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Research Report


Copyright Date: Feb. 1, 2016
Published by: Atlantic Council
Pages: 27
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-2)
    Madeleine K. Albright and Stephen J. Hadley

    The Middle East is seeing a century-old political order unravel, an unprecedented struggle for power within and between states, and the rise of extremist elements that have already exacted a devastating human and economic toll that the world cannot continue to bear. That is why we, in partnership with the Atlantic Council, have undertaken an effort to seek to advance the public discussion in the direction of a global strategy for addressing these and other, longer-term challenges confronting the region.

    To that end, we convened in February 2015 a Middle East Strategy Task Force to examine the underlying issues of...

  2. (pp. 3-4)

    Even as the specter of political instability weighs heavily on the region, the Middle East is quietly experiencing a technological and societal transformation that could hold the key to a better future. The foundation of this change is based on two powerful components: the rapidly increasing access to technology in the Middle East and the region’s comparatively young population, over 30 percent of which are between the ages of fifteen and twenty-nine.¹ The interaction of these two ingredients, combustible as it is, is likely to provide a historic and unparalleled opportunity.

    Despite the potential, policymakers poorly understand this interlinked phenomenon...

  3. (pp. 5-6)

    Economists have conducted many great and important analyses of Middle Eastern economies. Traditionally, and rightfully, they have focused on natural resources and services as the region’s greatest assets. Concurrent with this dependence, analysts have explored an economic machinery that, for decades, has created significant political instability, sectarian violence, and legacies of nepotistic and corrupt business environments.

    One must be careful in considering aggregate regional statistics because nuance matters. For example, Syria and Iraq have long been isolated economically from the rest of the region and pose unique challenges. In addition, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is actively pursuing a unique,...

  4. (pp. 7-13)

    There is a new choice already emerging in the region that is in line with global trends in universal access to technology. The success of this motion will depend on two core factors: improved education and more open societies and business environments.

    To put this change in perspective, as the region catches up with the world in terms of broadband Internet penetration, the number of Internet users in Arab countries has been accelerating, increasing 23 percent annually versus a global average of 14 percent; the number of total Internet users in the region is expected to surpass 140 million in...

  5. (pp. 14-16)

    We are not blind to the fact that the perilous state of parts of the Middle East, particularly Syria and Iraq, perhaps makes our recommendations seem outweighed by the realities on the ground. But history is replete with examples of societies rising from seemingly impossible circumstances enabled by technology.

    In light of South Korea’s regional and even global economic and technological leadership, it is hard to imagine that fifty years ago it was one of the poorest countries in the world, with a GDP roughly equal to Ghana’s.34 As early as the 1960s and 1970s, a period marked by military...

  6. (pp. 17-20)

    At a broad level we believe the very act of introducing seriously the potential and ramifications of universal access to technology in policy deliberations is a significant first step. Too often in our experience, both in the region and in the United States, tech is treated as a sideshow to conventional policymaking, as opposed to an engine for economic growth or societal problem solving. We believe at the very least it is a significant complement to the more powerful solutions that are being explored today—enabling both greater ownership and potential for action by those on the ground with the...

  7. (pp. 21-21)

    It is clear that the trends of the “Participation Revolution” are not only irreversible, but are accelerating with unprecedented rapidity. Governments, inherently slow to embrace change generally, may try to ignore these trends, relegate them to the margins, or even control them. Similarly, analysts that look at them through overly restrictive disciplinary lenses risk historic narrative bias. As Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee of MIT described, we are well into a “second machine age” and are only beginning to understand the speed of change and its consequences.49 Indeed, what macro-economist at the time would have predicted the global economic impact...