As the Arab Awakening continues to unfold, the region’s future will hinge on whether greater political freedoms in countries like Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya can be harnessed to produce innovation, economic growth, and a true knowledge economy.

One year after the outbreak of protests in Tahrir Square, Inger Anderson of the World Bank and Rami Khouri, Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs and Editor-at-Large of Lebanon’s Daily Star, assessed the economic opportunities unlocked by the Arab Awakening and discussed the steps policymakers can take to help ignite a new Arab renaissance driven by innovation and technology. Carnegie’s Marwan Muasher moderated.

The Changes in the Middle East

  • A Tradition of Innovation: The Arab world is a region with a real tradition of invention and innovation, Andersen asserted. She added that the international community should view the developments in the Middle East with both optimism and caution. 

  • Challenges: The region faces a number of challenges, including high unemployment levels, remittances, the Euro crisis, and drops in tourism, Andersen said. There are too few startups, too few patents, and a limited number of women in business, she added. 

  • Necessary Changes: The region needs about 40 million jobs in the next ten years, Andersen said. Such growth cannot be achieved without a transparent government, a quality educational system that promotes critical thinking, and an environment that allows the private sector to flourish. Khouri added that a radical new approach would be necessary to bring about new and novel solutions to the long-standing problems plaguing the region. 

  • Lenses: Khouri suggested that the current changes occurring across the Arab world can be seen through seven different lenses or perspectives: youth, political systems and power structures, culture and religion, the private sector, the public sector, civil society, and global engagement and the role of foreign donors. He suggested that analyzing the changes in these distinct ways would produce the most effective policies for the region. 

  • The Revolution’s Timeline: Muasher stated that it is unrealistic to expect immediate democracy in light of the numerous changes that countries across the region are undergoing. 

Youth in the Arab World and Social Media

  • The Significance of Youth: Muasher commented that about 70 percent of the population in the Arab world is under the age of thirty, making this age bracket a significant segment of society.

  • The Role of Youth: Khouri argued that youth are the best barometer by which to measure society in the Arab world. Young people’s grievances are parallel to those of adults, but the young are more willing to express themselves openly. He added that non-governmental organizations, governments, and companies should measure their success by measuring the impact on and inclusion of youth. Youth in the Arab world want both space to live their lives in society and respect, Khouri stated. 

  • The Role of Social Media: It was the networks of human to human interaction on the street, in the squares, and in the mosques that brought along the mobilization of the Arab people, Khouri asserted. Andersen added that social media was able to facilitate the transfer of experience and the spread of information in a speedy manner. 

The Importance of Education

  • Education and Innovation: Anderson, Khouri, and Muasher emphasized the importance of education to the future of innovation in the region. All three recognized that an overhaul of the Arab educational system is necessary. Andersen stated that education is important to connect youth to the labor market and to facilitate students graduating with skills that can be used in the working world. 

  • Education for Citizenship: Muasher stated that an initiative titled “Education for Citizenship” has been started at Carnegie. The initiative aims to teach the Arab citizenry not only about civic education and the structure of the government, but also about innovation and critical thinking—about being a citizen. Muasher added that the initiative brings together a network of Arab reformers working on education across the Middle East.

  • Education as a National Concern: Andersen stated that for education reform to succeed, education must become everyone’s business. Countries must have an open dialogue on education in order for international organizations to be able to help develop tools to measure performance and teacher training.