Two recently released reports by the European Commission (EC)
and the United Nations evaluate current demographic characteristics
and future trends and suggest that Europe faces a potential Arab
immigrant onslaught, perhaps as great as that America endured during
the European immigration of the 19th and early 20th centuries. And
an American report projects future stagnation of Middle Eastern
economies, one major factor causing Arab restlessness. If Arab supply
meets European demand over the next 20 years, what are the implications?
European immigrants to the United States altered American culture
and urban demographics, spawned nativism, and changed the nature
of domestic politics. There is no reason to believe that an Arab
migration of such magnitude would not similarly alter Europe’s
political, social and cultural landscape over the next quarter century.
In the meantime, chances are remote that the European Union will
embrace a master plan to restructure Arab societies in order to
stem the desire of Arab youth to emigrate.
At the end of May, the EC published its Social Situation Report
2002 (which you can read at http://europa.eu.int/comm/employment_social/news/2002/jun/inbrief_en.pdf).
The report predicts that, before 2015, Europe’s population
growth will be stagnant or even negative in most EU regions.
But the age structure of the EU’s population will change
more quickly than will its size. By 2015, one in three Europeans
of working age will be older than 50, while the number of those
between 20 and 29 will fall by 20 percent as the 50–64 age
group will grow by 25 percent.
Immigration already accounts for 70 percent of EU population growth
in the past five years, with most of the newcomers going to Italy,
Britain and Germany. Three or four working people are needed to
support each retired person, and this will become impossible if
current trends continue. Finally, the report concludes that immigration
even at current levels will not satisfy EU labor requirements.
Released in July after 18 months of painstaking work by a team
of Arab scholars and intellectuals, the UN’s Arab Human
Development Report 2002 (www.undp.org/rbas/ahdr/PR2.pdf)
notes that a “mismatch between aspirations and their fulfillment
has in some cases led to [Arab] alienation, apathy and discontent.”
The population of the Arab world is 280 million, and that number
is likely to grow to 400–450 million by 2020. Nearly 40 percent
of the current Arab population is under the age of 14; in the United
States, with roughly the same total population, the corresponding
figure is only 14.1 percent.
The UN report points out that in 1999 the combined gross domestic
product (GDP) of all Arab countries stood at $591.2 billion, less
than the GDP of Spain. Israel, with a population of 6 million, enjoyed
a GDP equal to one-sixth of the entire Arab world. Over the past
decade, per capita income growth in the Middle East was lower than
that of any other region in the world except sub-Saharan Africa.
Significantly for Europe, “more than 15 percent of the Arab
labor force is unemployed ... With few job opportunities at home,
just over half of the young people in the Arab world (13–20
year olds) want to emigrate to industrialized countries, with Europe,
the [United Kingdom] and the [United States] as the most desirable
Moreover, it is precisely the most literate and talented Arabs
who are most likely to emigrate, raising the threat of a “brain
drain” that will leave behind the poor and un(der)educated
in the Middle East. Given great disparities among Arab states, “poverty
and deprivation in their many forms remain real in many Arab societies.”
Finally, the December 2000 CIA Report, Global Trends 2015 (www.cia.gov/cia/publications/globaltrends2015/#link13d)
notes that by 2015, “Middle East populations will be significantly
larger, poorer, more urban and more disillusioned ... job placement
is compounded by weak educational systems producing a generation
lacking the technical and problem-solving skills required for economic
growth ... Attracting foreign direct investment will also be difficult:
except for the energy sector ... investors will tend to shy away
from these countries, discouraged by overbearing state sectors;
heavy, opaque and arbitrary government regulation; underdeveloped
financial sectors; inadequate physical infrastructure; and the threat
of political instability.”
Will the EU try to stem the tide of massive Arab immigration by
pushing to change the economic and political status quo in Middle
Eastern and North African states? Are there Middle Eastern autocrats
with the vision required to open up their societies beyond minor
reforms in human rights, civil society creation, privatization,
etc.? Can the EU, along with others, insist that conservative ruling
elites institute economic and political liberalization? Will EU
countries take the risk of pushing for revolutionary change in the
ways Arab states operate—by curbing bloated bureaucracies,
encouraging and protecting a free press and free speech, and reducing
the pervasive presence of the security services?
Chances are slim that the EU and other outside powers like the
United States will deviate from a century-long policy preference
to protect what well-known Middle Eastern historian Albert Hourani
called “the politics of notables.”
Apart from American plans for Saddam Hussein—which EU leaders
vigorously resist—Western politicians generally oppose any
effort to change the status quo. Such change raises the prospect
of temporarily destabilizing vital commercial relations and trade
in Middle Eastern energy resources at reasonable prices.
Europeans, in particular, generally prefer constructive dialogue
with the Middle East. Thus, external initiatives for revolutionary
change in Arab governance are highly unlikely. And Arab leaders,
terrified of economic and political liberalization, are unlikely
to institute such massive changes in governance on their own. Besides,
even comprehensive structural changes would not guarantee either
a decrease in the desire of Arab youth to emigrate or a quick halt
to the current Arab demographic explosion.
So what happens when European labor demand meets Arab supply over
the next two decades and beyond? In Europe, effects will come in
national and local elections, delivery of health care, urban growth,
pressure on infrastructure, real estate prices, labor issues, cultural
changes and demands for social protection packages. Externally,
mass immigration will influence common or separate policies toward
immigration, asylum, exiles and foreign policy choices with respect
to Israel, individual Arab and Muslim states, and the Arab-Israeli
Population-rich Arab states will again bolster sagging economies
through foreign remittances, just as they did during the period
of high oil prices in the 1970s and early 1980s.
essay first appeared in Tel Aviv Notes, published through
the Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, and
is reprinted with permission.