Arab youth vent their anger at broken economic promises

Unemployment and lack of reforms underpin protests in Middle East and north Africa

When Lebanon imposed a fee on WhatsApp calls to boost government coffers, it was another example of Arab politicians misreading the public mood. Within hours, hundreds of thousands of Lebanese were on the streets, their disillusionment with their leaders exploding to the surface as mass protests erupted in Beirut and other cities. It was just the latest example of the rage simmering across the Arab world as ruling elites oversee rotten political systems that fail to deliver basic economic needs.

Last month, it was the redeployment of a popular commander of Iraq’s counter-terrorism forces that sparked the worst unrest in Baghdad for years. Before that, it was a little-known contractor’s diatribes against Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egyptian president, and allegations of corruption that provoked rare protests in one of the Middle East’s most oppressive states.

The trigger points were different and each country has its own dynamics. But the roots of the anger are similar and echo those that fuelled the uprisings that rocked the Arab world in 2011: leaders failing to meet the aspirations of their youthful populations.

Experts have long warned about the fragility of the status quo in the Middle East and north Africa, a repressive region blighted by rampant youth unemployment.

Protesters in Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt all chanted similar mantras: regimes must fall. In Jordan, demonstrations last year forced the prime minister from office. In April, popular demonstrations toppled two veteran leaders within days — Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir and Abdulaziz Bouteflika in Algeria. Protests continue in the latter.

“As long as there is inequality, social injustice and marginalisation — political and economic — and corruption, nepotism and patronage exists, the people will not stop,” said Dalia Ghanem Yazbeck at the Beirut-based Carnegie Middle East Centre. “Their patience has reached its apex and they want change.”

As the outrage mounts, so too the social pressures. About 60 per cent of the region’s population is aged under 30. The IMF estimates that 27m youths will enter the labour market over the next five years.

The region’s average economic growth since 2009 has been one-third slower than the previous eight years. Per capita incomes have been “near stagnant” and youth unemployment has “worsened significantly”, the IMF says.

The state is the largest employer in many countries. But young jobseekers complain that patronage networks act as barriers. Many governments, meanwhile, have pushed through austerity measures to narrow budget deficits and keep rising debts in check. But that has meant slashing food, fuel and energy subsidies, squeezing household budgets.

All the while, ruling elites and their cronies are seen to enjoy opulent lives with zero accountability.

Mohamed Ali, the contractor who posted videos that encouraged the Egyptian protests, ranted about the palaces being built by Mr Sisi and the state funds wasted on vanity projects.

Saad Hariri, the billionaire prime minister of Lebanon, a country gripped by its worst economic crisis in years, was recently embarrassed by revelations that he paid $16m to a South African model before he took office.

In Iraq, there are perennial complaints that the system produces weak coalitions that foster rampant corruption, while failing to deliver the development that Iraqis were promised after the 2003 US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein.

Often, the uprisings are crushed by force. In Egypt, more than 3,500 people have been arrested since September. In Iraq, more than 100 people died amid reports of demonstrators being targeted by snipers.

In Lebanon, the government reversed its decision to impose a fee on WhatsApp calls and announced reforms. The protests continue.

Governments have little choice but to push through economic reforms. Lebanon, for example, is burdened with a debt-to-GDP ratio of 150 per cent, dwindling foreign reserves and a stagnant economy. But, as long as measures are imposed by regimes lacking political accountability and failing to address people’s anger over injustices, Arab leaders will continue to stoke the flames of unrest.

Written by Andrew England


Morocco: Survey Provides Insight into Arab Youth


ASDA’A Burson Cohn and Wolfe (ASDA’A BCW), a public relations firm based in the Middle East, published their 2019 Arab Youth Survey, titled “A Call for Reform.” The year’s survey is the 11th edition of the report which provides insight into the attitudes of Arab youth in the hopes of aiding both the public and private sector in decision and policy-making.

The survey included young people between the ages of 18 to 24 in 15 Arab states and territories. Those territories include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, The United Arab Emirates (UAE), Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Yemen.

Arab youths are the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region’s largest demographic with 65% of the Arab population younger than 30. ASDA’A BCW (Burson Cohn & Wolfe) considers an understanding of the age group especially important as they are the “custodians of the future.”

The report’s findings cover a wide variety of topics from economic concerns and unemployment to mental health and drug use. The researchers conducted 3,300 face-to-face interviews in Arabic and English in order to understand the attitudes and opinions of Arab youth.

One of the study’s findings was that young people in the Arab world feel that religion plays too great of a role in the political and social aspects of life and is due for reform. Commenting on the study is Dr. Mohammed Shahrour, a well-known scholar of modern Islam and a professor at the University of Damascus. Dr. Shahrour said that “young Arabs remain attached and devoted to their faith despite being unconvinced of some inherited thoughts and religious structures.”

