What are the major contributors to socio-economic growth and empowerment in the Middle East and North Africa following the Arab Spring?
According to the US State Department:
Youth, Civil Society, and Regional Economic Cooperation
This past week, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton held a Global Town Hall with Civil Society Representatives organized under the auspices of the State Department’s Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society 2012 Summit. During the Summit, Secretary Clinton reaffirmed US support of civil society around the world, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, given all that has unfolded in the region since the Summit initiative was launched last year. Her remarks were followed by Q&A with civil society representatives at the event in Washington and those participating virtually around the world.
During the Summit, Secretary Clinton took a question from Manal Elattir, a Moroccan social entrepreneur, who asked, “How can civil society drive a social dialogue among the concerned stakeholders where there is public, private, academia, NGO; a social dialogue that is result-oriented, that reinforces their collaboration, amplifies what already exists, and delivers the jobs needed in the immediate future?”
Secretary Clinton acknowledged that Ms. Elattir’s concern about jobs was common, especially given that 60 percent of the world’s population is under 30 and that group suffers the the highest rate of unemployment. Addressing the needs of this critical part of the population is even more urgent in the Middle East and North Africa, given the unrest and profound political developments over the last year. Secretary Clinton reflected on her recent trip to Morocco to highlight the efforts being made and the challenges yet to face to empower youth and civil society to promote growth, cooperation and regional stability:
“And when I was just in Morocco, I met with the leaders of this effort who are leaders of corporations, small businesses, entrepreneurs, innovators and we are working with them to try to increase their economic reach so that they can offer more jobs. What can they do to improve their exports? What can they do with our help to break down barriers so that they can get into new markets? Now one of the things that would particularly help in the Maghreb, if you look at from Morocco through Egypt, those countries trade less with each other than any contiguous countries in the world. You have the border between Morocco and Algeria closed. You have continuing difficulties with other countries in terms of trade agreements, open borders – the kind of free flow of commerce that does create jobs. And so the more that can be done to integrate the economies of the Maghreb, the more I believe you will have greater opportunities for young people.”
Experts on the Maghreb have long asserted that regional conflicts, as in the Western Sahara, greatly contribute to poor regional economic growth and cooperation. In 2009, a blue ribbon panel, including former Secretary Madeline Albright, General (Ret.) Wesley Clark, and Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat concluded that the Western Sahara conflict is the “single greatest obstacle to [regional economic] integration” and that the United States “can help broker resolution of the Western Sahara conflict, which is the major obstacle to regional integration and the central impediment to effective coordination of efforts to combat terrorism, illegal immigration, smuggling, drug trafficking, and to promote economic cooperation and other regional initiatives.” On multiple occasions, Secretary Clinton has reiterated US support—from the Clinton, Bush and Obama Administrations as well as bipartisan majorities of the US House and Senate—for a solution to the Western Sahara conflict based on a compromise autonomy/ sovereignty and that “Morocco’s autonomy plan is serious, realistic and credible, a potential approach to satisfy the aspirations of the people in the Western Sahara to run their own affairs in peace and dignity.”