The Arab world in 2017: German development policy following the Arab Spring

Speech by Parliamentary State Secretary Thomas Silberhorn at the German-Arab Friendship Association, 15 February 2017 in Berlin

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Arab world at a turning point – painful upheavals

Six years after the Tunisian vegetable seller Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire, the Arab world is still in a state of turmoil. The initial hopefulness has waned. War, terrorism and displacement dominate the headlines and have also – unfortunately – come to define our image of this region.

Yet the Middle East and North Africa are cradles of the world’s human culture and civilisation. This is a region rich with the legacies of different peoples and religions, forming a patchwork of vast cultural diversity. This is where the first advanced cultures, the first cities and states were born, and where global trade commenced. It is here that the first written records of our civilisation were created!

That is easy to forget when you look at the news from this region today. How did all this come to pass? There are many different views about how this situation came to be. Some claim that the region is missing the experience of a true "reformation", such as we had in Europe thanks to Martin Luther. Whilst others say that foreign powers are to blame for today’s chaos. The Arab Human Development Report, on the other hand, was already saying back in 2005 that the lack of political and economic empowerment of women in the region is the key obstacle to progress and growth. All of these aspects no doubt play a part.

What is clear is that, in 2011, the people in the Arab world wanted change. They were thoroughly disenchanted with the political and economic conditions under which they were living. This discontent gave birth to the Arab Spring.

But the many hopes that were born from that Spring did not materialise, yet. Yes, it is true that, in countries like Tunisia and Egypt, the autocrats who had been in power for decades were toppled. But the people living in those countries were forced to acknowledge that the revolutions did not immediately bring more prosperity and freedom.

High levels of unemployment and a lack of economic growth, and corrupt and inefficient administrations are still threatening the stability of the entire region. Worse than that, in some countries such as Syria, Libya and Yemen, the desire for change has brought civil wars that are still going on today.

Turning points mean conflict and change. Such transformations are painful and they require time. That is why the BMZ has been saying from the start that this is a historic moment! We must provide long-term support for this transformation towards more freedom

The BMZ has responded – tripling its funding for the region

Our support for the region has therefore been dramatically increased. Since the start of the Arab Spring, the BMZ has more than tripled its funding to help towards the stabilisation and development of the region. Just in the period from 2014 to 2016, a total of 5.4 billion euros has been provided.

A particular contribution Germany has made is the BMZ’s special initiative for stability and development in the MENA region. This special initiative complements and reinforces conventional development cooperation, which tends to take a more long-term approach.

The projects under the special initiative are notable for providing quickly tangible benefits for the people targeted. To give a concrete example: in Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, roughly 200,000 people have been trained, for instance, in IT skills or manual trades. The training they have received has helped them increase their income. 

It is also thanks to the special initiative that more than 1.75 million people living in the MENA region now have access to improved municipal services. That means better water supplies, access to hospitals, electric power; and schools and dwellings have been built.

In Tunisia we have concentrated on developing disadvantaged regions. The annual volume of development funding has quadrupled since the revolution. We are going into highly disadvantaged regions and helping the people there find ways to earn a living. Through our training projects and job finding interventions we are able to directly assist about 114,000 people each year.

The challenges at our door: the refugee crisis is the top priority

North Africa and the Middle East are right outside our door. The refugee crisis in Syria and in the Mediterranean region shows that stabilising these areas is also in Europe’s self-interest. The fate of the people living in the Middle East is directly linked to our own fate. Any destabilisation on the southern shores of the Mediterranean can constitute a threat for Europe.

Long-term stability can only be achieved with more political participation, better living conditions and more social justice. Unless their prospects in life improve significantly, more and more people are going to see migrating to Europe as their last hope.

The civil wars in Syria and Iraq are causing long-term damage to these two countries, and the high numbers of people displaced by the fighting are also threatening the stability of neighbouring countries. Finding a way to deal with these refugee crises is a matter of top priority for German development policy.

That is why we are specifically investing in measures to reduce the root causes of displacement and to support refugees. In 2016 we channelled roughly 3 billion euros into support for refugees. This money was used, for example, to fund cash-for-work programmes, to improve access to sanitation and also to create better conditions in refugee camps.

In Syria’s neighbouring countries, 300,000 pupils were able to go to school. We are doing everything in our power to help: there must be no lost generation!

One year ago, at the Syria conference in London, the German government launched its Middle East Partnership for Prospects programme. The funding for this programme has been used to create 61,000 jobs for refugees in Syria’s neighbouring countries. With these measures we have reached a total of more than 300,000 family members.

As long as the civil wars and displacement continue, supporting refugees and internally displaced persons, and stabilising host regions will remain an important task. This means supporting Syria’s neighbouring countries, but it also means supporting countries like Libya and Yemen, which are not so much in the focus of our media reporting. But we have not forgotten those countries!

The main focus is on creating jobs

Looking beyond the present humanitarian crisis, the greatest challenge for the countries of North Africa and the Middle East is still creating jobs – especially for young people and for women. Unemployment and underemployment are already more widespread in the MENA region than almost anywhere else in the world. For example, in Egypt 42 per cent of all young people are without employment, in Tunisia the figure is 32 per cent and in Libya it is actually as high as 49 per cent.

This problem is set to get even worse, since the countries I just mentioned have high rates of population growth – each year, in Egypt alone, there are 800,000 more young people looking for jobs.

In order to address this problem, working with the Egyptian government we have stepped up our cooperation in the field of vocational training. Our cooperation with 100 vocational training schools in Egypt is helping to improve the training available for 50,000 vocational education students, e.g. trainees learning to be metalworkers, car mechanics or hairdressers. This is a worthwhile investment, since 85 per cent of the graduates from vocational training schools are offered jobs in the formal sector after finishing their training.

Change means new forms of cooperation

Upheaval in our partner countries also means changes for us. We have realised that "business as usual" is no longer an option. Our experiences in recent years have shown us that the challenges arising from the Arab Spring require new forms of cooperation.

That is why Federal Minister Müller has launched a new idea and started a fresh discussion with the presentation of his cornerstones for a Marshall Plan with Africa. This is food for thought that is relevant for all development cooperation activities. We want this to be used as a basis for preparing the G20 summit in June and also for the EU-Africa summit in November. These new impulses go beyond traditional development work. We are calling for the private sector to get involved. We are calling for innovations. We are calling on every one of us to contribute towards mastering the huge challenges facing the region. You are all invited to participate in this discussion.

In conclusion: a positive turning point

Let me sum it up: the Arab world has been at a turning point for some years now. We have responded with more funds and new forms of cooperation. We will continue to stand side by side with our neighbours. Not just for their sake but for our own sake, too. Because our fates are interlinked. We want people to have prospects for the future in their own home countries.

Ultimately, I also wish for more positive news reports for this region. Not just reports about war and suffering. My wish is that this region will manage to overcome the painful upheavals and that something new and positive will emerge. Something that harks back to the time when Arab culture was at its zenith – when the leading brains in the fields of science and medicine were teaching at the world-renowned universities of the Orient. Something that will tie into that past and yet also take this region forward.

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