June 14, 2015 by Darius
In May, I attended a presentation of a report on “The Middle East in 2025: Long-Term Scenarios and Strategies for Stability.” The report’s chief author and presenter was Florence Gaub of the EU Institute for Strategic Studies. I’ve summarized Gaub’s remarks.
The study examined the impact of eight “megatrends” in the Middle East the authors saw as irreversible:
- The continuing growth of the population of the Middle East
- The related increase of urbanization
- Global climate change, which is manifesting itself in the Middle East, and especially in North Africa, in the form of less water and poorer agriculture
- The rise of renewable energy throughout the world and thus a lesser reliance on fossil fuels
- Rising food prices and increasing dependence on food imports
- The rise of literacy rates among both women and men throughout the region
- Increasing internet penetration
- Increasing gender equality
Gaub also discussed a second set of six “game changers.” These factors are by no means inevitable, and it is the Middle East’s response to these factors that will largely shape its future. The first is the question of youth unemployment, which currently stands at 28.5% as an average across the region. Will the region’s governments be able to create enough new jobs to stave off the growing problem of youth unemployment and the social dysfunction that accompanies it? Second, will regional dependence on the volatility of food prices be reduced? Third, will regional stability and security increase or decrease? Fourth, will conflicts in the region continue to spill over into neighboring countries, or will conflicts be contained? Fifth, will democratic change occur, and where? Finally, will regional governments and societies be more inclusive?
The report lays out three scenarios. In the first scenario, called the “Arab Leap,” the region acts decisively to address the challenges it faces. This is the ideal but least likely outcome.
In the second scenario, called the “Arab Implosion,” governments completely fail to even manage their problems, leading to total collapse.
In the final scenario, called the “Arab Simmer,” governments are able to manage the six challenges but not decisively solve any of them. Under this scenario, the Middle East will putter along in a state of quasi-stability for the next ten years to 2025.
Gaub felt the most likely path for the Middle East is the final scenario. She, and the report’s other authors, predicted that the next ten years will bring much of the same, without revolution in either direction. However, the authors also felt that the Middle East’s problems are too great to be solved by any one country individually. As the report concludes, “Whether through new or existing bodies, multilateralism is the answer to Arab problems – only in 2015, it is a matter of necessity and no longer of choice. … If Arab states take the wrong turn at this crossroads, they will face not only protracted instability, but lose important gains made over the last few decades. If the future is to begin now, Arab states have to act.”