Opinion: Why the Middle East Aging is Good News
Evolving borders, ageing populations, ongoing conflict and political unrest have their part to play in affecting the growth of the younger generation
In 2021, researchers Hannes Weber and Richard Cincotta theorised that countries with a median age of 25 or younger among their citizens are more prone to revolutions. Previous studies had already established a correlation between a young demographic and a higher risk of war or political violence. Data from the 1990s revealed that countries where individuals aged 15 to 29 comprised over 40 percent of the adult population were twice as likely to experience civil conflict. Between 1970 and 2007, 80 percent of all civil conflicts occurred in countries where at least 60 percent of the population was under 30. Additionally, from 1950 to 2000, countries where 35 percent or more of the adult population consisted of individuals aged 15 to 24 were 150 percent more likely to experience outbreaks of civil conflicts, as concluded by demographer Elizabeth Leahy Madsen in 2021.
These findings suggest a consensus among researchers and scientists establishing a cause-and-effect relationship between a young population, instability, and violence within a given country. This may potentially explain why Arab and Muslim countries in the Middle East have not reacted aggressively towards Israel amid the intensification of the conflict with Hamas, considering a significant portion of these countries now has a population with a median age above 25.
Reflecting on Iran in the 1980s, which mobilised hundreds of thousands of young people during the Iran-Iraq war when the median age was just 17, contrasts with its current restraint as the median age has increased to 30. Similarly, Hezbollah faces the consequences of a higher Lebanese median age compared to the time of the civil war in 1975. The party, like Iran, must adapt to the aging Lebanese population, whose median age is even higher than in 2006 during the conflict with Israel. Fertility rates in the Middle East have been declining for decades, exemplified by Iran, where the rate dropped from six in the 1980s to 1.5 today.
Optimistically, not only are populations aging, but borders also seem to be evolving. The dynamics of conflicts such as the Arab-Israeli wars (1967, 1973), the Korean War (early 1950s), and those between India and Pakistan (1947 to the early 1970s) have significantly diminished as border disputes date back 70 years or more. In contrast, conflicts like the one between Russia and Ukraine, with borders formalised just under thirty years ago, appear more volatile.
The Middle East appears to be on the brink of a new paradigm. The era of large masses of young people expressing nationalist or revolutionary sentiments in the Arab streets may be fading, diluted within an aging population. Does Auguste Comte’s idea hold true: does demography shape destiny after all?
For more on the author, Michel Santi, visit his website here: michelsanti.fr
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