TCS Daily

Baby Boom Bomb

By Sylvain Charat - March 17, 2005 12:00 AM

A time-bomb is ticking away right under our eyes, but we neither see it nor hear it. It is so obvious that it has become invisible. It is the demographic bomb of the Middle East.

First, consider the figures in Western countries. In 2003, the European Union (if we include all 25 current member states) had 455.2 million inhabitants. Twenty years from now, in 2025, the same Union should have 462.1 million people -- a 1.5 percent increase in population. Disappointing? Not really, since the whole European continent is a demographic Titanic, sinking from 727 million to 722 million people by 2025. Not surprisingly, the New World has a much brighter outlook. Canada's population will increase by 14 percent (from 31,6 to 36 million), the United States' will jump 20 percent, with almost 60 million more inhabitants by 2025.

Does this lend new credence to Donald Rumsfeld's mischievous remarks about Old Europe? Maybe, but politics aside, it's easy to see the reality: Europe on the decline, America on the rise. Yet (and I emphasize this 'yet'), the West as a whole is in relatively bad demographic shape. In 2025, its population will have increased by only 5.6 percent, to 1.11 billion from 1.05 billion in 2003. That's only 60 million more people in 20 tears.

Now compare this to the Middle East, where a very different story is unfolding. Let's start with the Arab Middle East: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestinian Territories, Qatar, Syria, Yemen. In 2003, they included 115 million people. In 2025, they will be 191.6 million, in increase of 76.6 million, or 67 percent. Now add the remaining non-Arab countries of the Middle East: Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. In 2003, they were home to 244.4 million people. In 2025, there will be 135.9 million more, reaching 380.3 million in total, or a 56 percent increase.

For the whole Middle East, that represents a 60 percent demographic increase on average in the next 20 years. That's 212.5 million people against 59 million in the West. And those 212 million people are going to be born in countries that are largely outside of the global prosperity wave and suffering under dictatorship. And that's the time-bomb.

Poverty is a high-octane fuel for radical Islamism and terrorism. Even if controversial, this statement is deeply true, more so than other statistics. It's worth recalling Omar Bakri once stated. Based in London, Sheik Omar Bakri, who presents himself as the spokesman of Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders, emphasized that Muslims are as one body and declared that "if one part is suffering, the whole body is suffering".

It cannot be denied that Middle Eastern populations are suffering, and are economically weak. But their anger is diverted toward the West and we already know all too well the price we pay for letting this situation continue. The demographic bomb's countdown has started.

An explosion could be avoided with a long-term solution: expanding free trade. Isolation from global prosperity increases poverty. Western countries must have the guts to break down the barriers and play by the rules of the market, leaving a real chance for Third World countries to create wealth and make money out of their own added value.

When there is hope for escaping poverty by earning money, people are working, not bombing. Third World countries do not need fair trade, they need free trade. And, once again, free trade is not only trade of goods, but also trade of ideas and of fundamental freedoms. Only this can create enlightened elites.

Unfortunately, what should be part of a clear political agenda is still only wishful thinking. Instead of looking to the future, most Western political and economic elites are merely reinforcing their past, preserving their privileges without understanding privileges are made to be destroyed.

That's why today, the Middle East is a demographic bomb instead of a chance for the world economy. More than a clash of civilizations, the real clash could be a clash of money: the search for wealth, the need for prosperity.

Sylvain Charat is director of policy studies in the French think-tank Eurolibnetwork.



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