Arab Youth – Changing Worldwide Perceptions

Arab Youth – Changing Worldwide Perceptions

Change has definitely come to the Arab world and it has come at the hands of the youth. They are not just changing the political scene, but also how Westerners see the Middle East .

The Arab youth are rising up against authoritarian governments and so far they have fought and won two revolutions, and more is on the way.

From subservient, disenfranchised young people, the Arab youth have turned into victorious rebels whose subtle influence has stretched from Tunisia , Egypt , Libya , Bahrain and Yemen .

The youth are not interested in political intrigue or Islamic radicalism; they just want freedom, education, jobs and marriage.

They have eroded away ancient structures in the Middle East while Western powers – playing the conquerors –chose a military solution in Iraq and Afghanistan thinking they were bringing about the desired change.

The Arab youth realized that their inability to get the basic needs of life, like jobs, a better education and marriage, is closely connected to the squandering of the ruling regimes. With a youth unemployment rate of between 30 and 46 percent across the region, it became a personal struggle.

With almost two-thirds of the Middle East under 26, it is expected that by 2050 the population will double and it is this age group that is fuelling the movement for change.

The Middle East has not known many youth movements throughout its history as its culture is based on seniority over youthfulness.

But the voice of the youth is so loud now – especially with their growing technological prowess -, that it has broken the barriers of paternalism and removed it as a fixture of Arab life.

The internet has removed the feeling of isolation from the Arab youth and actually united them with the help of platforms like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

They realized they were not alone in their struggle and quickly came up with ideas to initiate change and speak out what is on their minds.

The change had already begun in the minds of the youth and on the internet, which constituted a transparent open platform of dialog, before it spilled out onto the streets of Egypt .

As the youth interacted and discussed their concerns about their own future and that of their country, the reality of the repression they lived under became more and more apparent and as fear of reprisal heightened, so too did their determination to do something about it.

About one year ago, an anonymous administrator in Egypt started a page called ‘We are All Khaled Said’.  This page contains the tragic story of a small shopkeeper in Alexandria , Egypt who loved art. It showed graphic photographs of his battered face after he was tortured and murdered by Egyptian security forces for refusing to bend to unreasonable demands, and other pictures that showed him in everyday life as a friendly, unassuming young man.

His corpse was thrown into the street, with police claiming he had been attacked by strangers.

This was the first case of police brutality to be aired on the social media. His story became a focus and a forum for Egyptians to vent their rage and feed their desire to make reforms.

The Arab youth felt anonymous on the internet and therefore encouraged to speak out in a way that was unheard of previously. It prepared them for revolt and fed their determination. ‘We are all Khaled Said’ was one of the many chants of the revolution in Egypt .

The youth are also aware that their struggle does not end with political revolution. The changes they will make in the region affects all sectors of life. With Muslim youth being 11 percent of the world’s population, their impact is expected to be significant. 

The values of Arab youth are a mixture of Islamic ethics that include conventional family values and respect for authority, democracy and self-determination. Islam is still the foremost moral guide for Arab youth but most believe it should not take on a political role.

Today’s Islamic movement is taking on an identity of its own. Sternness, pressuring and militancy is largely absent within Arab youth circles and has completely different characteristics to the more radical groups.

Most government-approved preachers and imams are not taken seriously and as most Arab youth interact with Islam by means of satellite TV and the internet these traditional imams are losing their grip.

Previously, the youth were torn between two ways of life that are mutually exclusive. One side rejects what is known as ‘Western values’ which are seen as threatening the ‘Islamic’ way of life.

The other alternative is seen as rejecting their culture and religion and adopting what is known as ‘modernity’.

However, the Arab youth of today are more able to blend modern global influences with religious tradition.

With a background in technology and exposure to the rest of the world, today’s Arab youth have managed to form their own modernity taking into account their religious and social values. They want to be a part of the globalized world, rather than just a copy of the West.

In a very short space of time, they have fashioned a new global identity and changed how the world see the Middle East .