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27th May 2017

Post-Arab Spring countries face 'social time bomb,' EU says

  • Young people in post-Arab spring countries are facing bleak employment prospects (Photo: European Parliament)

High youth unemployment in many post-Arab Spring countries is a “social time bomb” the EU has said.

On his whirlwind tour of the region, EU Council president Herman Van Rompuy stopped in Egypt and Tunisia on Tuesday (15 January).

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At a round-table discussion in the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt, Rompuy said 50 million jobs would need to be created in the next couple of years for all the young people in the region about to enter a severely depressed labour market.

"Such a dramatic situation is a social time-bomb," said Rompuy.

Few job opportunities and societies grappling with reconstruction after decades of autocracy are instead giving rise to renewed social tensions.

“If women and men are not given the opportunity to work and to take part in the political process, disillusionment and frustration will spread,” said the EU President.

Van Rompuy on the same day met with Tunisia’s Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali and singed out with worry the growing political and social tensions in the run up to the June presidential and parliamentary elections.

To help alleviate some of the voting angst, Rompuy offered to send an EU election monitoring mission.

Tunisia is still piecing itself together after two decades of hard rule under the now deposed President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The country has initiated a number of economic and social reforms under the direction of the governing Islamic Ennahda Movement.

Some of those reforms are backed with EU funds to the tune of €68 million, signed off in Brussels last November. The money is geared to help the most impoverished regions and find recent graduates steady work.

The European Investment Bank also committed €270 million in December to support employment and other job-creating investments. The bank says some of the money will create at least 10,000 additional jobs.

But high unemployment remains elusive.

The Geneva-based UN offshoot, International Labour Organisation (ILO), notes unemployment has increased in Tunisia by four percentage points since 2010 and now hovers around 17 percent.

“Young people, including graduates, are hard hit, and the crisis in advanced economies is making it more difficult for them to find decent jobs abroad,” said Raymon Torres, the ILO’s director International Institute for Labour Studies, in an opinion piece penned on Monday.

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