(October 2001) As the campaign against terrorism focuses on extreme political and religious expression in many Middle East and North African countries, burgeoning populations and high unemployment, particularly among educated young men, are at least some of the factors gaining attention.

The World Bank describes the region as one that is economically diverse — with both oil-rich and non-oil economies — whose development challenges include wide gaps between the rich and the poor and high unemployment rates in many countries, especially among the young and educated.

Business Week noted October 1 that the failure of key Middle Eastern states to benefit from globalization has created a more fertile ground in which extreme ideas can grow.

“While the U.S. boomed in the 1990s, Arab economies grew by a mere 0.7 percent annually,” said the magazine. “Unchecked population growth has resulted in massive youth unemployment” and a breakdown in social services, it noted.

The World Labour Report 2000 of the International Labour Organization (ILO) lists total unemployment as a percentage of the labor force for countries around the world. While male unemployment was 26 percent in Algeria, for example, the figure was 2.9 percent for the high-performing East Asian economies as a whole.

Unemployment as a percentage of the labor force in 1995

Male Female
Algeria 26 38.4
Egypt 7.4 23.8
Mauritius 7.9 13.9
East Asia 2.9 2.9

Other Measures of Life in the Middle East and North Africa

Total fertility rate* 1998 Infant mortality rate** 1998 Adult literacy rate 1995 (male) Adult literacy rate 1995 (female) % of primary school entrants reaching grade 5 (1990-95)
Middle East and North Africa 3.8 51 71 47 90
Developing countries 3 64 79 61 74
Industrialized countries 1.6 6 99

*Total fertility rate refers to the average number of children born to women
**Infant mortality rate refers to deaths by age 1 per 1,000 live births
Source: The State of the World 2000, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Yvette Collymore is senior editor at the Population Reference Bureau.