High unemployment rates, oppressive regimes and a desire for better education are some of the reasons cited by Arabs who express a desire to leave their countries.
The Arab world has seen a lot of its youth move in search of better opportunities for employment, freedom of expression, in addition to escaping from social and cultural norms they find oppressive.
According to an August 2019 poll by the Arab Barometer company, titled “Youth in the Middle East and North Africa,” the daily living situation in the region is far from ideal.
Noting that youth between the ages of 15 to 29 comprise about 30 percent of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries, the Arab Barometer finds a significant number of them dissatisfied with their economic prospects.
They are also not happy with the education system. Moreover, “less than half say the right to freedom of expression is guaranteed”. Then there’s the high unemployment rates and widespread corruption.
This is why, Arab Barometer suggests, youth in the MENA region are more likely to consider emigrating from their country than older residents. The preferred destinations are varied, including Europe, North America, or the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.
Another survey by Arab Barometer, titled “Migration in the Middle East and North Africa,” published in June 2019, notes that across the region, “roughly one-in-three citizens are considering emigrating from their homeland.”
The surveys were conducted with more than 27,000 respondents in the MENA region between September 2018 and May 2019 in face-to-face interviews.
According to the Arab Barometer’s findings, there had been a decrease in people considering emigrating from 2006 to 2016. Yet since 2016, the trend is no longer in decline but has shown an increase “across the region as a whole.”
The Arab Barometer finds that citizens are “more likely to want to leave” if they are young, well educated and male. The survey has found more than half of respondents between the ages of 18 and 29 in five of the 11 countries surveyed want to leave.
While older potential migrants are more likely to cite economic factors as the primary decision, the survey suggests, younger ones “are more likely to name corruption, for example.”
As for the desired destination countries, they vary according to the homeland of potential migrants. Among those living in the Maghreb countries of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, Europe is the favoured destination.
Whereas migrants from Egypt, Yemen and Sudan point towards Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. The survey has also found that those from Jordan or Lebanon prefer North America, notably the US or Canada.
The survey also notes that while most would only depart if they had the proper paperwork, young males with lower levels of education who may not see a positive future in their homeland have said they would be willing to migrate illegally, “including roughly four-in-ten in six of the 11 countries surveyed.”
In a blog post for Unesco’s Youth Employment in the Mediterranean (YEM) published in January 2020, Sabrina Ferraz Guarino observes that “Migration is a coping mechanism based on the assumption that moving to another country is the best and most efficient investment for their own and one’s family future” and that improving people’s lives in their home countries will likely result in less desire to migrate.
Guarino says the unemployment rates in the Mediterranean region affect youth the most: “Unemployed youth are the highest in Palestine (45%), Libya (42%), Jordan (36.6%) and Tunisia (34.8%), while Morocco (21.9%) and Lebanon (17.6%) fare relatively better.”
She adds: “Viewing this together with the share of the youth that is not in education, employment or training (NEET), reveals how the challenges of youth employment remain self-compounding. The youth NEET rates tally around 14% in Lebanon and 21% for Algeria, but progressively increase across Tunisia (25%), Jordan (28%), Morocco (28%), and Palestine (33%).”
In its MENA report published in October 2019, the World Bank says growth rates across the region are rising but are still below “what is needed to create more jobs for the region’s fast-growing working-age population.”
The World Bank recommends reforms “to demonopolise domestic markets and open up regional trade to create more export-led growth.” Source: TRT World
Carolyn Lamboley of BBC Monitoring thinks that One year on, Algeria’s protest movement is soul-searching. Yesterday, people filled, as usual, all main streets of Algiers and other cities in the country, It was the 53rd consecutive Friday, thus marking the anniversary of the pro-democracy mass protest movement that carries with demands for a radical regime change.
21 February 2020
Around a year ago, on 22 February 2019, Algerians thronged the streets to protest against then-President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term after nearly 20 years in power.
Mr Bouteflika stood down in April. But Algerians kept on protesting. By this time, the protests had a name – the Hirak (movement).
Ten months into the protests, an election ushered in Abdelmadjid Tebboune as president. But the demonstrations continued.
One year on, some political players and national figures have sounded alarm bells, warning of the movement’s “failure” and “radicalism”. They have called for dialogue with the authorities and the pursuit of “achievable” goals.
But others are more optimistic and insist that things will never be the same again in Algeria.
