Democracy in the Middle East: reality versus expectations

The international climate has changed immeasurably in the past decade, and so with it the way in which we perceive and talk about the issues. Instead of headlines remonstrating on improvised explosive devices, these same headlines now proclaim the rise of the drones, instead of debating the merits of a military surge, we cogitate on military withdrawal, and instead of deploring the dictatorships of the Arab world, we fear the Arab Spring.

But have the core issues surrounding the central conflict really changed? In his article for OpenDemocracy.net, journalist Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi argues that the challenges facing the Arab world remain unchanged, but possibly compounded, by the decade of upheaval experienced throughout the region. In particular, he shines a light on the civic issues facing many Arab nations that are often overlooked in global journalism.

Al Qassemi notes some surprising statistics, such as the blight of unemployment facing women and youth in particular, likely a side effect of a crippled tourism industry and heavy governmental regulations on trade. He also discusses the two-fold problem of education, with education standards being amongst the lowest in the world, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, resulting in the correspondingly weak industry that has little other choice but to employ the “unemployable.” Highly-skilled graduates, on the other hand, are far more likely to attempt to emigrate, resulting in a “brain drain,” where skilled individuals use their nations training for the economic benefit of another country, which was estimated in 2007 to have cost the region upwards of $1.5 billion, a figure almost certainly to have risen in the last five years as emigration levels continue to rise.

Cultural issues, too, have been negatively affected, says Al Qassemi, with freedom of expression being even more severely limited than before, and with new constitutions being drafted to suppress the ability of its citizens to express any dissent through social media networks as well as through the spoken or written word. He notes that these restrictive media laws are “kept ambiguous in order for them to be malleable” – certainly not a forward-thinking undertaking to protect the citizen’s right to speech.

Al Qassemi’s article makes clear that bringing down an oppressive, totalitarian regime is not the end of the news story, but the beginning. Nation-wide and culturally-ingrained challenges are not solved overnight, and Al Qassemi contends that this process “may take an entire generation to succeed.”

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