It is a well known fact that most Muslim countries suffer from a brain drain problem, with the flight of human capital mainly to Western countries, in hope of finding “much greener pastures”. The root causes include weak economic conditions, security issues, internal conflicts, hostilities with and from neighboring countries, gender inequality, limited employment opportunities, a neglect of agriculture and manufacturing, imbalanced tertiary educational systems that focus on liberal arts and business administration instead of engineering and technology.
A less evident cause for this brain drain is the inequity in hiring, with highly qualified individuals under-employed or, even worse, unemployed. These are usually individuals who are not well-connected; they do not belong to an influential political party, or are not affiliated with a visible religious leader. In some countries, such as Lebanon, positions in public institutions are distributed based on a quota system that allocates each religious sect – there are 18 sects in Lebanon – a defined number of positions, in order to maintain a balance among the various sects. Individuals who are unfortunate enough to belong to a religious sect that has a lot of qualified (or unqualified) personnel are usually left out unless they have aligned themselves in the ways described earlier. .
The problem is more severe for returning expatriates after spending the best years of their life abroad pursuing an education or practicing a profession. Their reasons for returning could be sentimental, social, family-related, or economic. Such individuals have to survive the initial “cultural shock” of witnessing a transformation of societal values, which in many cases, has been corrupted by globalization and advances in communication technology. They have to accept the fact that difficult life conditions and ongoing conflicts, such as civil wars, may have hardened people’s hearts, weakened family ties, and stolen the innocence that they were known for in years past.
Once the expatriates make the decision to endure the new environment and re-settle in their native country, they realize that no matter how successful and accomplished they were in their former foreign adopted home, they have to stand in line and seek employment just like the fresh graduate next door, unless their relatives are well-connected, or they were alert enough to maintain their networking and affiliations while living abroad. Most end up packing their belongings and immigrating for the second time, and this time for good.
Another factor that adds to the plight of both residents and returning expatriates is a general preference for hiring westerners whether in academic positions, as consultants for public personnel, or in private corporate employment. This preference originates from a belief that westerners are superior to locals, and it dates back to the days of colonization by western countries. Some expatriates who have dual citizenships and enjoy fluency in a foreign language, whose God-given features resemble those of westerners, and whose parents gave them “globally-accepted” names such as Adam, counteract the discrimination by presenting themselves as foreign applicants, thus “beating the system”, leading a “double-life”, and earning much higher salaries.
Unfortunately, for individuals who are females and/or above thirty years of age, the obstacles multiply.
The time has come for Muslim countries to recover from the inferiority complex which some have succeeded in embedding in their subconscious. It is time to make an effort to stop the human capital flight and to attract the expatriates to return and participate in re-building their poverty-stricken and war-torn countries.