The Arab World in 2030

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In 2010, the European Commission undertook a pilot project to explore the possibility of establishing “an inter-institutional system identifying long-term trends in major policy issues facing the EU.” The pilot’s findings are included in Global Trends 2030: Citizens in an Interconnected and Polycentric World.

World Bank | Arne HoelThe report identifies three major global trends: 1) The growing empowerment of individuals driven by a growing middle class;  a middle-class with converging values and demands, including demands for political participation – but with attendant risks of extremism and populism; 2) Stronger human development trends but persistent challenges in inequality, climate change and resource scarcity; and 3) An increasingly polycentric world that is faced with governance gaps as interstate mechanisms fail to respond to global public goods.

The report is global in reach but what does it foresee for the Arab World? See below for my summary and possible outcomes in 2030:

On the Arab World and Democracy – The report is optimistic but cautious; a more democratic Arab polity could indeed emerge with the protests clearly demonstrating that Islam and democracy are not incompatible. According to young Muslims "democracy and political participation facilitate the affirmation of national, cultural and religious identities and creativity.” Underlined is the key role of the “social network generation” in pushing forward democratization.

On the Arab World and Social Accountability – The report’s Cairo focus group called for new forms of political participation, including introduction of local level checks and balances mechanisms, and underlined the importance of democratic control over decision-making through channels "other than elected representatives." As one activist said "It is insufficient to wait for elections every four years to monitor and influence decisions.” Challenges include state controls over the media but this is increasingly balanced by participatory journalism, which uses new technologies and is emerging as an example of social accountability in action.

On Women and Gender Issues – The report states that the percentage of women in European and American parliaments stands at 20 percent – but is double that at 40 percent in the Nordic countries. In Arab countries it is 10 percent, lower than Africa's 20 percent.  However, the report views the revolutions as a likely turning point (despite serious challenges) - "The political participation of women is very likely unstoppable…women are the protagonists of new movements and social changes, and will claim their right to determine the political destiny of their communities, countries and regions." The new youth organizations, more open and internet and social network-savvy will likely strengthen the political involvement of women over the coming decades.

Identity issues – The Cairo focus group expressed an Arab identity and feeling “even more Egyptian” after the revolution. These well-educated youth had a strong sense of belonging, not “needing an enemy” to unite. Some saw themselves as "netizens". Moroccan and Egyptian civic activists cited the late Moroccan academic Mohammed Abed al-Jabri who focused on reconciling modernity and the tradition in the Arab and Muslim worlds as having the most influence on them.   

The Arab World and Conflict – On the conflict in the Western Sahara, much will depend on the democratization processes in Morocco and Algeria - meaningful dialogue could help resolve this conflict. Current changes in the Arab world may create more favorable conditions for Palestinian reconciliation and increase pressure on Israel to accept a two-state solution. Two factors in particular however could undermine peace: failure of attempts to democratize Syria and Egypt and political developments in Israel and the US favoring those opposed to a peace deal.

Egypt – Its democratic transition could turn it into a Middle East powerhouse. With a projected population of 106 million by 2030, Egypt can benefit from its proximity to Turkey and the European markets. But aside from consolidating democracy, Egypt needs to address poverty, marginalization, and the challenge of the “youth bulge.” If it does so, Egypt could be an ideological and political hub for a new pan-Arab project, replacing nationalism with “democratic patriotism”; this term is not defined in the report, but presumably means a much stronger commitment to democracy than previous nationalist ideologies in the region.

Regional Integration – The report posits the possibility of the region evolving into a "middle power" hub through cooperation between Turkey, Egypt, and Iran and Iraq, assuming the latter two democratize.  Such hubs, it argues, could become trans-regional and exert influence beyond the immediate region as they build "a new wave of development partnerships that transcend the rich-poor logic and promote south-south cooperation."

I think the report underlines well the economic and political potential that the Arab Spring has brought to the fore - I am optimistic that this potential will be realized, and perhaps sooner than most expect.

What do you think? 

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Omer Karasapan

Regional Knowledge & Learning Coordinator

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