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Fomenting Intellectual Revolution in the MENA Region

The countries of the Middle East and North Africa desperately need a new social contract to meet the demands of a growing, increasingly disillusioned youth population. And one crucial prerequisite for that is a new ecosystem for the creation, dissemination, and discussion of ideas.

WASHINGTON, DC – Many countries across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) remain stuck in the transition from an administered to a market economy. While some have made more progress than others, all continue to face a wide range of economic and political challenges.

The main economic obstacles fall into two general categories: opaque ownership structures and firms’ inability to enter or exit markets easily. Politically, the fact that most MENA countries are autocracies – the region is one of the last on Earth with absolute monarchies and military rule – is the principal barrier to economic change.

Nonetheless, social pressure has grown with the rise of a more educated generation whose aspirations often exceed the limited opportunities available in labor markets dominated by public-sector hiring. The private sector in most MENA countries is chronically anemic, and the politicization of employment has effectively disenfranchised many young people, triggering an explosion of angry street protests.

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