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25 April 2024

Arab population put at 339.9m in 2009

An emirati national against the backdrop of Emirates Towers in Dubai. Picture used for illustrative purposes only. (GETTY)

By Nadim Kawach

The combined population of the Arab countries gained nearly eight million to peak at around 339.9 million at the end of 2009 and Egypt remained the most populated nation in the region, according to official data.

Despite strong oil prices over the past decade, unemployment in many regional states remained relatively high as the population growth is outpacing economic expansion in most of them, the figures showed.

At the end of 2009, the Arab population grew by nearly 2.41 per cent year-on-year but growth was far higher in some members, including the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait and other nations, showed the figures published in the annual joint Arab economic report, published this week by the Abu Dhabi-based Arab Monetary Fund and two other Arab League organizations.
The report put the UAE’s population at around 5.066 million at the end of 2009, up by nearly 6.32 per cent over the population of 4.865 million at the end of 2008.

High growth rates were also recorded in other Gulf oil producers given their heavy reliance on foreign labour.

In Qatar, which is recording the highest economic growth rates in the region, the population jumped by nearly 13.19 per cent to 1.638 million at the end of 2009 from around 1.448 million at the end of 2008, the report showed.

Kuwait’s population grew by 6.23 per cent to 3.657 million from 3.442 million while Bahrain recorded a growth of 8.17 per cent to 1.215 million compared with nearly 1.123 million in the same period.

Saudi Arabia, the largest Arab economy, registered growth of about 2.28 million to 25.3 million compared with 24.8 million.

The report showed Egypt remained the most populated Arab nation, with its people increasing by around 2.17 per cent to 76.8 million from 75.19 million.

Other members with high population are Sudan with around 39.17 million at the end of 2009, Algeria with 35.2 million, Morocco with 31.51 million, Iraq with 35.50 million, Yemen with about 22.8 million and Tunisia with 10.4 million.

Djibouti had the smallest population in the region, standing at around 895,000, according to the report, which gave no figures for occupied Palestine.

Its figures showed Djibouti had the highest unemployment rate of around 50 per cent, followed by Mauritania with nearly 30 per cent.

Countries with high joblessness rates also include Somalia with 34.7 per cent, Palestine with 21.1 per cent, Sudan with 19.7 per cent, Libya with 18.2 per cent, Yemen and Lebanon with 15 per cent each, Iraq with nearly 14.7 per cent, Tunisia with 13.3 per cent and Jordan with about 12.8 per cent.

Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE had the lowest unemployment rates in the Arab world at the end of 2009, standing at 0.3, 1.4 and 3.9 per cent respectively.

In a recent study, the AMF said Arab nations need to create nearly 40 million jobs by 2020 to tackle unemployment that has remained the highest in the world despite a steady expansion in the private sector.

Although it was cut from around 14.3 per cent in 1990 to about 13.7 per cent in 2009, the unemployment rate in the region is still the highest in the world and requires intensification of reforms to spur economic growth and ensure jobs for unemployed citizens, mostly the youth,  it said.

Given their massive oil wealth, the UAE and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states have maintained the lowest jobless rate in the region but unemployment has largely deteriorated in such low income nations as Mauritanian, Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and Palestine.

“As a group, the Arab countries are suffering from the highest unemployment rates in the world despite a slight improvement in the past years….the Arab joblessness rate is estimated at 13.7 per cent compared to an international average of nearly 5.7 per cent,” the study said.

“The improvement over the past years has been mainly a result of greater participation by the private sector…but the region now faces a serious challenge in matching the rapid growth in the population and labour force and how to ensure jobs for those who are about to join the labour market, mainly the youth, who account for nearly 50 per cent of the total jobless Arabs….if the Arab countries want to face that challenge and reduce unemployment by half, they will have to create nearly 40 million jobs by 2020.”

The study said creation of those jobs would not be ease following the end of the second oil boom of between 2002 and 2008, adding that the surge in crude export earnings largely boosted growth in the Gulf and other Arab oil producers and at the same time increased financial transfers into non-oil Arab nations.

“Now that the oil boom is over, creating jobs will be very difficult…this should prompt Arab countries to step up reform programmes they launched during 1980s and 1990s…there is a strong need for efforts to improve the business and investment environment in the region and encourage the private sector so it will offset the eroding employment capacity of the public sector.”