by Tyjen Tsai, writer/editor
Demographics has played an important role in the Arab rebellions, said Joseph Chamie of the Center for Migration Studies during a recent panel discussion at the annual Population Association of America (PAA) meeting in San Francisco. But demographics can exacerbate other serious problems, including brutal repression, human rights violations, government corruption, poverty, unemployment, religious and tribal rivalries, and a large influx of migrants and refugees. The largest refugee population in the world is in the Arab region, he said. The panel’s speakers were John Casterline, Ohio State University; Richard Cincotta, the Stimson Center; Farzaneh “Nazy” Roudi, Population Reference Bureau; and Nasra Shah, Kuwait University.
In his presentation, “Potential Upheaval in the Arab Region—Impact on Reproductive Change?”, John Casterline focused on the consequences of the rebellions, while the following speakers outlined more of the determinants. Casterline illustrated his presentation with anecdotes from his visits to the region and conversations with people, concluding that while it’s still early, “a period of dashed hope seems to be settling in.” The rebellions seem to have brought a pronatalist movement into effect, with the rejections of a “Western agenda.” Demographic data and demographic analysis have lost legitimacy since the old regime, he said. The return of electoral politics has established a direct relationship between population and political weight. Still, he added, couples ultimately make their own decisions about their households.
Richard Cincotta discussed “Politicodemographic Forecasts of the Rite of Democracy in North Africa.” He presented a demographic model of the region and said that in his view, the era of democratization (in its third wave) is not over, yet.
Nazy Roudi, director of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Program at PRB, presented, “Numbers Don’t Lie: Youth in Egypt.” One in four Arabs is an Egyptian, she said, and unemployment among youth in the MENA region is the highest in the world—2.5 times higher than in East Asia and South Asia. And unemployment among women is far higher than among men. She cited the Survey of Youth in Egypt 2009 in which women said the reason they did not find a job was because they believed there was no job available for the qualifications they had. Meanwhile, men responded that they were unable to find a job because they did not think that an available job paid enough. Roudi echoed Casterline’s earlier point that while government policies are important, more important is the balance of gender roles within a family, and that women feel empowered to talk with their husbands about fertility decisions. “My prediction is that the TFR is going to become higher in Egypt,” Roudi said.
Nasra Shah rounded out the session with “Sociodemographic Changes in the GCC Countries and Their Implications.” GCC countries are those in the Gulf Cooperation Council: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. As Chamie mentioned in his introduction, migration and refugees are a huge source of strife with the Arab world—and the GCC countries, said Shah, are host to the largest non-natal population in the world. The largest group of non-natals are Asian—primarily sent from Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and India. These sending countries want to increase emigration, while receiving countries want to reduce or maintain the existing numbers—and this incoherence is causing frustration within the labor force for nationals, particularly women and youth, who already have difficulties finding jobs.