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Sun 7 May 2017 10:49 AM

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Better governance is a fitting response to extremism

Comment: Arab Youth Survey finds that to defeat terrorism, the US has to do much more than use force

Better governance is a fitting response to extremism
Young Arabs view unemployment and extremism as the biggest problems holding back the Middle East.

Sixteen years into the war on terror, Al Qaeda presents an ever-greater threat to the world, and especially to the region, in terms of strength, number and relevance.

The group has more followers than it did and has ensconced itself in insurgencies across the region. Then there is Daesh, which emerged in the wake of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and evolved into a global organisation competing alongside Al Qaeda to wreak havoc in various countries. Despite spending upwards of $2 trillion to eradicate Al Qaeda, the world faces a worse problem than it did in 2001. Clearly, something is not working. The findings of this year’s ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey offer a window of what might be missing in the equation.

Among the most critical parts of the survey is the importance young Arabs place on the need to go beyond military action in the fight against Daesh and terrorism — especially as that group has weakened over the past year.

Education reform and providing well-paying jobs are seen as just as important as military operations.

Given that Daesh emerged from Iraq, the findings related to this country are particularly telling. The highest number of respondents who said that Daesh weakened over the past year come from Iraq (82 percent), but Iraqis are also the second-least likely to be confident in their government’s ability to deal with the issue of unemployment, after Lebanese respondents. Concern about unemployment has increased since 2016, with young Iraqis expressing strongest concerns.

There is an obvious divergence between expectation and reality in Iraq, and this should worry any policymaker dealing with the threat of terrorism in the region and beyond.

The government in Iraq is facing one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent history, coupled with economic stagnation and low oil prices.

About 3 million Iraqis are internally displaced. Of the 11 million in need of humanitarian assistance, only 6.2 million are targeted, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

* Hassan Hassan is a senior fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy in Washington DC, and former associate fellow at the London-based think tank Chatham House. He focusses on Syria, Iraq and the Gulf States, and studies Islamist, Salafist and jihadist movements in the wider region. He is also a columnist for The National newspaper in Abu Dhabi, and a contributing writer for The Guardian, Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, the Financial Times and The New York Times. He is the co-author of the bestselling book ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror.