Arab brain drain destabilizes Mideast, poses threat to West

Sunday, March 16, 2003

The Arab world continues to be hurt as its best and brightest university-educated men emigrate to Western Europe and the United States.

U.S. analysts said the brain drain, combined with a rising unemployment rate among young Arabs, threatens the stability of the Middle East. The high emigration rate of young Arabs also creates ghettos of frustrated Muslims in the West that serve as pools for Al Qaida recruitment, Middle East Newsline reported.

The issue was discussed at a seminar on March 3 hosted by the Washington-based Population Resource Center and several members of Congress.

They included Rep. Danny Davis, an Illinois Democrat, Rep. Jim Greenwood, a Pennsylvania Republican and Mark Steven Kirk, an Illinois Republican.

Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said Western countries are concerned by the high Arab birth rate and rising unemployment among young Muslims both in West and in the Middle East. He told the seminar that more than 60 percent of Saudi Arabia's population is under 30 years of age.

In Egypt, 27 percent of the population was in the 15-to-30-year-old range in 2000. Alterman termed this an age group likely to become "angry and frustrated."

Another speaker, Brian Nichiporuk of the Rand Corp., said the demographic trend in the Middle East has raised security concerns in the West. Nichiporuk said Al Qaida has tapped into the pools of young Middle Eastern emigrants in Europe who gravitate toward well-financed and organized Islamic parties.

Nichiporuk said several Middle East regimes encourage emigration of young Muslims. He said these regimes prefer to export extremists and Muslim ideology rather than deal with them at home.

The high population growth rate, estimated at 3.7 percent for the Middle East and North Africa has repressed the gross domestic product growth rate in the Middle East. Nichiporuk said this has reduced entitlements in the oil-rich Gulf countries, with the biggest impact on such minorities such as Copts in Egypt and Christians in the Palestinian Authority.

Alterman said the rate of youth unemployment is double that of adults in most of the region. He said this makes what he termed "the dependency ratio" the ratio of the dependent age population of 0-14 years and 65-plus to the working age population of 15-64 the highest in the world.

Woman and youngsters largely do not work in the Middle East. Young Muslims from the Middle East often delay marriage and emigrate to Europe, Alterman said. He said the result has been a brain drain and the creation of "ethnic ghettos" in many European cities. He said more than 50 percent of Arab and African students abroad don't return home after their studies and some 54 percent of doctors and 26 percent of engineers leave the Middle East and Africa permanently.

The United States was called on to help Arab regimes create a middle class and provide courses in familiy planning and female literacy. Speakers called on Saudi Arabia to increase technical training to young students.

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