Feb 02 2011

Connected Arab youths

Published by at 11:10 am under Articles,Other

By Daoud Kuttab
To understand what is happening in the Arab world today one needs to know only two things: that the majority of Arabs are young and for the most part connected to the net, and that despite the fear mongerers in the West, these connected Arab youths are secular although not totally opposed to the need for all individuals and groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, to be represented in any future power-sharing government.

Studies issued by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) show that youths between 15 and 24 constitute the largest age group in the Arab populations. These youths represent more than one third of the total citizens of the Arab world’s 23 countries.

As the largest age group population-wise, youths face the greatest challenge in terms of employment. All countries in the region have witnessed an increase in youths unemployment rates. Speaking on CNN International Tuesday, HRH Prince Hassan said that by 2020, the Arab world will include 100 million unemployed youths.

While the number of youths is growing and the horizon is narrowing for them, the information revolution has helped them see what others around the world are experiencing and therefore the opportunities that lay ahead.

While online penetration is still not that high, cellphone penetration is. For a while, the Arab youths made up for the inability to be connected at home by the use of inexpensive Internet cafés. Now cellphones are doing part of the job, especially with the possibilities for being connected with the world through social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

With zeal and determination, and with access to the world through the Net, young men and women across the Arab world quickly figure out what is holding them back. Local media are no longer able and willing to accommodate their information needs, so they flock to online media.

Whenever they are unable to find an appropriate platform they create their own. Bloggers and online publications spread like wildfire. In many cases, governments quickly infiltrates these new sites, allowing some independent information to seep through, but at the same time trying to control what is being said, especially about local regimes. And like all revolutions, the information revolution was much faster and quicker to adapt and to expose all the impostor sites, and to forge ahead with genuine independent sources of information.

Instead of changing, traditional media, which are either controlled by governments or by private owners together with governments, have tried to fight this new phenomenon. This made online publishers and bloggers more courageous, giving them more credibility, at the expense of the state media and their private media partners who have been left without youths consuming their works.

Bloggers succeeded in Egypt where no one else was able to. Wael Abbas and other bloggers like him succeeded in exposing police brutality by broadcasting a cellphone video taping of police violence. For the first time in the history of Egypt, a police officer was actually tried and convicted for brutality against citizens.

Online media spread quickly in Egypt and Tunisia, producing some amazingly documented exposé of government corruption. The forgeries in the latest elections in Egypt went viral on YouTube, as well as on Egyptian websites and blogs.

While the Tunisian government blocked and harassed Internet users for years, in Egypt, the government tried to control online publishing by arresting a few key bloggers to make an example of them. This failed to deter bloggers and online publishers.

To really understand the power of connected youths and the Internet, two pieces of information are very telling. The Tunisian dictator waited till the last moment before he was forced to leave to promise his fellow citizens that Internet usage will be restored to all. Mubarak’s regime, on the other hand, blocked the Internet on the first day of youths demonstrations because of its understanding of the power of this communication tool in the hands of young people.

Freedom of expression, and the right to assembly and to share power through non-violent means is a universal right. Denying people’s rights under the pretext of working on an anti-Islamic agenda has been abused.

The Arab youths of today are connected and determined to decide their future. Understanding them and giving them an opportunity to share power is the only logical way to help find solutions that will be facing the millions of youths who are bound to join the growing unemployment figures.

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