Lumpur: Stating that the Muslim world is experiencing a
"youth bulge", Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak asked
the Muslim countries to understand what young people aspire to by
comprehending demographic and technological changes affecting
"A younger population
means a bigger labor force. Higher investment and capital is
needed to utilize this spare capacity,” he said in an article
titled 'The Challenge of Muslim Youth' published in the New York Times/International Herald Tribune on Saturday.
In 2010, people under 30 comprised
about 60 per cent of the population in Muslim-majority countries.
"A big demographic change can warp fiscal policy for decades, as
"baby boomer" countries are discovering, he observed.
terms, the short-term impact can be even greater. A youth bulge
introduces latent energy into a nation's economy and society. Left
untapped, it can become a destabilizing force," Bernama reported
quoting him as saying.
The prime minister said profound change is
underway in the Middle East and North Africa.
"It is too early to
be definitive about causes, but I believe there is a common
thread: young people in Islamic societies face an opportunity
He said the Arab awakening was driven by youth, organized
by technology, and fired by a hunger for political change.
seeking more open societies and more responsive governments, he
said young Arabs demonstrated a yearning for democracy. But they
also expressed a deep sense of loss - not just of personal or
political freedom, but of opportunity.
Najib said this unrest was "the result of a basic misallocation of
resources. Not natural resources, or capital, but people".
"The under representation of youth in the economy created conditions in
which tensions could grow - tensions that were fanned by a lack of
political reform. Politically and economically disenfranchised,
young people found an outlet in protest," he added.
leader also said these pressures are not unique to Arab countries;
they are felt throughout the world.
"Many young Muslims see no
opportunities for themselves and do not feel they have control
over their lives or a stake in their nation's future. Such
pessimism leads to disengagement. We risk losing a generation of
young Muslims to apathy and extremism," he said.
Najib said in 2010, youth unemployment in the Middle East was 25
per cent; in North Africa, 24 per cent. Such levels are toxic.
When young people lack opportunity, they grow restless.
"Dependency robs them of their dignity; without an economic stake
in society, they can lose their sense of belonging. That can spill
over into hostility to the state. From 1970 to 2000, eight out of
10 countries experiencing new civil conflict had populations in
which 60 per cent were under 30," he said.
On great technological changes, Najib said, 21 years ago there
were no websites; today, there are more than half a billion. In
the space of one lifetime, the internet has opened up
opportunities that were previously inconceivable.
He said the age
of information has its own generation, the digital natives -those
who have only ever known a connected world.
information to be free, democracy to be responsive, communication
to be global. They want an active role in the digital economy.
"Empowered by technology, young people can articulate their
frustrations to a global audience. This has a profound
implication: the emergence of a new, international political
consciousness," he said.
Najib said these two forces - demography and technology - shape
young people's aspirations. In an age of self-determination, they
crave freedom of opportunity.
"They aspire to world-class
education. And they demand open and accountable government. Our
challenge is to deliver those freedoms without sacrificing our
traditions. But this is only possible if we show leadership and
commit to reform.
"Access to education is improving,
but many young people still find that their qualifications do not
match the opportunities available, so we must focus on vocational
and technical training", he said.
"We should also continue to open our economies: 23 per cent of the
world's people are Muslims, but the 57 members of the Organization
of Islamic Cooperation conduct just 8.3 per cent of global trade,"
Najib also said structural reforms must be pursued so
that our private sectors become more dynamic.
"We must reform
public services and confront institutions that stifle opportunity,
remaining ever vigilant against corruption. We must also respond
to technological change.
"Our starting point must be recognition of
the fundamental principle of the internet - its autonomy. It
should stay that way. This does not mean unregulated behavior, but
independence", he said.
"We should equip our youths with the skills to think
critically about sources, to understand that just because
information is free it does not mean it is accurate. But the
online space should remain one in which the free exchange of views
is encouraged, in the best traditions of discourse", he noted.
Najib said as a Muslim nation, Malaysia faces many of these
"I believe we should see our youth not as a liability,
but as an asset. They are an untapped resource that can lay the
foundations for great success. Economic and political reform can
give young people what they aspire to: a future defined by
opportunity, not dependency. It is time to realize the hidden
wealth of Muslim nations," he said.