The disenfranchisement of young people is a growing problem in the Arab world
guardian.co.uk, Monday 23 February 2009
".....Yet Arab youths are far from apathetic. Egypt's own protests of 2005-06 that saw the Kifaya movement lead public demonstrations against the Mubarak regime with a substantial youth presence. Groups such as Youth for Change emerged to lead protests in universities and coffee shops. Yet, like their Lebanese counterparts, the young grew frustrated at their inability to affect the agendas of the old. Young people working for al-Ghad, Ayman Nour's liberal opposition party that was prominent in Kifaya, complained of the sidelining of youth issues and the strict age-orientated hierarchical structure.
In contrast, the internet is proving to be a youth-dominated arena for political expression. The vast majority of Arab political bloggers, for example, are young or appeal to a younger audience. Similarly, Samantha Shapiro's recent article about Facebook in Egypt highlights it as an alternative forum for Arab youth to vent their frustrations. The potential for social networking sites to organise protests and opposition in states where civil society is discouraged or actively suppressed was not lost on the Syrian government which promptly banned the site in 2007. However, even as Damascus set about blocking Facebook, Syrian internet cafes were using proxy sites and alternative networks to maintain their access.
Will these protests be constrained to cyberspace? Recently, just under half of the youths polled in a survey of six Middle Eastern states believed their country wasn't going in the right direction, highlighting the broad desire for change. With youth unemployment set to rise even further by the end of the year, the potential for social and political unrest is clear. The recent protests over the Gaza war, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood-led demonstrations in Egypt, might prove the shape of things to come. Though prompted by the Israel-Palestine conflict, these youth-dominated marches soon descended into anti-regime anger protesting unemployment and poverty as much as Gaza. If such regimes, and even the liberal opposition, don't turn their attention to youths' feelings of disenfranchisement soon, more radical groups could offer an appealing alternative......"