The Middle East conflicts

The power of youth

By Meera Goswitz

Talon staff writer

The protests and upheavals of long-standing regimes in the Arab world have become the most tumultuous global events in years. But who may have impacted these events the most? Today’s youth are using their resources, such as social networking, to spread their hopes and frustrations. Young people are at the forefront to make this a revolution the world has never seen before.

The reasons behind the protests range from country to country, but generally it can be traced to political repression and corruption.

The protests in the Middle East started in Tunisia and resulted in former president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, fleeing the country on Jan. 14, 2011. He had been in power since 1987, before many of the protesters had even been born.

The revolutionary spirit quickly spread across the Arab world, causing political protests and uprisings in countries including Egypt, Jordan and Libya. In Egypt, the region’s most populous country, former President Hosni Mubarak resigned on Feb. 11, 2011 after 18 days of protests. Mubarak had been president since 1981, disrupting 30 years of rule.

Minnehaha Academy alum Adrian Wood-Smith (’06) who graduated from Dartmouth College in 2010, has had the opportunity to witness these events up close. He is now living in Syria and studying at the University of Damascus through the Center for Arabic Study Abroad.

“The gulf between people and their leadership grew too large,” said Wood-Smith. “Unemployment, rising food prices and other essential issues enraged them to the boiling point.”

Although the Arab youth (people under the age of 30) have had the least experience with the repression older generations have lived with, they had a large impact on the revolutions.

“It was probably their idealism, their fearlessness and their sense of invincibility,” said history teacher Matthew Ridenour. “The older generation felt almost trapped, I think, by the long history of autocratic rule.”

It was also their sense of hopelessness and desperate need for change. According to Time magazine and BBC News, the youth in countries like Egypt, Iraq, Syria and Jordan comprise at least 60 percent of the population. In Egypt, the youth makes up 61 percent of the population and 42.8 percent are currently unemployed. The highest youth population is in Yemen, with 74 percent of the population being under 30 and 49 percent of the youth being jobless and not attending school.

The youth causing the conflicts are using a weapon that no previous generations have had access to: technology. The use of social-networking sites and cell phones allowed protesters to spread ideas and communicate times and locations of protests.

For example, Friday Jan. 28, was dubbed as the “Friday of anger” in Egypt. The Egyptian people had spread the word of the protest through Facebook, Twitter, mobile phones and other social networking sites and devices. The Egyptian government attempted to quell the protests by shutting down Egyptian Internet servers and mobile operators Thursday night. However, word had already spread and the protests took place on Friday.

“When the Egyptian government cut out the Internet, that was the final, enraging push for people to get out on the streets,” said Wood-Smith. “For one, their government had the nerve to take away information channels from its people, and for another, they had nothing to do with their time except go out on the streets.”

The thousands of people who were not deterred by the government’s actions took part in the “Friday of anger.”

“If they [the Egyptian government] are shutting the Internet down it tells a story,” said Ridenour. “Whether simply perceived or real, the perception was that the Internet was playing a significant role.”

And it will continue to play a significant role. Technology, along with the revolutionary spirit, could cause, as some argue, the protesters to stick together and create long-lasting effects.

In Egypt, the government claimed to be a republic, but was known to be autocratic; Mubarak ruled with limitless power and also used the power to enrich himself. When Mubarak left power, he was said to be worth between $40 and $70 billion by ABC News. Although Mubarak was labeled as corrupt, America still supported the regime because it provided stability and kept extremist groups out of power.

“Democracy would mean that whoever has the loudest voice would win,” said Ridenour.

Some argue that a democracy would be best for Egypt, but it could cause repression. Christians or other religious groups could be in jeopardy if a government based on the Qur’an was put in power.

“The problem is that in this region [the Middle East], Islam is too closely linked with the culture and tradition,” said Wood-Smith. “People assume that anything traditional, like the subjugation of women, for example, is also Islamic, without knowledge of the real Islamic principles. Islam and democracy are compatible, but the ‘Islam’ in that equation must be an educated, well-grounded Islam with room for debate and intellect, which unfortunately is not the ‘Islam’ of many so-called Muslims in today’s world.”

Junior Megan Carlson was in Egypt in the beginning of January, right before the protests took place.

“Now there’s that instability there,” said Carlson, “[We] don’t know who is going to come in, a Muslim radical group or maybe true democracy.”

“A positive perspective would be coalition governments who listen well to each other and are willing to compromise and include all the different groups of people and have a multi-party system,” said Ridenour.

The rebellious fervor that has been sweeping throughout the Middle East in the last months has illustrated the effect that youth and technology can have on the world. By using the resources available to them, the youth of the Middle East overthrew long-standing regimes and rebelled against what older generations had gotten used to.

“Being aware of what’s going on in your government and wanting to have a say in that I think is of a really good value,” said Carlson. “The power of people coming together and the power that youth has is very inspiring.”

 

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