In addition to conflicts with the role of religion, 75% of Arab youths are unhappy with education in their home country. The majority, given the choice, would pursue higher education in the West rather than anywhere in the MENA region.

When asked which country in the world they would most like to live in, the top five responses from youth were the UAE, Canada, the U.S., Turkey, and the UK. The preference for the UAE was at 44%. These statistics reveal the extent to which the UAE has benefitted from embracing global values to become seen as a model for the rest of the region.

Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are where 80% of respondents said they primarily got their news. Social media is increasingly popular among youth and seen as more trustworthy than traditional media.

Concerns about the future

Additionally, young Arabs expressed a desire to see an end to regional conflicts and a desire for increased access to medical care especially that which can address issues of mental health. Concerningly, many felt that it was easy to access drugs in their countries and believe that drug use is on the rise across the region.

The issue that weighs most heavily on the minds of young Arabs is the economy. Young people see the biggest issues in the Middle East to be the rising cost of living and unemployment. Because of these economic issues, many young people both seek and feel entitled to government support. Jihad Azour, the Director of the International Monetary Fund’s Middle East and Central Asia Department, expressed sympathy for the complaints of the youth and agrees that governments across the region must take action.

Morocco, where youth employment is 17.9% of the total labor force, has been experiencing feelings of unrest and dissatisfaction from the youth who feel frustrated by the lack of economic opportunities they perceive.

Director Jihad Azour said: “What is needed is a new social contract between MENA governments and citizens that ensures accountability, transparency and a commitment to the principle that no one is left behind.”

Youth Parliament of Quebec Elects Moroccan Student

Nizar Berdai has become a member of the Youth Parliament of Quebec, Canada’s francophone province, and is planning to defend the interests of the community he represents.

“It’s time to ensure a better future for my fellow citizens,” Berdai said to Maghreb Arab Press (MAP), stressing his determination to develop his leadership and political skills to do so.

Berdai is now one of the few members of the Arab-Muslim community within Quebec’s Youth Parliament, which is devoted to promote democracy. To get elected, the 21-year-old had opportunities to debate multiple issues concerning Quebec’s youth.

After getting his baccalaureate degree in Sale, Rabat’s twin city, Nizar Berdai moved to Canada in 2015 to pursue university studies in finance and political science.

Now, Berdai is a fourth-year finance student at HEC Montreal. At the same time, he is completing a political science degree at McGill University.

The young man is bringing a Moroccan touch to the Youth Parliament of Quebec, following in the footsteps of Fatima Houda Pepin, the first Muslim woman to be elected to Quebec’s National Assembly.

The Youth Parliament’s goal is to encourage young people to better understand and debate various major issues affecting Quebec and to enhance intellectual trainings and leadership skills among young Quebecois.

Source Morocco World News

Dutch-Moroccan Achraf El Johari Runs for Youth Mayor of Amsterdam


Rising above the lack of youth political participation in the Netherlands, a young Dutch man of Moroccan origin endeavors to become the youth mayor of Amsterdam.

Speaking with Morocco World News, Achraf El Johari, 22, shared his story of ambition to win the election for youth mayor of Amsterdam.

El Johari recently obtained his bachelor’s degree in law studies and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in private law.

To him, most of the problems that young people face in Amsterdam “are not visible on the political agenda because there is no youth representation in politics.”

El Johari told MWN that youth in the Netherlands “have little to no interest in local politics.”

However, he said, “young ‘Amsterdammers’ (person from Amsterdam) do not have the privilege to be apolitical.”

From here, his youth mayor campaign was born. He wanted “to close the gap of Youth representation in our democracy.”

As an “Amsterdammer” whose parents are originally from Driouch near Nador in Morocco’s northern Rif region, El Johari is faced with several “uncertainties.”

Among the issues that many of his peers experience, especially from non-Dutch families, is racism.

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El Johari said: “Young ‘Amsterdammers’ are asked to build their future on a lot of uncertainties: youth wage, flexible contracts, racism, and housing problem.”

El Johari explained that Amsterdam, as the busy capital city it is, is “growing fast and gentrification is taking place.”

“Because of that,” El Johari continued, “there is no place for young Amsterdammers without a big bag or money. Simply because we cannot afford housing.”

El Johari expressed that, unsurprisingly, “12% of the youths between 12 and 25 years old need psychological help.”

El Johari is now marching towards his ambition, along with two other youth mayor candidates, Joshua de Roos and Avianka Aventurin.

After the voting period ends on February 15, the city will announce results for the winner on February 18 during an Award Gala at the De Meervaart Theater in Amsterdam.

Source Morocco World News