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Arab Spring Libya and Unemployment

The Arab Spring, a wave of revolutionary protests and demonstrations that has swept much of the Arab world since late 2010, has been a test to the stability in the Middle East region. Motivations behind the social movements have varied, including dissatisfaction with the governing institution (i.e. dictatorship, absolute monarchy), human rights violations, government corruption, economic decline, unemployment, extreme poverty, and demographic structural factors (i.e. youth dissatisfaction despite high education rate). Manifestations of discontent have also ranged in extremity from outright revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, a civil war in Libya, civil uprisings in Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria, major protests in Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, and Oman, and minor protests in Lebanon, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Western Sahara. Apart from the strategic importance the region holds, the Arab Spring has garnered the attention of the international community for the role contemporary factors, such as social media, has played into the movement’s progression.

It is inevitable that, despite the desired egalitarian focus that resides in the uprisings’ intentions, the social movements have, for the most part, translated into domestic instability, which poses problems to a state’s political and economic spheres. Not only does political instability alter the relations the nation-state has with other states in the global system, but economically, the instability of a state harms its balance of trade among, which, in turn, affects other economic factors. Among those include commodity prices, employment conditions, human capital retention, wages, investment, and consumption. The following is a discussion on the impact the Arab Spring has had on the state of employment and human capital in Libya.

Characteristic of Middle Eastern states, Libya is no exception as an oil rich state. It is a member of OPEC and holds the largest proven oil reserves in Africa. The Libyan economy is centrally planned, and is dependent on revenues from the petroleum sector, which account for approximately 95% of export earnings, 25% of GDP, and 60% of public sector wages. Despite favorable growth rates due to its primary commodity sector, it has been proven to be unsustainable as the country has reluctantly faced the consequences of economic recessions (falling oil prices) and international sanctions (export decline). To exacerbate potential economic instability, despite the government’s recent market orient reforms to diversify sectors and privatize some government owned companies, the state’s centrally planned tradition has resulted in three quarters of the workforce employed in the public sector, whereas a meager 2% investment in the private sector emphasizes the imbalance. The problem of unemployment would be exacerbated from this unsustainable economic system, which would be one of the underlying motivations for the Arab Spring to take root in Libya.

The Arab Spring in Libya came to focus with the 2011 Libyan Civil War. This was an ongoing armed conflict between those loyal to then leader Muammar Gaddafi and his regime, and those that sought to overthrow him. Dissatisfaction with the governing institution and lack of transparency, human rights violations, and economic decline with growing rate of unemployment, especially with the educated youth demographic, highlighted the persistent issue of unemployment in Libya. Although it is difficult to acquire the official unemployment rate in Libya, it was last estimated to be 20.74% in 2009, with over 50% unemployed under the age of 20. It is foreseeable that the Arab Spring has intensified the unemployment rate under the instability that resulted after the toppling of the Gaddafi regime and the subsequent transition of control under opposition forces, resulting in decline of capital investment and human capital flight. Part of the problem with Libyan unemployment is a result of a mismatch between education and productivity within its citizens. This has resulted in a demand for expatriate workers, whether less skilled or more qualified according to productivity level. While the Libyan government is transitioning, its approach to economic restructuring would determine whether the persistent problem of unemployment would be ameliorated.