IMF warns of wider unrest across the Middle East due to job crisis

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SHAFAQNA – The International Monetary Fund has warned of unemployment crisis among young people in The Middle East and North Africa risks fuelling wider unrest across the region, so countries in the region must accelerate economic reforms to tackle the crisis.

Failure to address the gender gap and youth unemployment is costing the region $1 trillion, the report published yesterday found. With 25 percent of the youth jobless, the region’s youth unemployment is said to be the highest in the world and has “worsened significantly” since 2010 — the year before popular uprisings triggered upheaval across the Arab world.

“The time for a comprehensive reform agenda with specific policies has come,” Jihad Azour, the IMF’s Middle East director, told the Financial Times. “The aspirations of people are not yet fully met . . . the question is, should we wait until we see another explosion or should we address the root cause of the problems?”

Azour listed the essential reforms that were needed telling the FT “required reforms included improving the business environment, easing access to finance, tackling corruption and revamping expensive, inefficient subsidy systems to better serve the needy and free state funds for investment to boost growth”.

In eight MENA countries youth unemployment is already more than 30 per cent, including in the Arab world’s biggest economy Saudi Arabia, and its most populous Egypt.

The forecast for the region looks bleak. Sixty per cent of the population are already under the age of 30 and a further 27 million youths are expected to enter the labour market over the next five years.

The IMF report was released as the region struggles to grapple with lacklustre growth, wide budget deficits and rising debt. A further concern for the countries in the region is the drop in foreign direct investment. Economic and political uncertainty, the IMF said, caused foreign direct investment inflows to drop 53 per cent between 2010 and 2015.

Against this backdrop, anger is mounting over joblessness and cuts to state subsidies as governments struggle to balance their books after a prolonged period of subdued oil prices and political instability, the FT pointed out.

Frustration over economic conditions has sparked protest across the Middle East in the past six months, including in Egypt, Tunisia, Iran and Jordan, Middle East Eye reported.

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