AAPI Op-ed: Leveraging Education to Strengthen the Abraham Accords
November 04, 2022
The Abraham Accords have created countless opportunities for member countries to leverage their unique capabilities for addressing shared challenges. One critical issue that can be addressed through Abraham Accords cooperation is the “youth challenge”, perhaps the most pressing challenge facing the Middle East in the 21st century.
In a region where almost 65% of the population is under the age of 30, long term prosperity and stability hinges on creating opportunities for the younger generation.
The Middle East’s burgeoning youth population could be a powerful tool for creating growth and prosperity. Yet despite concerted policy efforts in the first decade of the 21st century, by 2010, the region had failed to improve employment outcomes for its youth. In some countries, youth frustration over social, economic, and political exclusion, exploded in 2011 into widespread protests and unrest.
The challenges facing MENA youth today are as stark as ever. Youth unemployment rates in the MENA region have been among the highest in the world for over 25 years, reaching 30 percent in 2017. Such unemployment impacts numerous other fields, including housing, marriage and civic participation.
The historic Abraham Accords peace agreements provide an opportunity for new collaboration in the crucial field of education, enabling the development of human capital, matching skills to the needs of the 21st century interconnected economy, and creating new jobs. Greatly expanding academic exchange programs in the wake of the Accords can provide an opportunity for next generation talent to learn together in an academic environment, and then translate those skills and cross-cultural experiences to the economic sector.
In the framework of such exchange programs, the participants will also have the opportunity to study each other’s history, heritage and culture, thereby fostering mutual understanding, encouraging a healthy exchange of views, and forging lasting bonds. Such experiences promote tolerance, and enrich each student’s appreciation of the common humanity in every society.
The logic of academic exchange programs between Abraham Accords countries has already begun to be realized. In the summer of 2022, a delegation of four Moroccan students studied at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University for the summer semester in a first-of-its-kind cooperation between Israeli and Moroccan universities. The four students studied in the university’s data science and health system programs, with students from around the world. Several Emirati students have already enrolled in Israeli universities as well. While these are promising developments, they are just scratching the surface of what is possible.
A realistic model for an Abraham Accords academic exchange program that could be implemented in a timely manner could be as follows: Each respective Abraham Accords government would nominate a group of undergraduate or graduate students to the program annually, based on their demonstrated potential for leadership in the public or private sector. Selected students would study at the flagship academic institutions of another Abraham Accords country. Participating Arab member states could also each select a Palestinian student to join the cohort, providing an opportunity to build bridges across the political divide. Additionally, the entire cohort from all the countries would convene in a designated country for a week of shared learning, cultural exchange and dialogue. New virtual education platforms could compliment in-person programs.
In addition to programs geared towards students, faculty and research exchange programs should be encouraged and advanced. Such a program would create a wider experience for faculty members from diverse backgrounds, enable broad exposure for students from visiting faculty and thought leaders, and promote increased opportunities for faculty and fellows to collaborate across institutions. Like its student counterpart, this program could feature symposiums attended by the entire cohort aimed at building bonds of understanding and friendship between academic colleagues.
Every student or faculty member who participates in these exchange programs would become an ambassador for the Abraham Accords, and the potential these peace agreements represent for the region and the world. These individuals would bring their experiences back to their communities and institutions, and share them with colleagues and friends. While developing diplomacy and business ties are important, education can and should play a vital role in ensuring a brighter future for the region’s youth, in the spirit of the Abraham Accords.