Canada provided financial support for this brief. The views expressed in it are her own and the content is the sole responsibility of the author.

Photo by Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Endnotes

  1. Women and youth have some shared realities as demographic groups that have least access to formal economic labor markets, but there is great variation between them, and this brief acknowledges that the intersectionality of both groups is important to devising better policies.
  2. National and regional data shows strong support and respect for entrepreneurship; however, this varies between countries and within countries.
  3. Disrupting rent-seeking is more difficult for microenterprises than it is for medium-sized enterprises, nevertheless over time when successful firms scale up, rent-seeking is challenged, and this may lead to a disruption of crony-capitalism. This linear argument is not a guaranteed outcome but is a theoretical proposition. There is, perhaps then, a positive role for donors to assist microenterprises and small enterprises to scale up.
  4. Regarding the scale and size of entrepreneurs, it is important to note that entrepreneurs are likely to start and remain micro-sized and small, and few grow to become medium-sized enterprises (MSE). Self-employed businesses or microenterprises may generally be home-based or solo-operated businesses with lower income to supplement paid work, while SMEs can have substantial revenues. Microenterprises and SMEs have been labeled MSMEs. Starting an MSME is usually done by an entrepreneur, and hence the interchangeable use of the terms. This policy briefing will use the term entrepreneur to mean MSMEs. Generally, the MENA region defines MSMEs based on the number of employees in an enterprise. These numbers can vary across the region, but generally micro implies fewer than 10 employees, small implies fewer than 50, and medium implies fewer than 200. Large companies often have 200 employees or more. MENA countries have more microenterprises than SMEs, and even fewer large companies. Policy interventions to assist these entrepreneurs need to be tailored to take size and scale into consideration.

MENA Region Digital Transformation Can Create More Jobs

MENA Region Digital Transformation Can Create More Jobs

Here is Gilgamesh Nabeel in MENA Region Digital Transformation Can Create More Jobs as per a recent report that says so.

Over 230 students attend a workshop held by the Elaf Center and the Earthlink Telecommunications at Diyala University, northeast of Baghdad, to be better prepared for the labour market. (Photo Courtesy: Elaf Center for Media Training, 2021).

Lack of digital infrastructure contributes to high rates of youth unemployment in the MENA region, a new report says.

The report, “COVID-19 and Internet Accessibility in the MENA Region”, was published in mid-December by the U.S.-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. It assesses the readiness of the MENA region countries to shift employment online, both in terms of Internet availability and digital literacy among the populace.

Its authors, Alexander Farley and Manuel Langendorf, argue that increasing internet accessibility and investing in digital infrastructure development can help governments’ efforts to form a digitally-enabled economic recovery strategy.

While the MENA region is projected to have 160 million potential digital users by 2025, the paper draws a bleak image of its internet infrastructure and accessibility.

Last year, 34 percent of the population in Arab states was not using the Internet, according to ITU data. In 2019, the GSMA, which represent the interests of mobile network operators worldwide, found that almost half the people in countries such as Egypt and Lebanon, which have a mobile broadband network, are not using the Internet. Around 60 million people in the MENA region were not covered by a mobile network.

“Studies have shown that broadband development leads to increased GDP and has a positive impact on employment in the short term – part of the picture are newly created jobs to build new digital infrastructure,”

Manuel Langendorf  A researcher focusing on digital transformation in the MENA region and co-author of the report

Furthermore, with the exception of the UAE and Qatar, which cover about 80 percent of households directly with fiber, only nine out of 100 inhabitants in Arab states used fixed broadband subscriptions, the second-lowest rate of all world regions, after Africa.

The paper says the development of digital infrastructure overall continues to lag behind the rest of the world. This holds back the region’s digital transformation and deprives it of the benefits of investment in improving national core networks.

Digital Infrastructure Development Boosts Jobs 

Overall, unemployment in the MENA region stood at 11.6 percent with the “the low-skilled, the young, women, and migrant workers were affected the most” by the pandemic, the report says. In 2019, youth unemployment was over 25 percent, with further decline in youth employment by an additional 10 percent in 2020.

