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His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum  - Education vs. Extremism

3 June, 2009 Wall Street Journal

Education vs. Extremism

Arabs appreciate the fact that President Barack Obama has decided to deliver a major speech in an Islamic country (Egypt) about relations between the United States and Muslims, many of whom were alienated by American foreign policy in recent years.

More than half of the 300 million residents of the Middle East are people under 25 years of age. The region has the fastest growing labor force in the world.

With an already high unemployment rate of 15%, the Middle East must create 80 million new jobs in the next five years just to keep apace of our demographics. Unemployment is a problem afflicting all 22 member states of the Arab League, but it is most conspicuously a youth issue. Fifty percent of the jobless are under the age of 25, roughly double the world average. Women have an especially difficult time finding jobs.

These increasingly restive youths are particularly vulnerable to those who would preach radicalism and hostility toward the West, especially the U.S.

Why did Arabs fail to make deep structural reforms in education and in stimulating employment opportunities? The Arab world's track record on education, particularly girls' education, is discouraging. Sixty-five million adult Arabs are illiterate and two-thirds of them are women. More than 10 million Arab children between the ages of 6 and 15 are still not enrolled in any schooling, and on current trends this number will increase by 40% over the next decade. This is a monumental waste of human capacity.

That's why among my philanthropic priorities have been primary education, health care, and the employment of women in the Middle East and elsewhere in the developing world.

But so much more needs to be done, and perhaps Mr. Obama might want to consider a new American-Arab education and health-care initiative. Arabs have the primary responsibility to create a better investment climate and stronger policies concerning education and economics. This will require greater transparency in governance, a stronger rule of law, and more independent institutions of justice.

Far too frequently in our region, good governance strategies take a back seat to military spending. Such recklessness has cost Arabs decades in lost development. The total expenditure on conflicts in the Middle East in the last six decades has exceeded $3 trillion. In fact, the Middle East is the world's most militarized region. And how much do we spend on education? The per capita expenditure of our region's 22 nations has shrunk in the last 15 years to 10% from 20% of what the world's 30 wealthiest countries spend.

We in the United Arab Emirates are dedicated a new education paradigm, notwithstanding some recent setbacks on account of the world financial crisis. We're urging our Arab brethren to do the same.

Our ancestors had their own form of globalization. Through free trade and scientific inquiry, they brought great wealth and enlightenment to Arab societies. We want to rekindle that spirit of daring in the Arab world. There aren't any other viable options, because we are in danger of being left behind in a relentlessly competitive world.

Investing in education means investing in the permanent peace and security that our people deserve.

By Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum

Source: Wall Street Journal