Arab youths have just started to act

By Rami G. Khouri
The Daily Star, Lebanon

People often tell me that I sound very optimistic when I speak about the future of the Arab world. It is true that I expect the best instincts and values of people to prevail over the negatives that have dominated much of public life in the region in recent decades. If you want to know why I remain optimistic, you need only have been with me during the past few weeks when I had two particularly uplifting encounters with young men and women from different parts of the Arab world, often including engagement with their counterparts from the United States and Europe.

One of the great impacts-to-come of the current youth-led uprisings and revolutions across the Arab world will be the unleashing of enormous energy and talent that have been bottled up in the minds, bodies and spirits of young men and women across the region. The prevailing political and social culture across most Arab countries has largely prohibited young people from expressing themselves in public, and engaging meaningfully in civic and political activity to contribute constructively to the development of their societies. Young Arab talent has been wasted talent for the most part in recent history – but this is now starting to change.

The explosion of youth anger and determination to change their world was the initial impetus for the uprisings that have brought down four Arab regimes to date, with a few more to follow in due course. This level of active resistance is not sustainable in the long run, and will have to be replaced with some other mechanisms by which young men and women play a role in building new and better Arab societies in the decades ahead. I had a glimpse of this in the last month, when I had the privilege of participating in two events that highlighted the sentiments, energy, creativity and power of young people.

The first was a gathering of Palestinian refugee youth organized by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) in Brussels; the second was the inaugural conference of a new organization at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, named the American Middle East Network for Dialogue at Stanford (AMENDS), which brought together Arab and American youths.

The dominant common thread at both events – and the reason I am more optimistic than ever about the Arab future – was the combination of the young men and women’s clear-headed realism about what is wrong in their worlds, their determination to articulate both their grievances and their aspirations, and, finally, their ability to initiate new projects and activities that start the process of change, even if only at their school or neighborhood level.

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(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::

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