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Capitalise on youth, Muslim economies told

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Johor Bahru: Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak today urged Muslim economies to embrace changes to capitalise on its greatest resource - the youth.

Speaking when opening the 8th World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) here today, he said the youth should not be seen as a liability, but as an asset, an untapped resource to allow the countries to develop and modernise.

"We must put our confidence in Muslim youth as full economic participants, as consumers, employees and entrepreneurs. We must be unafraid to encourage change in institutions which stifle young people's opportunities in reforming public services, supporting appointment by merit and remaining ever vigilant against corruption," he added.

Najib who is also the Finance Minister said, it is up to the leaders to show leadership and build economies that are prepared for the future.

Muslim economies he said, must be willing to confront old assumptions and embrace new technologies, to open up economies and reform their politics, which will not always be easy with challenges and uncertainties.

"But reform is necessary and history show us it is right. The periods of greatest Islamic influence were the most intellectually open," said the Prime Minister.

He said the demographics in Muslim countries at present is experiencing a significant "youth bulge", with 60 per cent in 2010 being under the age of 30.

By 2030 he said, Muslims will make up 26 per cent of the world's population, but 30 per cent of this will be youth.

"Muslim youth want economic opportunities. Our response must be to commit to building open and sustainable economies, with education and economic reform that allows our young people to pursue their ambitions," Najib said.

On the "Arab awakening", Najib said many young people cannot see opportunities for themselves and feel they have no control over their lives or a stake in their nations.

"Such pessimism can lead to disengagement, radicalism or emigration. While political freedom is important, it is economic opportunity that young people value most.

"We are losing some of our young people to apathy and extremism," he said, adding, youth unemployment in the Middle East in 2010 was 25 per cent, while in North Africa it was 24 per cent.

"Unemployment at such levels is toxic. When young people lack opportunities, they grow restless and disenfranchised," he added.

Najib pointed out that from 1970 to 2000, eight out of 10 countries experiencing new civil conflict, had populations where 60 per cent were under 30, as in the Muslim world today.

Muslim economies he said, must also understand that the second great change in young people lives, is technology.

He pointed out that 21 years ago there were no websites, but today, with more than half a billion, the internet has gone from a tiny scientific community into one of the most potent development tools the world has ever known.

"This technological shift has implications for the economic sphere in which Muslim youth operate. Empowered by technology and emboldened example, young people are able to compare the strength and weaknesses of their democracies and articulate their political needs to a global audience," said Najib.

He said the two forces of demography and technology determine the nature of opportunities for Muslim youth.

Young people in Islamic societies according to him, want freedom of opportunity, for example to pursue world class education, as well as be an active participant in new digital spaces.

"They want strong democratic institutions and open and accountable government. And they want to play their part in civil society to build a better nation with their own hands," said Najib.
"Our challenge is to stretch ourselves to deliver those freedoms without sacrificing tradition, stability and growth," he added.

He also called on Muslim countries to continue opening up their economies, as a means to bring in higher value jobs and stronger economic growth.

Najib said while 23 per cent of the world's population was Muslim, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) nations, conduct just 8.3 per cent of global trade.

The WIEF is being held from today until Thursday at the Persada Johor Covention Centre here.
Also attending is Comoros President Ikililou Dhonine, Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Al Haj Murad Ebrahim.

(Courtesy: New Straits Times)
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