Has the movement failed?
In January this year, Algerian writer and journalist Kamel Daoud wrote an article in which he said the Hirak had “failed”. His analysis appeared in French weekly Le Point, and made waves in Algeria.
He cited the “myopia” of the “urban elites of the opposition” and a “quixotic war” against perceived foreign intervention – in particular from France, the former colonial power. Daoud concluded that the movement had failed and had met an “impasse”, albeit “temporarily”.
He is not the only one to have said so. Others have warned that the Hirak has reached a standstill as the authorities plough on with their agenda.
Since the start of 2020, President Tebboune – who briefly served as Mr Bouteflika’s prime minister – has been consulting political figures about amendments to the constitution.
A referendum on the amendments is expected in the summer, followed by legislative elections by the end of the year.
This month, Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad pitched his government’s plan of action – dubbed “a new deal for a new Algeria” to parliament, promising to “cleanse the disastrous heritage” of past governance.
But many are sceptical about the authorities’ promises. More than 100 protesters are reportedly still in detention, events organised by the opposition are still often banned, and the judiciary continues to show subservience to the executive branch.
As for the authorities’ purge against former officials and powerful businessmen, it has actually drawn criticism from many protesters and political players, who have called instead for a transitional justice system to be put in place.
“Nothing has changed” is the leitmotiv repeated by human rights lawyer and political activist Mostefa Bouchachi, a familiar face at the protests who gives frequent interviews to the press. That is why Algerians will carry on, he says, far from being discouraged.
To talk or not to talk with the authorities?
Whether or not to engage with the authorities has been a bone of contention, causing divisions in the movement.
Sofiane Djilali, the leader of the Jil Jadid (New Generation) party and erstwhile coordinator of the Mouwatana (Citizenship) movement has warned against the “radicalism” of some segments of the Hirak and argues that cooperating with the authorities is the only way to effect real change. But he has stopped short of saying the movement has failed.
Jil Jadid was set up in 2011. Mouwatana, which was launched in 2018 and has often come under pressure from the authorities, played a leading role at the start of the demonstrations, calling for fresh protests just two days after 22 February, crystallising the Hirak’s momentum.
Mr Djilali met the president in mid-January, drawing the wrath of those advocating a more radical stance.
In an interview with El Khabar, he warned against the Hirak espousing “goals which cannot be achieved” and voiced his opposition to a constituent assembly process like that in neighbouring Tunisia, which has been advocated by some protesters.
“In my opinion, the demands of the Hirak are clear and do not require much discussion. Everyone is demanding rule of law, balance of powers, respect for the people’s sovereignty and an independent judiciary. It is easy for the new constitution to guarantee… all this directly.”
Organizing outside the framework of the state – an approach advocated by some – would be a form of “civil disobedience”, he said, warning that “this approach cannot change the system”.
In contrast, some have called for a complete separation from the authorities. The Political Pact of the Forces of the Democratic Alternative (PAD) – launched last summer by seven established opposition political parties including the Socialist Forces Front (FFS), the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) and the Workers’ Party (PT) – is working on organizing a national conference which will exclude the authorities.
The PAD had opposed the holding of a presidential election and called for a constituent assembly.
Other prominent figures such as human rights lawyer Mostefa Bouchachi have called for more goodwill gestures – in particular the release of detainees – from the authorities as a prerequisite to any form of dialogue.
Despite diverging opinions about the road ahead, many Algerians share the same demands – as Mr Djilali said – and many feel that things have changed permanently.
Some observers are confident that a new dynamic and social pact have been established and will bear fruit. One word that crops up again and again in commentaries is “opportunity”, conveying the sense that the Hirak is a work in progress.
“Some people think the Hirak has failed because there was a presidential election… They see the Hirak as a political party that failed to make it to power. But, that’s not what the Hirak is… The Hirak is political, but it’s not a political party,” journalist Said Djaafer said in an episode of Radio M’s flagship Cafe Presse Politique programme.
“It’s a movement that comprises all political currents, all social classes, which wants to change the rules of the political game. They don’t want to take power.”
“Those who say it has failed are not looking at this new dynamic: students are organizing, there are people who have never taken an interest in politics who suddenly are interested, it is these things that are being sown… you cannot talk about a failure.”
“It’s a movement that will not stop, even if the demonstrations stop.”
