If there is one issue driving political instability in Europe today, it is mass migration from the middle east.
Emotional commentary on this phenomenon concentrates on the one hand on the humanitarian obligation to care for refugees from war zones, or, on the other extreme, on a supposedly planned Islamic invasion of Europe.
What is generally neglected, in common discourse, if not in elite political circles, are the long term structural causes of this phenomenon. The middle east, including almost all of the Arab world, from the Maghreb to Iraq, but also including non-Arab countries such as Iran, have an exploding population.
The fertility of the average woman in the middle east varies somewhat, but the average is 3.5 births per woman, compared to about 1.5 births per woman in Europe.
In the past of course, fertility was was far higher. In the Arab world in the 1950s, it was about 7 births per woman. But vastly improved healthcare and nutrition has meant that infant mortality has plummeted since that time, with the result that the Levant’s population has multiplied at a dizzying rate since the mid twentieth century.
For instance, at the time of its independence from France in 1963, Algeria had about 9 million inhabitants, but today has 30 million plus and its population is still growing. Syria at the time of its independence, also from France, in the 1950s had a population of 3.25 million (i.e. about the same as the Republic of Ireland at the time), but on the cusp of the civil war in 2011 its population stood at over 20 million, that is five times that of independent Ireland.
The terrible suffering caused by the war and the flight of over four million people has temporarily decreased the population considerably, but the birth rate has has actually risen during the war years.
Most staggering of all is the case of Egypt. Egypt had a population of 18 million in 1947, but today is populated by no less than 95 million people. As the population grows, the rate of numerical increase also grows, so that as recently as 2006, Egypt’s population was 72 million, but has had a net increase of over 20 million people in just over ten years.
Today a phenomenal 50-65% of the middle eastern population is under 25 years old.
At the same time, this region has had very little economic growth, or in other words almost no new jobs for all of these young people. For instance Egypt, which would need something like 50% growth in jobs to cater for its population growth, has in fact seen 4% growth per year since 1992. Which, factoring in the population explosion, amounts to negative growth. And a dip in the economy in 2011, coinciding with the worldwide recession, almost immediately precipitated revolution (see here for the economic figures).
Across the Arab world, youth unemployment stands at over 30%. It is then hardly surprising at all, that the region is riven with instability, revolutions and civil wars. Radical Islam, while certainly a factor in this situation, is not the driving cause, though the rise of political Islam in the 1980s may have stopped a slowing of birth rates, such as took place in Latin America in the same period.
Nor is the generally dictatorial and repressive political systems the principle cause of unrest, though again, these do not help. If dictatorship was the only reason for turmoil in the middle east, then surely we would have seen a lot more of it than we have. No, the force driving both wars in the middle east and flight to Europe is primarily demographic.
Europe by contrast, has a low fertility rate, a slightly falling and rapidly aging population but plenty of low skilled, low paying jobs that Europeans do not wish to do. All of which has meant that Europe will continue for a long time to be a draw to unemployed and under employed Arab youth.
While there are few incentives for young people to stay in middle eastern countries and while Europe cannot solve its own labour and ageing problems, such migration will continue.
Wishful thinking should be let aside here. The optimistic prognosis is that none of this is a problem, ‘immigrants will pay our pensions’. This is a badly thought out idea. For one thing, by this prognosis, a whole new cohort of immigrants will have to be brought in every generation to pay the pensions of the previous generation. Even if immigrants were not ever unemployed themselves and the figures added up, this would mean a radical transformation in the social, linguistic and cultural profile of a country in every generation. By definition this transformation would totally change the nature of a country. And not just once, but repeatedly.
Such massive demographic change is causing and will cause serious social and political problems. It would inevitably do so even if immigrants were keen to integrate into their host countries. But middle eastern (and other Islamic) immigrants generally do not want to become secular, liberal Europeans. They will not integrate as long as they arrive in such large numbers.
Europeans, for their part do not want to see the demographics of their countries transformed by a foreign culture and religion. Commentators such as Mark Blyth make a very persuasive case that the lack of upward social mobility and the freeze in real wages among the working and middle class over 30 years are what is driving the politics of discontent. Perhaps so. But this need not go in a far right, ultra nationalist direction.
What is driving the growth in the radical right across Europe is mass immigration, make no mistake.
This would be the case even if radical Islam and its attendant tactic of terrorism were not a problem, but it is and has the potential to turn animosity into hatred, indeed has already done so on a large scale.
Simply put, a solution will have to be found to curtail mass middle eastern immigration into Europe or the consequences will be dire.