Stevenson: A better solution to anti-terrorism

Commentary by Jack Stevenson

Commentary by
Jack Stevenson

By almost any standard of measurement, American military operations in the Middle East and North Africa have been successful.  Yet, the insurgency has expanded and threatens to destabilize the entire region.

Middle Eastern citizens generally approved of America’s pursuit of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, but the invasion of Iraq and subsequent operations soured attitudes toward America.  Three basic factors are propelling the continuing instability.  The first is the desire of the violent insurgents to diminish the influence of America in their homelands.  The second factor is a desire to overthrow local governments that do not meet the insurgents’ religious standards.  The third factor is an ongoing struggle between Shia Muslims and Sunni Muslims.  Add to those factors tribal allegiances, old feuds, involvement of outside countries, and the mix becomes complex, fluid, and volatile.

One of the fundamental things that we learn from a study of revolution is that violent social upheaval occurs only when the society has a surge of young people.  A wave of young people is one of the driving factors in the Middle East.  In Egypt, according to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), half of the population is not more than 25 years old.  Young people have hope and ambitions; they need opportunities.  Unemployment and a scarcity of opportunities constitute a potential powder keg.  I once did business in a government office in Egypt where I found five clerks sitting at one desk.  That over-hire was an effort to keep the social powder keg from exploding.  Cairo had twelve million people.  Today, Cairo’s population is estimated to be eighteen million.  Millions more are expected.

Egyptian officials are worried.  Egypt has had its share of unrest, and the government doesn’t want the society to destabilize and the economy to collapse as a result of social violence.  Egypt has just announced plans to build a new capitol, a new city to house their national government.  It is to be constructed on the eastern edge of Cairo.  The plan includes a major international airport, major office buildings, hundreds of schools and medical facilities, and, eventually, housing for five million people.  But the most important aspect is that the project will provide a million jobs.  Those jobs will kill more “terrorism” than all the bombs in anyone’s arsenal.

The plan is outrageously ambitious but not fantasy.  The wealthy Gulf Arab oil states are ready to provide substantial financing.  They, too, have fears of social unrest.

The average unemployment rate among young people is 22 percent in Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen.  Unemployment among the young and especially young males is a critical factor underlying social unrest.  Ironically, unemployment rates are higher among people with advanced education than among those with minimal education.  Educated people tend to have high expectations, higher than their society may be able to meet.

Unemployment doesn’t generate insurgency, but violent insurgent movements can exploit the grievances of the unemployed.  The employment that will be provided by Egypt’s “new city” project will diminish that vulnerability.

Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1989, and both countries have honored the treaty.  Egypt has routinely cooperated with the United States in ways that facilitated U.S. operations in the Middle East and North Africa.

U.S. attempts to influence the Middle East during the past 25 years have been very expensive in lives, limbs, and dollars, and haven’t been as successful as we expected.  We should welcome Egypt’s “new city” plan and wish Egypt success.

Jack Stevenson, now retired, served two years in Vietnam as an infantry officer. He retired from military service and worked three years as a U.S. Civil Service employee. Mr. Stevenson also worked in Egypt as an employee of the former Radio Corporation of America (RCA). He currently reads history, follows issues important to Americans and writes commentary from his Florida home.

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