One journalist threw the ball back at the authorities, saying they were the ones who had “failed”.
“The regime has failed. It is over, and the democratic revolution is only beginning,” Amin Khan said on the Radio M website. “The equation is simple. This is a historic opportunity for the country. The regime is faced with a popular movement characterised by rare wisdom. Algerians are not hungry for violence, revenge, expeditious justice or a witch hunt.”
“They want the peaceful and orderly departure of the regime through the law, via… democratic elections [and] the establishment of legitimate institutions… in other words, the complete opposite of a wild adventure or extravagant ambitions.”
Report reviews human rights in 19 MENA states during 2019
Wave of protests across Algeria, Iraq, Iran and Lebanon demonstrates reinvigorated faith in people power
500+ killed in Iraq and over 300 in Iran in brutal crackdowns on protests
Relentless clampdown on peaceful critics and human rights defenders
At least 136 prisoners of conscience detained in 12 countries for online speech
Governments across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) displayed a chilling determination to crush protests with ruthless force and trample over the rights of hundreds of thousands of demonstrators who took to the streets to call for social justice and political reform during 2019, said Amnesty International today, publishing its annual report on the human rights situation in the region.
Human rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Review of 2019 describes how instead of listening to protesters’ grievances, governments have once again resorted to relentless repression to silence peaceful critics both on the streets and online. In Iraq and Iran alone, the authorities’ use of lethal force led to hundreds of deaths in protests; in Lebanon police used unlawful and excessive force to disperse protests; and in Algeria the authorities used mass arrests and prosecutions to crack down on protesters. Across the region, governments have arrested and prosecuted activists for comments posted online, as activists turned to social media channels to express their dissent.2019 was a year of defiance in MENA. It also was a year that showed that hope was still alive – and that despite the bloody aftermath of the 2011 uprisings in Syria, Yemen and Libya and the catastrophic human rights decline in Egypt – people’s faith in the collective power to mobilize for change was revived Heba Morayef
“In an inspiring display of defiance and determination, crowds from Algeria, to Iran, Iraq and Lebanon poured into the streets – in many cases risking their lives – to demand their human rights, dignity and social justice and an end to corruption. These protesters have proven that they will not be intimidated into silence by their governments,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Director for MENA.
“2019 was a year of defiance in MENA. It also was a year that showed that hope was still alive – and that despite the bloody aftermath of the 2011 uprisings in Syria, Yemen and Libya and the catastrophic human rights decline in Egypt – people’s faith in the collective power to mobilize for change was revived.”
The protests across MENA mirrored demonstrators taking to the streets to demand their rights from Hong Kong to Chile. In Sudan, mass protests were met with brutal crackdowns by security forces and eventually ended with a negotiated political agreement with associations who had led the protests.
Crackdown on protests on the streets
Across the MENA region authorities employed a range of tactics to repress the wave of protests – arbitrarily arresting thousands of protesters across the region and in some cases resorting to excessive or even lethal force. In Iraq and Iran alone hundreds were killed as security forces fired live ammunition at demonstrators and thousands more were injured.In an inspiring display of defiance and determination, crowds from Algeria, to Iran, Iraq and Lebanon poured into the streets – in many cases risking their lives – to demand their human rights, dignity and social justice and an end to corruption. These protesters have proven that they will not be intimidated into silence by their governments Heba Morayef
In Iraq where at least 500 died in demonstrations in 2019, protesters showed tremendous resilience, defying live ammunition, deadly sniper attacks and military tear gas grenades deployed at short range causing gruesome injuries.
In Iran, credible reports indicated that security forces killed over 300 people and injured thousands within just four days between 15 and 18 November to quell protests initially sparked by a rise in fuel prices. Thousands were also arrested and many subjected to enforced disappearance and torture.
In September, Palestinian women in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories took to the streets to protest against gender-based violence and Israel’s military occupation. Israeli forces also killed dozens of Palestinians during demonstrations in Gaza and the West Bank.
“The shocking death tolls among protesters in Iraq and Iran illustrate the extreme lengths to which these governments were prepared to go in order to silence all forms of dissent,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for MENA. “Meanwhile, in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Israel’s policy of using excessive, including lethal, force against demonstrators there continued unabated.” The shocking death tolls among protesters in Iraq and Iran illustrate the extreme lengths to which these governments were prepared to go in order to silence all forms of dissent Philip Luther
In Algeria, where mass protests led to the fall of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika after 20 years in power, authorities sought to quash protests through mass arbitrary arrests and prosecutions of peaceful demonstrators.
