I would like to lead off with some material from the Council on Foreign Relations
How significant has the role of demographics been in the protests across the Middle East?
Demographics have played an important role, not because they are the problems themselves but because they have exacerbated other serious problems that youth are having in the way that they have been affected by the reforms that have occurred over the past three years in the Middle East. So, demographics, simply by having large numbers of people who are very frustrated at their inability to turn their education into productive jobs, has really exacerbated the problems.
The entire region is experiencing a pronounced “youth bulge,” where the proportion of young people is significantly larger compared to other age groups. Is this an opportunity or a challenge?
Currently it’s proving to be a challenge, but it’s not necessarily a challenge. In other parts of the world, the youth bulge phenomenon has been an opportunity. In East Asia and Southeast Asia with their open economies and good education systems, they’ve been able to use the youth bulge as an advantage. In the Middle East, unfortunately, it’s turning out to be a challenge because of the governments’ inability to put together economic policies that make use of these human resources. When you have people whose expectations have risen because of their education, and then these expectations are shattered, they become very angry and dangerous to the regimes.
“In East Asia and Southeast Asia with their open economies and good education systems, they’ve been able to use the youth bulge as an advantage.”
So right there we see a very interesting difference of two factors
Good Education system
So lets look first at the openness of their economy using some data from the Heritage Foundation (I understand the limitations of the Heritage foundation but it makes a good starting off point. They also have a neat tool for comparison )
#10 on the Heritage list is Bahrain (currently struggling with instability). Indeed the only area where Bahrain underperformed was property rights.
Egypt met about the mid point on economic freedom (and with the exception of Libya most of the countries with instability are likewise around the average, as also is -CHINA-)
Indeed of Heritage’s data set the one thing the countries have most in common (again with the exception of Bahrain) have VERY high levels of corruption. The corruption in Tunisia was marginal
Some additional corruption information
If this PERCEPTION of Corruption statistic is used as an example and corruption is what fuels these protests we have 83-84% of the nations of the world that have part of the formula for a youth explosion.
Now lets take a look at some education statistics from UNESCO
Of those nations with statistics available : Bahrain has nearly 1/3rd of the people with a post secondary education. Jordan has over 45%. Syria has nearly a third. However those countries that passed through the event horizon (Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt) all are lacking data from Unesco.
Though Tunisia and Egypt likely have similar rates to Bahrain, Syria, and Jordan and Libya is likely lower
So lets look at the youth issue itself by looking at median ages. (per CIA world factbook)
Yemen is third from the bottom in regards to median age. Egypt has a median age 9 years older then Yemen.
Bahrain has nearly double the median age of Yemen (with a median age of 30). Jordan is about 6 years older then Yemen. Libya has a comprable median age to Egypt. Syria has a comprable median age to Jordan. Algeria is 12 years older then Yemen.
China is only 5 years older in Median Age then Bahrain
All of these Median ages are sub 30 years old.
So what is this saying?
A population where between 1/3rd to one half of the people have college education are living in countries with serious issues of corruption (excluding Bahrain) and have a median age of 30 and under are rebeling against their national regimes. On economic issues (excluding Libya) the countries were average to slightly above average (or in the case of Bahrain strongly above average) on other economic metrics.
In my next post we will examine the strength of their relative economies but I will note if you accept the thesis that this crisis is being fueled by an educated and economically inactive (*due to corruption*) youth bulge then this fuel exists in other places around the world. I highlight China because of how dangerous seeing whats going on in Libya if it would happen in China.