Contribution from youth in social movements is common: Youth played a large role in the French protests in 1968, in the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia the same year, and in the women’s movement and anti-Vietnam protests in the United States. Youth played a similarly large role in the revolutions and protests across North Africa. Not only do they make up a disproportionally large segment of the population in this region, they are also well-educated and face high unemployment. This combination has led to frustration with government and the economy. But many analysts also see this demographic, called the “youth bulge,” as an opportunity for economic progress.
Despite many differences between North African countries, all share in one characteristic: the youth bulge. In countries across the Arab World, youth – aged 15 to 29 – make up about 30 percent of the population; comparable to 20 percent in most Western countries. Nearly half of the population of the Middle East and North Africa is under 20. In many of these countries, youth unemployment is much higher than the already high rate for adults. In Egypt, for example, young people make up 80 percent of the total unemployed population – and 95 percent of these have secondary degrees. The youth bulge spans the entire region, and is a crucial factor in the region’s recent changes.
Considering the commonalities in North African countries with the youth bulge, the crucial role the youth have played in the recent uprisings, and the potential role the youth could play in the future of North African countries, it is imperative to better understand the frustrations of the youth in each North African country. The Silatech Index: Voices of Young Arabs (April 2011) is based on the voices of thousands of young people across the Arab world and offers fresh insights into what their perspectives, ideas, hopes, and fears were in 2010, right before the onset of the Arab Spring. The report also provides an understanding to how young people throughout the Arab world are being affected by and responding to the recent global economic downturn. The following country paragraphs are summaries of the results from the report, which can be found in its entirety here.
Despite problems in the country, the Algerian youth pointed to several of its strengths in 2010, just prior to the Arab Spring. Two such strengths were the job environment and the economy. 49% of the youth in Algeria stated that it was a good time to find a job, an increase from 34% in 2009, and were more satisfied than in 2009 with the efforts to increase quality jobs. Further, 52% of youth believe the current economic conditions are getting better. The last strength Algerian youth identified was entrepreneurship – 67% stated that their communities are good places for entrepreneurs.
Despite these strengths, Algeria faces challenges that can be divided into two crucial areas: safety and education. Only 50% of youth stated that they feel safe walking alone at night in their communities. However, this is an increase from 39% in 2009. On education, 52% of the youth have completed at least secondary education but only 20% are employed full time.
Egyptian youth display strong community ties and nationalist loyalty. Despite low satisfaction with economic and living conditions, 61% were unwilling to relocate to another city within Egypt or to another country if unemployed for six months or longer. Even further, 72% would prefer to continue to live in Egypt if given the opportunity to move and 83% said they are unlikely to move away from their communities in the next twelve months. Lastly, 80% said they were satisfied with their local communities overall.
Despite satisfaction with local communities, Egyptian youth identified several problems just prior to the Arab Spring. First, they were significantly less satisfies than in 2009 with the freedom to choose what to do with their lives. Second, there was an overwhelmingly negative outlook on the economy. For instance, only 15% considered the current economic conditions to be good or excellent and only 20% were satisfied with efforts to increase the number of quality jobs. Lastly, housing and public transportation were also identified as weaknesses. Only 25% were satisfied with the availability of good, affordable housing, which was down from 2009, and only 48% were satisfied with the public transportation system, down from 79% in 2009.
The youth of Benghazi, al-Kufrah, and Tripoli identified leadership as one of Libya’s strengths in 2010. 61% of the Libyan youth of these three cities believe the country’s leadership maximizes its potential. A second strength was education; a majority of youth were satisfied with the educational system, and 69% believed younger generations have the opportunity to learn and grow every day.
Youth identified challenges, including confidence in the ability of young men and women to make a difference and the business climate. Libyan youth were less likely in 2010 than in 2009 to say that young men and women can contribute to the country’s progress in the next decade. While 68% view entrepreneurs favorably only 35% have thought about starting a business. Further, only 12% stated it is easy for anyone to obtain a loan to start a business and only 15% stated that the government makes paperwork and permits easy for entrepreneurs.
The youth of Mauritania identified the strengths of the country in 2010 to be jobs, the economy, the ability of youth to make a difference, and the fight against corruption. Youth were more likely in 2010 than in 2009 to say that it is a good time to find a job in their area. Largely, they believe that people in their country can get ahead by hard work. 98% said that young men can help the country make substantial progress over the next ten years and 96% said young women can do the same. Increasing numbers of youth believe national economic conditions are improving. Lastly, 60% believe the government is doing enough to fight corruption, an increase from 24% in 2009, and significantly higher than in other Maghrebi countries.
Despite a seemingly positive outlook, youth identified several challenges, including the economy and poverty. Only 19% were satisfied with the efforts to deal with the poor. Further, despite 64% having a favorable opinion of entrepreneurs, only 25% of the youth believe it is easy to obtain a loan to start a business, and only 27% of the youth have ever thought about starting a business. Mauritanian youth also suffer from a lack of education. Only 40% have completed secondary school or higher and only about half were satisfied with the education system or school in their area.
The youth of Morocco had a more positive outlook on the local economy and communities in 2010 than in 2009. 70% of Moroccan youth in 2010 believed local economic conditions were improving compared to 54% in 2009. 71% stated that their communities were becoming better places to live compared to 53% in 2009. However, only a little over a third stated that the national economy was getting better, which was a decrease from half in 2009. Perhaps because of this poor outlook though, a surprising 86% stated they are willing to start their own business if they were unemployed for at least six months.
According to the youth of Morocco, challenges that remain include education and job availability. Moroccan youth have completed significantly less secondary education than youth of other middle-income countries. The economy is also struggling; only 25% said that it is a good time to find a job, down from 42% in 2009.
The main strength identified by the youth of Tunisia in 2010 was education. 90% believed that children are treated with respect and dignity and that children have the opportunity to learn and grow. 90% of boys and girls in Tunisia complete primary school and 67% completed at least secondary education.
But youth continue to find frustration with the economy and job availability. Tunisian youth were less likely than the youth of other middle-income countries to want to stay in Tunisia. They were also significantly less likely than in 2009 to say that they would be willing to retrain for a different career or to start their own business if unemployed for at least six months. Further, they were less likely than in 2009 to say that taking part in regular job training increases the chances of getting a job or a better job. Lastly, the Tunisian youth were less likely than in 2009 to say entrepreneurs can trust their assets and property to be safe and that the government makes paperwork and permits easy enough for entrepreneurs.
Jennifer Bubke (Spring and Summer 2011 Maghreb Center Intern)
Colleen McCullough (Summer 2011 Maghreb Center Intern)
 Tapscott, Don. “The World’s Unemployed Youth: Revolution in the Air?”. April 6, 2011. HuffPost World. August 2011. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/don-tapscott/the-worlds-unemployed-you_b_845580.html
 Sayre, Edward and Samantha Constant. “The Whole World is Watching.” Feb 21, 2011. NationalJournal. August 2011. http://www.nationaljournal.com/magazine/why-the-middle-east-s-youth-bulge-is-key-to-the-region-s-stability-20110221
 Adams, Anda and Rebecca Winthrop. “The Role of Education in the Arab World Revolutions”. June 10, 2011. Brookings. August 2011. http://www.brookings.edu/opinions/2011/0610_arab_world_education_winthrop.aspx
 “The Silatech Index: Voices of Young Arabs (April 2011)”. April 2011. Silatech. August 2011. April 2011. http://www.silatech.com/images/PDF/silatech_wave4_report_wcover_poll_en-us_03-15-11_sa_lr.pdf