Leadership: Unemployment And The Arab Revolution


March 4, 2011:  Libyans are rebelling against their dictatorial government, and one of the complaints is a lack of jobs. The unemployment rate is believed to be about 30 percent. Yet there are over a million foreign workers in Libya, and a million government employees. The foreigners comprise 20 percent of the population, and nearly half the workforce. There are plenty of jobs for Libyans, but most of the jobs require work most Libyans will not do. As a result, most of the jobs are held by foreigners, often illegal immigrants from Egypt and other African nations to the south. A revolution is unlikely to change this.

This is not an unusual situation in the Arab oil states. In Saudi Arabia, the unemployment rate is 12 percent, but many of those men are unemployed by choice. Arabs tend to have a very high opinion of themselves, and most jobs available to poorly educated young men, do not satisfy. Thus most Saudis, and Libyans, prefer a government job, where the work is easy, the pay is good, the title is flattering, and life is boring. In the non-government sector of the economy, 90 percent of the Saudi jobs are taken by foreigners. These foreigners comprise 27 percent of the Saudi population, mostly to staff all the non-government jobs. This means most young Saudi men have few challenges. One might say that many of them are desperate for some test of their worth, and a job in the competitive civilian economy does not do it. Thus al Qaeda appealed to this by urging Saudi men to come to Iraq and fight for Islam. Since few of the volunteers had any fighting skills, most arrived and were talked into being suicide bombers.

The Saudi employment situation is not unique. The UAE (United Arab Emirates) has foreigners occupying 99 percent of the non-government jobs. The unemployment rate is 23 percent, but only a tenth of those are actually looking for a job. A survey indicated that most of the unemployed are idle by choice. Kuwait is more entrepreneurial, with only 80 percent of the non-government jobs taken by foreigners. The other Gulf Arab states (which have less oil) have a similar situation.

Thus even if Libyans succeed in ousting the current dictatorship, they will still have to deal with the jobs situation. Many of the several hundred thousand foreign workers who have fled the country will want to come back when things settle down. And many of them will be desperately needed, because the foreigners have essential skills required to keep the economy going. Meanwhile, more government jobs is not a solution, because even the current government announced, last year, a plan for  eliminating 400,000 government jobs over the next few years. This is one reason many Libyans joined the rebels, but the government jobs will still have to go, because there is not enough oil revenue to sustain the current government payroll. The jobs situation is one the major problems in Libya, and one that rarely gets talked about. But it's a problem that won't go away.






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