The Arab world is in a phase of uncertain transition. The old style social contract, which was the exchange of control over security and stability with economic opportunities, is not effective anymore. The economic systems of the Arab states have relied highly on the natural resources export, like many other countries rich in resources. However this gift from nature has not been helpful for the real development of the countries, or in taking them toward peaceful relations, both regionally and internationally. Presumably this is what is called a “resource curse”.
As much as there are ambitious economical plans, there are also fragilities. The region which is holding almost half of the oil reserves is significantly behind the rest of the world on advancing toward democratic values.
Considering the dramatic changes based on the growth of new technologies in the digital scope, the young generations of the region are having more contacts with the world around them, even without travelling or studying abroad. The rapid changes are surely modifying the type of relationship between states and the populations which are demanding for more rights and equalities.
These countries, which are trying to enter the competitive open economy with its tremendous changes, should consider the demands of the base of the societies which are not looking at the world from the same lenses as older generations, but from the perspective of the new media.
The society is therefore looking for different ties with their governments. A more inclusive relationship of the civil society, which is being empowered not only based on mere economic growth. The same discipline that worked towards the economic progress is now also required for strengthening the civil society, with request for more accountability and transparency along with the involvement in the decision-making process.
The youth unemployment is mostly based on the exorbitant employment on the public sector along with subsidies and governmental control over the economy. The increase of population along with the rise of female labour is creating new needs which are not possible to be covered by the old methods. The new generation which is educated and aware (thanks to new technologies) is now demanding for new opportunities and a new social contract.
It should be taken into consideration that the ambitious economic plans in the highly connected global world of today require a closer interaction between the government and the private sector, and to invest in innovation along with education; creating contradictory risks in the modern society. The educated and innovative youth are looking for changes. Here is where the need for an interaction of government and the civil society is illustrating itself.
A better institutional framework in the Arab world will not only address the need of the society for changes, but will also support the economic growth and the ambitious development plans of the elite level. The Arab world has indeed a potential to create a more competitive and diverse private sector, if addressed correctly. However the potential for competitiveness itself would not be sufficient to meet the crucial needs of the populations, which leans towards the creation of a stronger civil society, since the ultimate requirement for gaining the trust of foreign investors in the plans that are currently in development is also based on predictability and transparency along with accountability.
Perhaps in the region with many involved actors trying to define their field of interest and security, the European Union could be a pioneer in moving toward democratic transition and the creation of civil society. Along with its proven ability in innovation and educational, the EU can be a trusted partner of Arab world, since it should be taken into consideration that the interests and the concerns of both sides are highly intertwined to each other.
(You can read the last article by Ghazal Poorhasan here)