Published on Arab Voices

The problems that won't go away when the government falls

Arab Voices and ViewsThis Arab Voices and Views Conference brings together a group of outstanding activists, academics, scholars and experts from around the Middle East & North Africa, is very significant, in that it does not reflect the World Bank or its views, whose role has been to simply offer the opportunity and the space for the discussion to take place.

It is a unique gathering, not meant to lecture or give presentations, but to discuss and share views on what is happening in the region. More specifically and meaningfully, it is not a forum meant to analyze the changing political dimensions of the current events in the Arab World, but to look more deeply into the issues that have triggered some of them, and map a way forward for the future.

We all know that many of the underlying grievances and triggers of these unprecedented events are economic and social in nature, although they have  taken on a very political direction in the recent months, mainly because they have not been addressed.


It is quite self evident by now that these grievances have long been simmering under the surface, and reflect the deep feeling of the populations of these countries, especially the young, that they are facing a fundamental lack of access and opportunity.  


Essentially, much of the frustration seems to be about lack of access to good jobs, lack of access to economic opportunity, lack of access to good governance - transparent, accountable, accessible public policy institutions -  and a lack of access to credible institutional channels where their voices can be heard and counted.


While it is very clear, of course, that most of these underlying issues are very complex and will take a long time to be addressed, they are however, issues that will not go away because one government falls, or one leader replaces another.


Looking at this regionally, rather than one country at a time, we can see very clearly that much of the region faces a set of common development challenges that have taken on a political overtone because they have not been addressed for far too long. 


These challenges are in fact, economic and social in nature. Many of them, in fact, also go beyond the boarders or the capacity of any one country in the region to face them alone. These challenges, such as governance reforms, youth employment, water scarcity, food security, the role of the private sector, the quality of education, gender inequality, and the consequences of the likely climate changes, transcend national borders and can and, I think, should be faced on a regional level.


The region, however, is also in a unique position to address these challenges together, and in so doing, call on its common heritage and history, to accelerate and garner deeper and wider results collectively.


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