The Youth of the Middle East: Looking for Change


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September 05, 2014 09:35 EDT

The Middle East is more than just bombs and bullets.

I recall hearing a professor who once said that “nothing interesting happens in the Middle East.” Ironically, his comment came in November 2010, a month before Arab youth rose up and demanded change, triggering an unprecedented wave of protests across the region.

The last few years have proven that the Middle East and North Africa are far from static: Syria has gone from bad to worse; religious zealots of the Islamic State have swarmed neighboring Iraq; Israel and Hamas have been at it again; Egypt has slid back into authoritarianism; Libya is on the brink of yet another war; and Yemen is marred by protests and violence. This list isn’t even an executive summary — just take a look at Al Jazeera’s homepage. Indeed, the layman reader could be forgiven for thinking the Middle East is nothing but the playground of war.

However, the region has more to it than just bombs and bullets. Did you know the Middle East has more startups run by women than Silicon Valley? Oh yes! The region that is always in the news for all the wrong reasons has produced more businesses run by women than the startup hub that hosts Google, Apple and Facebook. Did you know that Emirati girls outperform boys in school? Yes, beyond what right-wing, xenophobic commentators may tell you, many, many Arab women receive an education and pursue highly successful careers. And did you know that you can ski in Morocco? Yes, there’s more to North Africa than camel rides.

With an overemphasis on war and sectarian conflict in many historical books on the region, Manuel Langendorf and I have begun an ambitious project: to write a book (2016) that looks at the Middle East and North Africa through a different lens. Rather than looking at the security risks of violent conflict, we have begun exploring the future of the region from a social, economic and political perspective, with an emphasis on the youth.

Did you know the Middle East has more startups run by women than Silicon Valley? Oh yes! The region that is always in the news for all the wrong reasons has produced more businesses run by women than the startup hub that hosts Google, Apple and Facebook.

In fact, I was recently told that young, aspiring professionals are the most important market in the world. Why? Because they are the next journalists, analysts, historians, CEOs, professors, policymakers — you name it. Whichever way you look at it, these individuals are the next generation and the Middle East is no exception. The future is the youth and they should have a hand in shaping it.

While the Arab Uprisings have not been favorable to them, the youth still want change, despite being attacked, imprisoned and killed in places such as Egypt, Bahrain and Syria. As was the case in 2010-11, they want better prospects and freedom of expression, and they want it now.

So, in the region where “nothing interesting happens,” we want to find out what the youth think. From September 2014, Manuel and I will be traveling across the Middle East and North Africa to find out just that. The first stop is Tunisia and we welcome you to share your thoughts.

*[This article was originally published by Your Middle East.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Michael Jung /


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  1. Basma

    September 15, 2014

    a good place to get info is, a site which brings the attention to many creative ideas in the MENA region. It's about time someone points to some of the - actually thriving - positive initiatives around here :)

  2. Nico L.

    September 5, 2014

    Hmm, what kind of startups? Does that include grocery stores and similar shops? Please forgive me the critical question: I think you're quest to look at the positive sides of the ME is a very noble AND NECESSARY one. Yet, in order to prosper some sort of peace and clear order needs to be restored, which involves solving the current issues. And I don't mean that Democracy is needed for that but stable structures. After all, judging from what I see on my facebook feed Fair Obs. almost exclusively focuses on what's going wrong in the ME (of course this is due to my selective memory as I probably read a lot in all kinds of news, too). Why? Because the problems are so amazingly appalling that it became hard to see what could possibly go right in this petri dish. Btw. there's an interesting read: "The Modern World-System, vol. I: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century" (Immanuel Wallerstein, NY, 1974), not sure if Atul knows it but I wouldn't be surprised. Basic idea of the development of a modern democratic system: "first Christendom", then the estates of the realm, then the economy, the enlightenment, then suffrage, legislature, judiciary and finally executive. Well, a friend of mine pointed out once that you might say, and no one's laying claim to the truth here, that in Turkey, Egypt, Afghanistan, Ukraine, China, Russia, the Maghreb and Thailand it's almost the other way around - first police, then judiciary, elections, legislature and finally enlightenment. I don't know if you can read much into that but it's an interesting question. And what's more, where does the economy come in here? Maybe more women with economic power are a very good starting point. I would be very interested what these women's husbands and male family members are doing at the same time.

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