Zafris Tzannatos (previously International Labor Organisation, Silatech) offered an array of counter-intuitive arguments challenging mainstream narratives on the causes of the post-2011 Arab uprisings. His presentation entitled ‘Arab youth in the labor market: Mismeasured, misunderstood and mistreated‘ built up the argument that, regionally, employment creation is not a priority: if it was, we would not have had the Arab Spring. He accused leaders of not being sincere or effective in taking into account job creation as a pathway to increased social justice.
Proclaiming that “It was not the youth, it was the others that created and led the change”, Tzannatos reconfigured arguments surrounding the role of young people as catalysts for the Arab uprisings. In his opinion, the driving forces behind social unrest have been low labor demand and a pervasive lack of social dialogue. Tzannatos argued that democracy is not the only formula for social justice, giving the dysfunctional example of Greece as a warning. “Democracy”, he said, “will not always improve the interface between the citizens and the rulers.”
The message that bad politics leads to bad economics was central. De-nationalisation, economic growth driven by bubbles, and wage share decline were all illustrated as examples of underlying bad politics. Tzannatos contended that contrary to popular belief, adult unemployment in the MENA region significantly outstrips youth unemployment.
This, he argued, points to systemic problems in the labor market and “to say unemployment in the Arab world is a youth issue is totally misleading.” The picture is evidently more complex. The brain drain of educated young people from the Arab world / MENA was indicative of low demand for high skills. “Their skills are in demand everywhere other than their own countries”, he said.