Unemployment, cronyism, bad governance and lack of transparency and accountability were factors that have contributed to the Arab Spring. However, worries over employment stem beyond the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and the challenges facing southern Mediterranean countries like Greece, Spain, Portugal and other troubled EU economies. A Gallup poll provides a global perspective on this issue. The table below looks at the Arab countries – the global table is in the link to the poll.
Last year, pessimistic perspective on the job market prevailed globally. According to Gallup surveys conducted in 109 countries in 2011, 57% of adults worldwide said it was a bad time to find a job in their local communities, while 33% disagreed. Europeans were the most pessimistic, with 72% saying it was a bad time to look for a job. MENA was the second most pessimistic region, with 64% of respondents agreeing with the Europeans.
Thinking About the job situation in your country?
Would you say that it is now a good time or a bad time to find a job?
In contrast, four members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) *felt the most optimistic about job prospects. In Saudi Arabia and Oman, 69% of residents said it was a good time to find a job, despite relatively high unemployment rates. Gallup noted, "with global demand for oil continuing to increase, the fossil fuel-based economies in these countries, as well as in Qatar and Kuwait, have continued to shelter their residents from the recessionary pressures felt in other countries."
However, this optimism did not extend to Bahrain where only 32% of respondents thought that this was a good time to be looking for a job. It is likely that the ongoing political and sectarian tensions in the country are at least partially behind this pessimistic view. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE) 42% percent of respondents were positive on the outlook for jobs. The number is significantly lower than the four GCC members mentioned above, and is largely attributed to the property overhang and lack of government spending in the Emirates, other than Abu Dhabi. Still, it should be noted that the UAE numbers are much better than the global average.
While only one Arab country, Egypt, made it into the global listing of the ten most pessimistic nations, with Yemen following closely behind, eight Arab countries polled below the global average of 33%. The only non-GCC Arab countries that exceeded the global average and were more optimistic about prospects for finding a job were the Algerians (50% - presumably with its hydrocarbon riches a factor here), Moroccans (36%) and Syrians (34%). However, the Syrian numbers predate the large scale violence that has since gripped the country.
Europe is of critical importance to the MENA region, It is a key destination for exports and a significant source of investments and tourists. Therefore, the speed at which many Arab economies recover will depend to some extent on the health of the European economy and the continent’s social and political confidence. Unfortunately, the poll –except for a few countries- suggests a troubled Europe. Six of the countries that were the most pessimistic on the job front are EU members. While Greece heads this list with a 96% negative outlook among those polled, the large economies of Italy and Spain also poll above 90%, and only 13% of British respondents and 23% of French respondents were optimistic about the prospect for jobs. The only European countries that polled above the global positive outlook average of 33% were Germany (48%), Austria (42%), Sweden (41%), and Finland (36%). The US, by the way, also polled below the global average and only 26% of respondents though this to be a good time to be looking for a job.
As to the BRICS, only Russia with a 22% positive perspective on jobs and South Africa with 33%, polled below the average global positive outlook of 33. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of those countries with a positive outlook on the job front are developing nations, including the powerhouses of Brazil and China. And while these countries are showing some signs of (relatively) slower growth, there are opportunities for the Arab world to turn to newer markets in Asia, Africa and beyond. Also, the GCC set of countries does provide some fiscal comfort to transitioning Arab countries; it also represents a ready source of capital for competitive and profitable investments in the Arab world as well. It is indeed a tough time to be having the Arab revolutions but there are opportunities to expand and diversify into new markets and make better use of regional opportunities while awaiting the recovery of European and other economies.
*The GCC polling was done in Arabic and included national as well as Arabic speaking expats. Depending on the country it is estimated that this excluded 5-10% of the adult population.