Survey: Fair Wages, Housing Can Calm Restive Arab Youth

Article Summary
Demonstrations against the United States after a viral anti-Islamic film were the result of accumulated grievances, writes Khalil al-Anani. He says a survey shows that Arab youth will be at peace when they get fair wages and better living conditions.

An Al-Jazeera correspondent spoke with Hasan, a 15-year-old Egyptian child in the vicinity of the US Embassy in Cairo, on live TV.

“Why did you come here?”

“I am reacting in support of the Prophet Mohammed.”

“And where are you from?”

“I am from the Sohag governorate.” [Situated 467 kilometers from Cairo in Upper Egypt.]

“Did you tell your father you were coming?”

“My father is in Saudi Arabia.”

“When will you return back home to your mother?”

“When I avenge the Prophet.”

This answer was provided by most of the young men and women that came from different Egyptian areas to protest against the film that insults the Prophet Muhammad. This was the obvious reason behind the protest.

It was not the first time that a number of idiots reacted in such a manner over what they thought to be an insult to Islam and the great Prophet; and it will definitely not be the last. It is noteworthy that Hasan is a model of the many men and women that were featured on TV screens worldwide as they demonstrated throughout the East and the West.

I have seen so many like Hasan demonstrating in the streets of Tripoli, Amman, the Gaza Strip, Benghazi, west of Darna, south of Khartoum, and in the streets of the Yemeni cities of Sanaa and Taiz.

The controversy surrounding the film reveals the nature of Arab societies following the Arab Spring. Freedom attained following the Arab Spring came mixed with poverty, a lack of opportunity and a not very promising future. These changes occurred after decades of isolation, alienation and ignorance, which led to this chaotic reaction by a large number of social segments and classes.

It is a phenomenon deemed by German sociologist Emile Durkheim as “collective effervescence.” This effervescence is an outcome of a mixture made up of culture, inflamed emotions and the right political environment. The events that took place extend far beyond religion in both their symbolic and definite value. Indeed, religion is what triggered the events; however, the reaction did not reflect what Islam truly calls for, since it certainly does not call for violence, chaos or killing.

The events mainly reflected historical, political and social complexities present in these societies.

The reaction to the film that insults the prophet was misinterpreted by both Arab and foreign media platforms, which deemed the protests as being merely representative of religious zeal and added that the demonstrations were carried out by “Islamic fanatics.” Through such misinterpretation, the media portals continue to avoid analyzing the reality of the Arab world and its real problems.

It is so easy to pin the crises taking place in the Arab world on Islamists, which is what has been done over the past three decades. Some are ignoring the fact that the Islamists have attained power and are no longer part of the opposition. Certainly, these religious trends are inciting the youth and some of them are attempting to exploit the critical situation to attain political gains. For this reason, it would not be an exaggeration to say that these trends were responsible for the acts of violence, sabotage and killings that recently took place.

The truth that many have not realized yet is that Arab public opinion is no longer controlled by one particular group that manipulates the masses however and whenever it wants. Furthermore, the Islamist governments are the ones who will pay the price for acts of violence and instability, not only politically, but also economically and socially.

The current crisis is rooted firmly in the Arab world and not in the West. These roots are also nurturing the lasting social and political tensions in our societies. The Arab Spring has opened the window of freedom in the Arab World and, as a result our mindsets and daily conduct started reflecting the complexities that developed under the former totalitarian regimes.

Those same roots had prompted Hasan, the Egyptian child from Upper Egypt, to head to the hub of protests in Cairo. Hasan is like any of the other millions of Arab youths who are stuck in a social culture that is somewhere between the village and the city. [These youths are from the village, but now live in metropolitan centers.]

It is this culture that led to the eruption of the Arab Spring revolutions. Did you forget Mohamed Bouazizi, [the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire on Dec. 17, 2010]? It is this culture that makes people immigrants within their own nations, they are economically marginalized and socially disadvantaged.

These people, who were responsible for toppling the former regimes, are capable of toppling new regimes if the situation remains as is. Is it a coincidence that the Ultras — [a group of Egyptian youth that supports the Cairo-based Egyptian Premier League soccer club Al-Ahly], who are a part of this aforementioned group — were the first ones to climb the walls of the US Embassy in Cairo and not the youth of the Muslim Brotherhood or Salafist groups?

Does it come as a surprise that the Sudanese Youth Movement (which is not affiliated with any political or ideological trend) was the one that first called for demonstrations in front of the US Embassy in Khartoum? Is it shocking that the majority of the angry demonstrators are under the age of 20?

Numbers are the most effective and expressive way to explain ongoing and future events. Burson-Marsteller is a global firm specialized in conducting polls; it was established in 1953 and has more than 108 branches around the world, including branches in Jordan, Lebanon, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Egypt and the UAE.

A survey conducted by the firm shows that the circumstances of the Arab youth did not change following the Arab revolutions. It was a survey conducted in 2012 and included more than 2,500 persons between the ages of 18 and 24. Here it is worth noting that two thirds of the Arab states’ citizens are under the age of 30.

The survey covered 13 Arab countries, including the six Gulf Cooperation Council member states, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Libya and Tunisia. The survey showed that 83% of the 2,500 youth said that the most important aspect in their life is having a fair wage. Did we forget that one of the main demands of the revolutions was social justice?

Furthermore, 63% said that attaining a house (or the right to proper living conditions) is the [other] most important thing in their life. The intriguing aspect of this survey is that the youth mainly desire to attain proper economic and social living conditions and are less concerned with building a democratic regime.

This sample represents a small part of the reality of the Arab world. These numbers — if added to the numbers mentioned in the human development report — reveal the scale of the crisis that awaits Arab societies and countries. Another report from 2011, entitled “Challenges of Development in the Arab World,” gives a detailed representation of the situation in the Arab world following the Arab Spring.

The situation did not change following the Arab Spring. On the contrary, the ambitions of the youth have turned into psychological and social pressures. These pressures are searching for outlets, which most of the time surface during ongoing social and political violence, whether verbally and physically.

In other words, the Arab societies are ticking time bombs influenced by political polarization and internal failures on one hand, and foreign disdain on the other. A ridiculous flop film [that insults the Prophet] was capable of igniting the entire region. While it is easy to say that the film is the main reason behind the events, the roots of the crisis continue to lurk beneath the surface. The film was merely one strike, which resulted in aggravating the situation and led to an upheaval of emotions that were hard to control.

We are then confronted by people who think they know it all. These type people will say: Did we not tell you that these societies do not know the meaning of freedom and are unworthy of it? This is an approach that confirms the aforementioned discussion. These people also exist within Arab societies, but on a more shallow and superficial level. In addition to their conviction that we deserve to be ruled by dictators, their beliefs also reflect their systematic and intellectual collapse. Such models continue to exercise tutelage over their societies and people as if nothing has happened.

Some have refused to accept the new reality taking place in the Arab world for personal (some have been affected negatively by the Arab Spring) and objective reasons. They forgot that the basic principal of political analysis says that the behavior of an individual is a reflection of his or her environment or society.

Hasan and his brothers in the Arab world will not be at peace, even if they are ruled by an Islamist president. The wave of demonstrations and protests will only abate if Hasan finds something to occupy his time and his mind. This will be enough to make him return to his mother’s arms in Upper Egypt.

Found in: unemployment, poverty, protests, egypt, arab youth, arab

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