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Kai Ryssdal: A friend of mine told me the other day that there’s a saying in the Arab world — that as Egypt goes, so goes the rest of the Middle East. She’s Egyptian, so she’s not entirely objective. But it rings true. And it does help explain why so many people, including a whole lot of policymakers in the American government, have been watching the events in Egypt so closely this week.
Commentator Mona Eltahawy says the protests in Egypt and elsewhere in the region have much in common.
Mona Eltahawy: It’s referred to as the “Youth Bulge,” the Arab world’s unprecedented share of youth, between the ages of 15-29. And that bulge seems to be morphing into an earthquake. Young people, frustrated at unemployment and political repression, have fueled a revolution in Tunisia and organized unprecedented protests in Egypt. Algeria, Yemen and Jordan have had their share of protests too.
Unemployment is an especially acute concern. Official statistics in Tunisia put it at 14 percent, but analysts say it’s closer to 35. The state there, as in many Arab countries, has not been able to create enough jobs to keep up with population growth. Positive economic indices often mask the lack of trickle down: Protesters in both the Tunisian uprising as well as in Egypt chanted against the corruption of their rulers.
Imagine being a 25-year-old Egyptian. You take advantage of your country’s free university education, but you’re crammed into lecture halls along with thousands of other students. You wonder how useful your degree will be once you hit the job market. The state which had once guaranteed your parents and their entire generation jobs, couldn’t even pretend to want to do the same with you if it tried. You feel like your life is on hold: No job, no money and no freedom. Those who can, leave for opportunities for abroad and those who remain are in danger of slipping into despair.
The U.S. is an ally to many regimes in the Middle East and North Africa. It gives Egypt millions in aid every year. And what Middle East youth question is its support for governments that have done nothing to open up economic opportunities. This is an issue that should resonate with many in the U.S.: how do you deal with long-term unemployment, how do you face economic uncertainty and how to plan for a future without a job on the horizon?
So unless Washington pushes its allies in the region to open up both politically as well as economically, it will be resented along with those governments.
Ryssdal: Mona Eltahawy is a syndicated columnist. You can send us your thoughts.
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