The Arab World Demographic Dilemma: Young, Unemployed, and Searching for a Voice

Arab youth confront daunting challenges, including a lack of economic opportunities, constraints on their freedom of expression, and the complex and shifting nature of their own Arab identity. How the Arab world meets these challenges will have significant ramifications for the Middle East and the world. This special panel discussion marks the release of America Abroad’s three-part public radio series on youth in the Arab World.

Moderator Deborah Amos, foreign correspondent of NPR News who has covered the Middle East extensively, started by saying that as a reporter in the region you notice the young population, but most of the people she interviews are usually over 30. “If you overlook this generation, you miss something essential about the Middle East,” she said.

Marc Lynch, aka Abu Aardvark, Director of the Institute for Middle East Studies, George Washington University, believes that one thing is clear: sheer magnitude of the crisis facing youth in the Middle East. Lynch said many in the West focus on a small group of activists and bloggers, but miss the silent struggle of tens of millions of people. Those people are and their issues are also ignored by their own governments, who seem to think that as long as they can keep these young people off the street then they are doing a good job. Lynch said the recent events in Tunisia and Algeria is particularly interesting because it could have a domino effect all over the Arab World. But when it comes to political ramifications of these events, he wonders if it is going to lead to a substantial change in policy, or just to more repression and bloodshed. This kind of spontaneous uprising and dissent has no place to go because there are not political or social movements involved in it. Lynch said the greatest single thread that combines what is happening in the Arab World right now is the failure of the system to deal with systematic problems, as well as the failure of outside intervention plans. “The tools we have might not be appropriate, and the dynamics are don’t look familiar,” he said. “It’s exciting and troubling.”

Christine Capacci-Carneal, is the Education Development Officer of USAID, and she works primarily with USAID-funded programs in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, West Bank/Gaza and Yemen. Based on her experience in youth development programs, Capacci-Carneal said that youth are a sophisticated group with many subgroups, and that’s why a problem-based approach is less effective than a comprehensive approach. “Problem free is not fully prepared,” she said. As an example for working with that approach, Capacci-Carneal talked about Youth:Work Jordan, which tries to engages youth directly, but also tries to solve systematic issues by targeting youth in poor districts and working with local organizations. She commended the efforts of the program, but admitted that one of the problems they faced is that they have had a hard time building political will and institutional capacity to sustain that effort. Other challenges facing such programs include how to address building a stronger youth voice and a stronger sense of identity then let local organizations join in that effort. Also, how do ensure that your using the available funding efficiently? Capacci-Carneal said USAID is working to develop better research tools to know what works best.

Lina Khatib, who runs the Good Governance and Political Reform in the Arab World at the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law in Stanford University, wanted to focus on youth and freedom of expression in the Arab World. She said that social media has opened up further space for views on many topics that were considered once taboo such as politics, sex, and religion. “No doubt interactive media pushed the boundaries for what’s permissible,” she said, and that young people are no longer willing to accept the status quo as the norm. Khatib has also given the recent example of Tunisia, where Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in what she described as “a desperate plea for the issues of arab youth.” But she added what gives her hope is that young people have not given up and continues their struggle, and thanks to the fact that we live in a world of globalized media, and no authoritarian regime in the Middle East can fully stop the circulating of information. “Youth need a strategy to reach goals,” she concluded, “not just enough to say what they want, but also a way to find what to do.”

Diane Singerman, the associate professor at the American University School of Public Affairs, decided to focus on a slightly different angle on the issues facing Arab youth today. This issues, she said, was extremely ignored: the question of marriage. In the Arab World, adulthood equals being married. However, it is very expensive to get married, and because of the high unemployment rate it is difficult for young people to work and save for marriage. This leads to what she called “wait-hood,” the stage between childhood and adulthood that can only be reached by getting married. Signerman cited the example of Egypt, which has the latest age of marriage anywhere in the world outside china. According to studies, 50 percent of men in Egypt are unmarried, and when they do get married they get married later and later. That’s why youth unemployment should be seen in the lens of getting married, Singerman said. Young men are political excluded because of repression, economically hurting because of unemployment, and because they can’t make money to get married they become socially excluded.

