World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2013

  • The Arab World Context

    Wednesday 23rd January 2013 - 3:45pm - 5:00pm

    Download PDF

  • What challenges and transformations are shaping the context for decision-makers in the Arab world?

    Key Points

    • Expectations have risen among Arab populations as a result of the Arab Spring. But so has unemployment as a result of the instability.
    • Regional integration must move higher up the agenda as a way to boost trade and job creation.
    • The Syrian conflict is at the top of the Arab world’s geopolitical concerns, but the Arab reaction has been characterized by division and inaction.


    Unemployment was one of the underlying issues of the Arab Spring, along with the demand for political rights. Legions of unemployed educated youth with high expectations drove the initial revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. They still have high expectations, but two years on, regional economies have not rallied to meet them. Unemployment has risen. Overwhelmingly, the region’s population is young – 70% of the population of Saudi Arabia, for example. Panellists largely agreed that the economic and stability ramifications of the Arab Spring, especially the conflict in Syria, will get worse before they get better.

    Several Gulf states, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, sought to meet the challenge with public-sector pay rises and stimulus packages. But some panellists pointed out that since sustainable, long-term growth must be the goal, government handouts are not the answer. Indeed, graduates should be discouraged from dependence on getting a public-sector position. Creating jobs and fighting corruption are crucial. Many Arab states have made strides in establishing accessible, quality education. But even in those countries, panellists and audience members believed much more must be done to tailor training to employers’ needs. An entrepreneurial spirit should be instilled earlier to enable graduates to create their own opportunities.

    Governments must manage popular expectations, in large part by being more transparent about the problems they face. That holds particularly true for countries such as Egypt and Tunisia, where sweeping change has encouraged demands for jobs and better living standards just as the political process has entered unchartered territory. Instability has kept investors away and joblessness has risen. Necessary political debate has been diverted, in Egypt and Tunisia, to discussions of Islamic Sharia law and its implementation, disillusioning the more secular. Another breaking point could easily be reached.

    But Arab world challenges cannot be blamed on economic factors alone, one panellist warned. Unemployment does not occur in isolation. Political inclusiveness enables governments to deliver its plans effectively. Only a government with a clear vision can attract investors. And only if the system is functioning can the private sector create useful jobs in any quantity.

    Greater regional integration would also create jobs and boost regional economies, and panellists agreed it must rise up the agenda. Some examples exist, and the Gulf countries particularly absorb many Arab workers. But boosting regional trade could create significant opportunities.

    Syria dominated the discussion of geopolitical tensions. Now two years old, the conflict has embroiled major regional players such as Turkey, Qatar and Iran. More than in any other Arab uprising, sectarianism has exacerbated the crisis. Paralysis at the United Nations Security Council has stymied international action.

    Asked about finding Arab solutions to the problem, panellists admitted to being at a loss. Some said Arab powers would like to intervene, but have insufficient capabilities. That drew an audience member to question the point of billions of dollars-worth of Gulf arms purchases. Others asked why insurgents fighting the regime of Syria’s president, Bashar Al-Assad, remained poorly armed given widespread Arab support, particularly from the Gulf. Many expressed regret over Arab inaction and the deep divisions within the region over how to stem the bloodshed.


    This summary was written by Lucy Fielder. The views expressed are those of certain participants in the discussion and do not necessarily reflect the views of all participants or of the World Economic Forum.

Session objectives

What challenges and transformations are shaping the context for decision-makers in the Arab world?

Dimensions to be addressed:

  • North Africa’s transitions
  • Advancing youth employment
  • Heightened geopolitical uncertainties


  • Mustapha Kamel Nabli Mustapha Kamel Nabli
    Consultant, North Africa Bureau of Economics Studies, Tunisia

    Master's and PhD in Economics, University of California, Los Angeles. Formerly: Professor of Economi...

  • Ibrahim S. Dabdoub Ibrahim S. Dabdoub
    Vice-Chairman, International Bank of Qatar, Qatar

    Studies at Collège des Frères, Bethlehem, Middle East Technical University, Ankara, Turkey and Sta...

  • Kamal Bin Ahmed Mohammed Kamal Bin Ahmed Mohammed
    Minister of Transportation and Telecommunications of Bahrain

    Bachelor's in Civil Engineering, Univ. of Bahrain; Master's in International Project Management, Lee...

  • H.R.H. Prince  Turki Al Faisal Al Saud H.R.H. Prince Turki Al Faisal Al Saud
    Prince of Saudi Royal Family; Chairman, King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, Saudi Arabia

    Studied at Princeton, Cambridge and Georgetown universities. 1972-77, Adviser to Royal Court; 1977, ...

  • Dina Madani Dina Madani
    Professional, Muslim Minorities Department, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Jeddah

    Graduate, International Relations and Diplomacy, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts Univers...

Moderated by

  • Kamahl Santamaria Kamahl Santamaria
    Presenter, Al Jazeera English, Qatar

    World News Anchor and Host, business and economics programme Counting the Cost, Al Jazeera English.