Hopes for the new year
As 2018 begins, the hope is it ushers in a new era of peace, progress and prosperity in the Arab world.
For such an ambitious wish to come true, three conditions need to be met:
• The ongoing war and civil strife must end. Thus far, this has seemed a dream too far. Negotiations have faltered — or been a non-starter — because a zero-sum culture predominates, especially among politicians and warlords. Interference by regional and global powers has made matters worse. Iran’s sectarian meddling is a case in point.
Even so, the Arab world has only itself to blame for allowing the wider world to exert so much leverage.
The hope is that with the defeat of the Islamic State (ISIS), a new (and less bloody) chapter could begin in the Middle East and North Africa.
• There should be a new focus on reconstruction and socio-economic development.
It’s not too early to think about a coordinated Arab effort to rebuild war-ravaged countries in the region. There is an urgent need for economic reform. Economic diversification and the introduction of a value added tax (VAT) in the Gulf region is an example of the steps needed to wean countries off their dependence on oil. Far more is needed to tackle the mindset of entitlement.
• A stronger momentum for social progress. This requires far-reaching educational reform that allows young people to acquire professional skills that prepare them adequately for adult life. Young Arabs must be equipped with the tools of modernity — knowledge of science and technology, of course, but also a spirit of pragmatism and openness to the world.
Youth is a solid reason for optimism about the future of the Arab world. An opinion poll by the German Friedrich Ebert Foundation indicated that no less than 65% of Arab youth said they were optimistic about the future. That optimism will be warranted if the Arab world invests in its youth.