Eight collected papers about labor markets and social policy in the Arab world fully reflect the strengths and weaknesses of the sponsor, the Mediterranean Development Forum, a partnership of the World Bank and ten Middle Eastern think tanks. On the one hand, they are packed full of information about the woeful state of Arab economies. Victor Billeh explains how badly education programs are matched to labor market needs. Valentine Moghadam documents the low levels of economic participation by women. Noha El-Mikawy and Marsha Pripstein Pousney set out the barriers to effective labor representation. And Maurice Girgis provides much information on the continued reliance on migrant workers in the Gulf kingdoms while nationals suffer sharply increasing unemployment.
Read together, the analyses and data are profoundly depressing. For instance, Girgis shows that while the population of nationals (as distinct from expatriates) in the Gulf monarchies rose by 9.1 million from 1975 to 1995, the number of nationals employed grew only .8 million; as a result, in 1995, only 15 percent of nationals were employed. Meanwhile, the number of expatriates employed grew by 5.9 million; indeed, the share of expatriates in employment grew from 39 percent in 1975 to 74 percent in 1995.
On the other hand, the authors pull their punches about the political root causes of the economic problems they analyze. They avoid the issue of poor "governance," to use the favorite phrase of international bureaucracies, as well as the "democracy deficit" that plagues the Arab world. There is no hint that radical Islam may have something to do with the "lack of gender sensitivity" Moghadam deplores. The persistence of policies that fail to meet people's needs just hangs there unexplained, as if these policies were adopted out of ignorance and stupidity when, in fact, they obviously meet the needs of the ruling elites.