Manuel Langendorf, a researcher focusing on digital transformation in the MENA region and co-author of the report, argued that proper investment in digital infrastructure can help government confront unemployment.

“Digital transformation is not a silver bullet to solve the MENA region’s protracted unemployment problem, but it can create new job opportunities, especially for the large young and relatively tech-savvy population,” Langendorf told Al-Fanar Media.

“Studies have shown that broadband development leads to increased GDP and has a positive impact on employment in the short term – part of the picture are newly created jobs to build new digital infrastructure,” he added.

While the longer term effects seem less clear, Langendorf thinks a country-wide improvement to digital infrastructure can bring new economic opportunities, including for disadvantaged populations and rural areas.

“These include the expansion of remote working, as an employee or freelance worker, and also allows workers to search for employment opportunities more widely,” he added. “An improved digital infrastructure also opens up new job opportunities in online education.”

MENA Region Digital Transformation Can Create More Jobs
Iraqi students and graduates attend a workshop held by a local training centre and the Earthlink Telecommunications to improve their skills to better meet the labour market needs. (Photo Courtesy: Elaf Center for Media Training, 2021).
Iraqi students and graduates attend a workshop held by a local training centre and the Earthlink Telecommunications to improve their skills to better meet the labour market needs. (Photo Courtesy: Elaf Center for Media Training, 2021).

Citing the installation of ten submarine internet cables between Europe and Africa, he said: “We found a significant and large relative increase in the employment rate in connected areas when fast internet becomes available.”

Do We Need More IT Graduates? 

In the Internet era, when many traditional jobs might disappear, students see IT-related courses as a route to secure jobs.

However, the report highlighted that some countries, like Jordan, graduate around 5,000 students in IT-related fields each year, yet less than 2,000 are hired. Still, some see an opportunity for ICT graduates from the region to fill the shortage of skilled IT workers in Western countries.

Alexander Farley believes the region needs more people with IT knowledge.

“University curricula in most MENA countries are slow to update, thus creating a situation where many fresh graduates hold a diploma but are not ready to start working in the IT sector as their knowledge is outdated,” he wrote to Al-Fanar Media.

“Nevertheless, many MENA startups have had great success in the past years. In 2021, MENA-based startups raised close to $3 billion, a new record for the region.”

Alexander Farley

He called on the education and the private sectors to collaborate to improve the university-job pipeline and close the skills gap. “Both sides should make sure that the latest IT knowledge is integrated into curricula and set up internship opportunities for students and graduates,” he said. “Beyond universities, the private sector and educational institutions can hold more workshops to bring people up to speed.”

The report also identified management skills as one of the biggest challenges to expanding potential of IT in the MENA region. “The lack of management skills affects the scalability of projects and businesses that can make use of the surplus of advanced IT skills,” said Farley.

Moreover, the authors said the MENA region lacks truly innovative IT ventures, and is focused instead on adapting ideas created elsewhere.

“In this context, the region is often described as a consumer rather than a creator of technology,” said Farley. “Nevertheless, many MENA startups have had great success in the past years. In 2021, MENA-based startups raised close to $3 billion, a new record for the region.”

Fruitful Digital Transformation Tips

Governments and other stakeholders need to ensure that the expansion of digital infrastructure focuses not just on connectivity (areas covered by Internet), but accessibility, the authors went on.

“Is using the Internet affordable? Do people have access to devices to use the Internet?” wondered Langendorf. “Mobile industry body GSMA estimated those living in areas with a mobile broadband network but not using mobile internet increased from 41 percent to 48 percent between 2014 and 2020.”

To enable investments in digital infrastructure to tackle unemployment, Langendorf calls on governments to support entrepreneurship. “They need to facilitate starting a business and obtaining loans, and decriminalizing bankruptcy,” he said.

“Besides, they should enable cross-border trade and the movement of skilled people between countries.”

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