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Young Arabs Don’t Want to Emigrate, New Study Says

CAIRO—Youth unemployment in the Arab region is high, but new research based on surveys from Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and Lebanon shows that few young people from these countries want to emigrate.

“The conventional wisdom that most young people want to emigrate is not true. In fact, the number is less than 20 percent,” said Elena Sánchez-Montijano of the Barcelona Center for International Affairs, who was the study’s scientific co-ordinator.

That was one conclusion from the research project titled “Researching Arab Mediterranean Youth: Towards a New Social Contract”, funded by the European Union, presented December 6 at the American University of Cairo.

Another conclusion, repeatedly made by speakers at the event, was the failure of education in these countries to help young people become employed. The young people surveyed said they felt strong ties to their countries and many of they only want to leave because they feel forced to do so to seek job opportunities or to support their families.

The project took three years to complete and included personal interviews and opinion polls taken from 2,000 young men and women. Its goal was to bring to light issues faced by young people, who make up more than two thirds of the population in these five countries.

The study analyzed responses to questions about education, unemployment, emigration and political participation. The responses showed that levels of political participation were very low, especially in Egypt, where only 5 percent of young people were involved with a political party, or with a cultural or neighborhood group.

The feeling behind this lack of participation was expressed by Basma Siraj, a master’s degree student at the American University in Cairo. “We want to work actively in our society, but no one listens to us,” she said. She said the youth don’t see themselves in anything they are doing and this makes them uninterested in any social or political participation. They just find themselves in a long unemployment queue.

Bahgat Korany, professor of political science at the American Universty in Cairo, noted that most employed young people in the five countries got their jobs through personal patronage, or connections. In Egypt, 84 percent of young people in employment got their jobs this way, as did 63 percent in Morocco and 57 percent in Lebanon.

In Algeria, where the youth unemployment rate is 32 percent, Mustafa Omrane, professor of sociology and population studies at the University of Khemis Miliana, pointed to shortcomings in the methods used by government to try to ease youth unemployment. “Although the government provided millions of dollars in loans for young people to set up small and medium-sized enterprises, they were not successful because the education system does not provide the minimum needs of the labor market,” he said. Without the necessary skills, entrepreneurship cannot be successful, he said.

The full study will be published next month and will be given to the European Union—the funder—to consider it while designing projects for Arab youth.

Arab young people expect little response from their governments to the study.

“Most of studies are interested in getting our voices,” said Siraj,” the master’s degree student. “But we hope that decision makers are also interested in listening to us.”


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