While the mass protests in Lebanon since October, which led to the resignation of the government, began largely peacefully, on a number of occasions protests were met with unlawful and excessive force and security forces failed to intervene effectively to protect peaceful demonstrators from attacks by supporters of rival political groups.
In Egypt, a rare outbreak of protests in September which took the authorities by surprise was met with mass arbitrary arrests with more than 4,000 detained.
“Governments in MENA have displayed a total disregard for the rights of people to protest and express themselves peacefully,” said Heba Morayef.
“Instead of launching deadly crackdowns and resorting to measures such as excessive use of force, torture, or arbitrary mass arrests and prosecutions, authorities should listen to and address demands for social and economic justice as well as political rights.”
Repression of dissent online
As well as lashing out against peaceful protesters on the streets, throughout 2019 governments across the region continued to crack down on people exercising their rights to freedom of expression online. Journalists, bloggers and activists who posted statements or videos deemed critical of the authorities on social media faced arrest, interrogation and prosecutions. Governments in MENA have displayed a total disregard for the rights of people to protest and express themselves peacefully Heba Morayef
According to Amnesty International’s figures, individuals were detained as prisoners of conscience in 12 countries in the region and 136 people were arrested solely for their peaceful expression online. Authorities also abused their powers to stop people accessing or sharing information online. During protests in Iran, the authorities implemented a near-total internet shutdown to stop people sharing videos and photos of security forces unlawfully killing and injuring protesters. In Egypt, authorities disrupted online messaging applications in an attempt to thwart further protests. Egyptian and Palestinian authorities also resorted to censoring websites including news websites. In Iran social media apps including Facebook, Telegram, Twitter and YouTube remained blocked.
Some governments also use more sophisticated techniques of online surveillance to target human rights defenders. Amnesty’s research highlighted how two Moroccan human rights defenders were targeted using spyware developed by the Israeli company NSO Group. The same company’s spyware had previously been used to target activists in Saudi Arabia and the UAE as well as an Amnesty International staff member.
More broadly, Amnesty International recorded 367 human rights defenders subjected to detention (240 arbitrarily detained in Iran alone) and 118 prosecuted in 2019 – the true numbers are likely to be higher.
“The fact that governments across MENA have a zero-tolerance approach to peaceful online expression shows how they fear the power of ideas that challenge official narratives. Authorities must release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally and stop harassing peaceful critics and human rights defenders,” said Philip Luther.
Signs of hope
Despite ongoing and widespread impunity across MENA, some small but historic steps were taken towards accountability for longstanding human rights violations. The announcement by the International Criminal Court (ICC) that war crimes had been committed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and that an investigation should be opened as soon as the ICC’s territorial jurisdiction has been confirmed offered a crucial opportunity to end decades of impunity. The ICC indicated that the investigation could cover Israel’s killing of protesters in Gaza. The fact that governments across MENA have a zero-tolerance approach to peaceful online expression shows how they fear the power of ideas that challenge official narratives. Authorities must release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally and stop harassing peaceful critics and human rights defenders Philip Luther
Similarly, in Tunisia the Truth and Dignity Commission published its final report and 78 trials started before criminal courts offering a rare chance for security forces to be held accountable for past abuses.
The limited advances in women’s rights, won after years of campaigning by local women’s rights movements, were outweighed by the continuing repression of women’s rights defenders, particularly in Iran and Saudi Arabia, and a broader failure to eliminate widespread discrimination against women. Saudi Arabia introduced long-overdue reforms to its male guardianship system, but these were overshadowed by the fact that five women human rights defenders remained unjustly detained for their activism throughout 2019. Governments across the region must learn that their repression of protests and imprisonment of peaceful critics and human rights defenders will not silence people’s demands for fundamental economic, social and political rights Heba Morayef
A number of Gulf states also announced reforms to improve protection for migrant workers including promises from Qatar to abolish its kafala (sponsorship system) and improve migrants’ access to justice. Jordan and the United Arab Emirates also signalled plans to reform the kafala system. However, migrant workers continue to face widespread exploitation and abuse across the region.