Apologies for posting much later than expected due to some technical difficulties.

Robbery in skies, Routes of Arabia, Weddady’s response to Khouri

  • Have you heard of the Air France flight attendant who was arrested for robbing passengers? Muhammed al-Ahidib provides four reasons why this woman would not have been able to steal if she were working for Saudi Arabian Airline.
  • Here is another good review for Routes d’Arabie, this time from Bloomberg.
  • Nasser Weddady offers another fine rebuttal to Rami Khouri’s op-ed in NYT. At the end of his blogpost, Weddady comments on a part of Khour’s article that I chose to ignore, which is about the “hypocrisy” of US government’s interest in social media while it supports the very same dictatorships that crush liberties. This is an old and overused argument, and something I have touched on in my op-ed in the same newspaper last year.

Making the Case for the Hunger Strike

When I posted about the hunger strike last week, I did not expect that anyone would try to talk me out of it. But some people actually did. Some think it is not a worthy cause; some think it is pointless and would have no effect; and some told me they have been intimidated by what they described as “aggressive campaigning” online. To those I say: forget the hoopla; forget the banners; and forget all the coverage.

You think I’m doing this to get media attention? I don’t need media attention. I already have the media attention. I see the hunger strike as my little personal gesture to the detainees. I don’t know what it would mean to them or if they even know about it, but it certainly means something to me. It means that I do not accept injustice. It means that as much as I’m proud of this country, I’m disappointed by how it repeatedly fails to live up to its highest standards. It means that I believe we are better than this and we deserve better than this.

“What about 75 Saudis detained in Guantánamo Bay? They don’t deserve to be supported?” one of the hunger strike opponents asked. I never said they don’t. Nobody did. And if their lawyers and families started a campaign tomorrow I would not hesitate to join and support them. However, I believe that our government is responsible before us more than any other government. We frequently criticize the US for their double standards and failing to respect the principles they preach. That’s fair. But charity begins at home, and it is our moral obligation to our nation that we remind it with the great ideals that it stands for.

If you think this hunger strike will achieve nothing and therefor don’t want to participate that’s okay, but please don’t try to make of it what it is simply not. If you decided to participate, then think why you are doing it; don’t just follow the crowd blindly, and be sure that you can make the case for this. It will be more meaningful and far more rewarding.

Related links:

Call for Hunger Strike

The defense teams of jailed human rights activists in Saudi Arabia have issued a statement this week saying that after exerting all means to get fair treatment to the constitutional movement’s detainees, they have decided to observe a 48-hour hunger strike. The proposed strike will take place on Thursday and Friday, 6-7 November 2008, in protest against flagrant human rights violations for all detainees in Saudi prisons who have been deprived of their basic rights as guaranteed by the Law of Criminal Procedures and Arrest and Detention Law, which stated the following:

  • The Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution shall conduct its investigation and prosecution in accordance with its Law and the implementing regulations thereof (Article 14).
  • During the investigation, the accused shall have the right to seek the assistance of a representative or an attorney (Article 64)…… to defend him during the investigation and trial stages (Article 4).
  • An arrested person shall not be subjected to any bodily or moral harm. Similarly, he shall not be subjected to any torture or degrading treatment (Article 2).
  • Whoever is arrested or detained shall be promptly notified of the reasons for his arrest or detention and shall be entitled to communicate with any person of his choice to inform him of his arrest (Article 116).
  • In all cases, the Investigator shall order that the accused may not communicate with any other prisoner or detainee, and that he not be visited by anyone (i.e., solitary confinements) for a period not exceeding sixty days if the interest of the investigation so requires, without prejudice to the right of the accused to communicate with his representative or attorney (Article 119).
  • In cases that require detention for a longer period, the matter shall be referred to the Director of the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution to issue an order that the arrest be extended for a period or successive periods none of which shall exceed thirty days and their aggregate shall not exceed six months from the date of arrest of the accused. Thereafter, the accused shall be directly transferred to the competent court, or be released (Article 114).
  • Court hearings shall be public (Article 155). The judgment shall be read in an open session at which the parties must be present……. supporting evidence and arguments, the stages of the action, the text of the judgment, reasons and legal bases therefore, and whether it was rendered unanimously or by majority vote (Article 182).
  • A visitation right for prisoners by their family members, friends and legal counselors (Arrest and Detention Law, Article 12)

