Sima Bahous: Remarks at the European Parliament - Perspectives for Arab States under the current crisis in the region

Sep 17, 2013

Sima Bahous, Director of Regional Bureau for Arab States, United Nations Development Programme, exchanges views with the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the European Parliament on perspectives for Arab States under the current crisis in the region

EU Parliament Session
Foreign Affairs Committee (AFET)

“Perspectives for Arab States under the current crisis in the region”

Dignity or Despair in the Arab World: The Development Imperative.
A matter of common interest

Tuesday 17 September at 17:00 hrs

Honorable Members of Parliament
Ladies and Gentlemen

Good Afternoon.  I am pleased to be here.  I come from a region, and I represent a Region that is in crisis today. I also come and represent a UN agency, UNDP, that is doing its utmost to help the region in its quest for democracy and human dignity.

Nearly three years ago the Arab peoples took bold steps on the long march to dignity.

People took to the streets to shape their own future.

Rejecting unemployment, poverty, and vulnerability, men, women and youth came together and took control of their fate.

It was inspiring. Across the region, people walked tall, and stood proud in a new sense of citizenship. The Arab peoples felt dignity and a better quality of life was within reach.

But today where once we saw hope, too many are seeing despair.

We see violence, discord, armed struggle and deaths in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen.

And we see Syrians dying by the tens of thousands, and fleeing by the millions.

Human suffering in Syria is nothing short of terrible. Over 100,000 men, women and children have died. More than 2 million people have fled the country. Over 4 million have sought refuge internally. Entire villages are destroyed. Schools and hospitals leveled.         

The need for a political solution in Syria is urgent. And the transition to recovery and development cannot wait.

This is needed first and foremost for the future of Syria itself. But a solution is also urgent for the prospects of its neighbors. 

Indeed today the crisis in Syria is also putting tremendous strain on the sub-region. Jordan and Lebanon and more recently Iraq are shaken to the core and need more support from international partners.

Host communities are feeling the strains of too many refugees and depleting resources at all levels.

Looking around the Arab world, we see clearly that two visions are at play: one of a future of democracy, dignity and freedom, and one of a future of despair.

Which vision will prevail?

My view is that this depends on sustainable development.

After all, the uprisings themselves, while on the surface seemingly purely political events, were rooted in the failure of development and the region’s widespread exclusion, and deterioration in quality of life. 

Economies were shrinking. Job opportunities were reducing and youth migration increased, adding to the vulnerability of a region that is severely affected by climate change, water scarcity and food insecurity.   

The combination of weak states, large youth populations and poverty in countries like Somalia and Yemen and in parts of Libya serves only to provide more recruits for militias, bandits and extremists.

Reversing this failure, reversing this development stagnation, is a fundamental prerequisite of securing a peaceful future in the Arab region.

If we look at history, we see that no transition has ever been smooth or speedy. Nor has any succeeded without inclusive growth, social inclusion and civil society participation.

In the Arab Region we must also not lose sight of the other deficits that have characterized the region such as gaps in knowledge, gender equality, human rights and freedoms, and good governance.

One of the main challenges in the Arab world today is to help both States and Citizens define a new social contract.

At the United Nations Development Programme, we are working with all stakeholders in every country in the Arab region in this time of need, working to lay the foundations for peace and security, good governance, prosperity, democracy and participation in public life.

We are also working to complete the unfinished business of the MDGs and to best define the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

In transitioning countries we are working to support needed reforms to advance democratic participation  and help improve social welfare and expand economic opportunity.

For example in Tunisia we have provided pivotal support to elections, constitutional development and the promotion of the rule of law.

In Egypt, UNDP promotes inclusive processes that respect the rights of all citizens and addresses the urgent economic needs of the most vulnerable. 

In Libya the UN system including UNDP provided crucial support to Libya’s first free elections and promoted the participation of women candidates. In Libya, UNDP also supported the national constitution process through engagement of citizens in various governorates.  

In countries undergoing conflict or impacted by neighboring crises we are helping to provide the much needed humanitarian assistance, while we are also supporting programmes that create jobs, secure livelihoods and preserve social cohesion. In this way we are bridging humanitarian assistance to long term development support.

We are also working to stabilize countries such as Jordan and Morocco and to draw a roadmap for restabilizing the whole region.

There are challenges: Youth are looking for opportunities to claim their rightful place in society. The situation of women and girls is regressing.

Economic and social development is key to success of political transition. Human rights and respect for diversity need to be included.  

And we are pleased to partner with the European Union as well as each European country in these efforts. UNDP has the trust of governments and civil society in bringing impartial, high-level advice to bear on important issues. We also have long experience, of developing quick impact programmes in situations of instability and conflict. The EU and its members are crucial partners in providing support to our programme at this most critical time. Together, we are partners for change.

After all, the progress of the Arab region and that of Europe are truly intertwined.

The Eurozone is the Arab Region’s largest trading partner. Any slowdown or instability in either region has a negative impact as well on the other.

We are also connected by the movement of people. Many young Arabs dream of seeking economic opportunity in Europe. Our hope in the Arab region is to be able to ensure that our youth — the 200 million Arabs under the age of 24 — have as much opportunity right at home.

Aِِِnd finally we are also connected in the most serious of matters: peace and security.

We must continue to work together to help realize the aspirations of the Arab people. This is a long process that requires attention not only to the immediate and short term needs but requires perseverance and a firm commitment to long term investments.

The EU and UNDP, together, can be the catalyst that will keep the hopes of the Arab peoples alive.

Thank you.

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