Dr Thomas Fingar: Education is vital to securing a stable future for the Middle East

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The Independent Online

In 2025, the Middle East will be at the center of an arc of instability, from the Maghreb across into Central Asia. Almost every problem that will challenge political leadership anywhere on the globe will be found there at a higher degree of severity or intensity.

It is the multiplicity of serious challenges that may be a defining characteristic of the region. The ability to cope with any one problem will be made more complicated by the interaction of problems. Actions taken on one will restrict opportunities for managing the rest. And one of the main manifestations of that will be the region's changing demography.

By 2025, the world will be 1.4 billion people bigger. Only 3 per cent of that will be in the developed world. The rest is in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia or Central America. The demographic challenges in the Middle East will be highly significant, and a youth bulge will be a hugely complicating factor. Think of a large segment of the population with raging hormones in an age where challenges to authority are the norm. They will know what is happening around the world and the country, and they will have the ability to communicate with one another very, very quickly, meaning that everything from notices to go to a rally to the spread of an absolutely unfounded rumour will be greeted with all the discriminating thought that one can anticipate from a youthful population.

But it is not a completely negative situation. The age structure in the region will be roughly the same as that of Taiwan or South Korea at the time of their industrial take-off. The dependency ratios will be pretty good. There will be a large working-age population with a relatively small burden of senior citizens to support. There will be at least a potentially mobilisable workforce to move the region away from its heavy dependence on commodities, primarily oil and gas in the Middle East. But that has a prerequisite: education, and the education capacity in the Middle East is inadequate. It is not preparing people for today's jobs, let alone tomorrow's jobs. And the youth bulge means that the challenge is only going to get bigger.

Dr Thomas Fingar, chairman of the US National Intelligence Council, was speaking at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on Tuesday