The defense team declared their observance of a hunger strike in solidarity with following jailed human right activists from the constitutional movement and civil society in Saudi Arabia:

  1. Professor Matrook H. Al-Faleh, political science professor at King Saud University in Riyadh, detained by security forces in May 19, 2008.
  2. Attorney Suliman Ibrahim Al-Reshoudi, former judge and human-right advocate, detained in February 2, 2007.
  3. Attorney Dr. Mousa Mohammed Al-Qarni, former university professor and human-right activist, detained in February 2, 2007.
  4. Professor Abdulrahman Mohammed Al-Shomari, former professor of education and human-right activist, detained in February 2, 2007.
  5. Dr. Abdulaziz Suliman Al-Khereiji, human-right activist, detained in February 2, 2007.
  6. Saifaldeen Faisal Al-Sherif, human-right activist, detained in February 2, 2007.
  7. Fahd Alskaree Al-Qurashi, human-right activist, detained in February 2, 2007.
  8. Abdulrahman Bin Sadiq, Human-right activist, detained in February 2, 2007.
  9. Dr. Saud Mohammed Al-Hashemi, human-right activist, detained in February 2, 2007.
  10. Ali Khosifan Al-Qarni, human-right activist, detained in February 2, 2007.
  11. Mansour Salim Al-Otha, human-right activist, detained in December 12, 2007.

They, furthermore, announced their sympathy with all opinion prisoners in the Saudi jails who suffer human right abuses with no fair chances of defending themselves in accordance with the Law of Criminal Procedures and by getting fair and just trials. Many activists have answered the call (their names will be announced at a later date), and they will participate in the proposed 48-hour hunger strike during the two specified dates to show their objection against the repeated violations of the criminal and detention laws vis-à-vis jailed activists. The demand is quite simple: either to set the detainees free or instantly grant them fair and public trials.

They welcome all activists and citizens who have conscious feelings and interested in participating in the proposed hunger strike to show sympathy and solidarity with all detainees whose basic rights have been violated. Their names and information can be registered by calling members of the defense teams whose phone numbers appear below.

Names of the members of the defense teams who are participating in the hunger strike to show solidarity with the aforementioned detainees:

  1. Ayman Mohammad Al-Rashed, human-right activist. Mobile# +966505288354
  2. Saud Ahmed Al-Degaither, human-right activist. Mobile# +966559201964
  3. Professor Abdulkareem Yousef Al-Khadher, College of Islamic Jurisprudence, Qassim University. Mobil# +966503331113
  4. Dr. Abdulrahman Hamed Al-Hamed, professor of Islamic economics. Mobile# +966503774446
  5. Abdullah Mohammad Al-Zahrani, human-right activist.
  6. Abdulmohsin Ali Al-Ayashi, human-right activist. Mobile# +966553644636
  7. Fahd Abdulaziz Al-Oraini, human-right activist. Mobile# +966502566678. Email: fahadalorani@gmail.com
  8. Fowzan Mohsin Al-Harbi, Human-right activist. Mobile# +966501916774 Email: fowzanm@gmail.com
  9. Dr. Mohammad Fahd Al-Qahtani, college professor and TV show host. Mobile# +966555464345. Email: moh.alqahtani@gmail.com
  10. Mohana Mohammed Al-Faleh, human-right activist. Mobile# +966505388205
  11. Nasser Salim Al-Otha, human-right activist.
  12. Hashim Abdullah Al-Refai, writer and activist.
  13. Waleed Sami Abu Alkhair, writer and activist. Mobile# +966567761788. Fax# +96614272168. Email: abualkair@gmail.com

This act of peaceful protest is the first of its kind in Saudi Arabia and I believe this is the least we can do for those people. Please join the call and spread the word.