Interview with Barbara Ibrahim
|Sunday, August 10,2008 07:12|
|By Mona Sarkis|
Toys for orphans, tutoring for mentally disabled: voluntary dedication to the weaker is booming among young Egyptians. In this interview with Mona Sarkis, Barbara Ibrahim explains what is behind this
Dr. Ibrahim, for quite a while we have been hearing a lot about Egyptian bloggers and internet networks, for example the mass mobilisations for the general strike in April via Facebook. Is society in Egypt actually more eager to protest than in other Arab states?
Ibrahim: They are undoubtedly the most obvious manifestation of the frustration and urge for change felt by the Egyptian youth. Egypt is a highly centralised state; originally it had a social pact with its citizens: "You stay quiet and we protect and serve you." Today, however, no one feels protected anymore. Prices are rising, people are without jobs and - most important - without pride, because of a feeling of being sold out to the West by their leaders. In short, the old social pact is invalid. At the same time, nobody knows what will come next.
Ibrahim: They want to force open the rigid structures, which add to their social exclusion. It starts with the labour market: only those with good connections get good jobs. And it continues with marriage, because without a job a man cannot propose to a woman or buy an apartment. For many, the required marriage expenses exceed eleven times the family income. Young people are often engaged for seven years and longer.
These late marriages cause mental stress. Fathers often work for years in the Gulf just to be able to get their sons married. For girls as well, marriage costs have become a reason to work. Unions are formed not always out of love, but because the two want to leave their parents" homes. Even members of the middle class can hardly choose their partners by themselves – it is a family matter.
Youth initiatives in which young people operate without instructions from above are usually the only way to leave the narrow tracks prescribed by the state and their parents.
What do these initiatives lead to? Can an impact already be felt in daily life?
Ibrahim: Currently, youth involved in social work get the chance to meet the opposite sex in a socially tolerated framework, even if they hardly admit that. In addition, they learn soft skills – drafting and following one"s own personal agenda is something that first has to be learned in a dictatorship. For women it is also a way to leave the house with the blessing of the family, instead of spending the day at home.
What impact all this will have on the self-awareness and the actions of youth in the future is difficult to say. Still, the model is so successful that it is now spreading in a franchise-like manner throughout the whole of