Charles Kenny of the Center for Global Development writes that despite a large amount of foreign aide and structural reforms, Egypt was still unable to provide viable employment opportunities for their youth.
The firestorm of events across the Middle East over the past few days can't be explained by long-term development factors: the link between politics and economic development (or lack thereof) is complex in the extreme. Still, the staggering lack of opportunities for young people, especially young entrepreneurs without political connections, is clearly an important part of the mix. That includes people like Mohamed Bouazizi, the 26 year old whose self-immolation sparked the protests which brought down Tunisia's president, and which in turn set off the remarkable events unfolding in Egypt.
The Middle East has witnessed an incredible expansion of both youth populations and education over the past twenty years. Fully two thirds of the region's population is below 24 years old. Tertiary enrollment in the Egypt has climbed from 14 to 28 percent since 1990, and in Tunisia from 8 to 34 percent. Cairo University alone has around 200,000 students.
But while educational opportunities abound, jobs do not. Unemployment among 15-24 year olds in the Middle East and North Africa is the highest of any region in the world, averaging more than 25 percent. In Egypt in 2005 that number was 34%, in Tunisia it was 31%. One big reason is anemic private sector growth. And behind weak private sector performance is exactly the kind of favoritism that drove Mr. Bouazizi to desperation.