“Governments across the region must learn that their repression of protests and imprisonment of peaceful critics and human rights defenders will not silence people’s demands for fundamental economic, social and political rights. Instead of ordering serious violations and crimes to stay in power, governments should ensure the political rights needed to allow people to express their socio-economic demands and to hold their governments to account,” said Heba Morayef.
The University of Pennsylvania’s 2019 Global Go To Think Tank Index (GGTTI) launched in 2006, marks its fourteenth year of continued efforts by reviewing all world countries’ in its Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program (TTCSP). Doing so was through focusing on “Researching the trends and challenges facing think tanks, policymakers, and policy-oriented civil society groups” per one of the leaders of the study.
This study showed that within the MENA region, the top three places in this year’s rankings were in this order, the Israeli think-tank: Institute for National Security (INSS), followed by the Lebanese Think-tank Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Middle East Center. Third place in this ranking in the MENA region went to the Egyptian think-tank Al Ahram Center for Political Strategic Studies (ACPSS).
Here are some excerpts.
Asia, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and North Africa continue to see an expansion in the number and type of think tanks established
Asia has experienced a dramatic growth in think tanks since the mid-2000’s
Many think tanks in these regions continue to be dependent on government funding along with gifts, grants, and contracts from international public and private donors
University, government affiliated, or funded think tanks remain the dominant model for think tanks in these regions
There is increasing diversity among think tanks in these regions with independent, political party affiliated, and corporate/business sector think tanks that are being created with greater frequency
In an effort to diversify their funding base, think tanks have targeted businesses and wealthy individuals to support their core operations and programs.
Reasons for the Growth of Think Tanks in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries
Information and technological revolution
End of national governments’ monopoly on information
Increasing complexity and technical nature of policy problems
Increasing size of government
Crisis of confidence in governments and elected officials
Globalization and the growth of state and non-state actors
Need for timely and concise information and analysis that is “in the right form, in the right hands, at the right time”
2019 Top Think Tanks in Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Table 13
Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) (Israel)
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Middle East Center (Lebanon)
Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS) (Egypt)
Al Jazeera Centre for Studies (AJCS) (Qatar)
Brookings Institution (Qatar)
Emirates Policy Center (United Arab Emirates)
Policy Center for the New South-FNA OCP Policy Center (Morocco)
International Institute for Iranian Studies, Rasanah
Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) (Israel)
Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) (Turkey)
Egyptian Center for Economic Studies (ECES) (Egypt)
Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches en Sciences Sociales (CERSS) (Morocco)
Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (Israel)
Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR)
King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Centre (Saudi Arabia
Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM) (Turkey)
Association for Liberal Thinking (ALT) (Turkey)
Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace (Israel)
Information and Decision Support Center (IDSC) (Egypt)
Dubai Public Policy Research Center (United Arab Emirates)
European Stability Initiative (ESI) (Turkey)
Royal Institute for Strategic Studies (IRES) (Morocco)
Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies (Israel)
Libyan Organization of Policies and Strategies (Loops) (Libya)
Economic Research Forum (ERF) (Egypt)
Reut Institute (Israel)
Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs (ECFA) (Egypt)
Center of Arab Women for Training and Research (CAWTAR) (Egypt)
Tunisian Institute for Strategic Studies (ITES) (Tunisia)
Emirates Diplomatic Academy (United Arab Emirates)
Bahrain Center for Strategic, International and Energy Studies (Bahrain)
Cercle d’Action et de Réflexion Autour de l’Entreprise (CARE) (Algeria)
Moroccan Institute for International Relations (Morocco)
In Equal Times (a trilingual news and opinion website) OPINIONS, an article by Jesús A. Núñez Villaverde titled Something is shifting in the MENA region – and it is happening from the ground up brings to light a near year-long movement of streets protests. These are affecting nearly all the so-called republics type of countries of the MENA. Fun fact, it was at the beginning generally thought of as being only a short trip by all leading elites. What they ignored then and/or overlooked was Mobile telecommunications and social media making quite a difference. Tomorrow will be the 50th Friday of streets pavement beating in Algiers as well as other town and villages of Algeria with yet again and as highlighted here by Nunez Villaverde, to no significant and noticeable effect.
With all the caution that any generalisation implies, the central feature of the mobilisations/revolutions now taking place, with varying intensity, in a growing number of countries – Lebanon, Iraq, Algeria and Sudan being the most recent cases – is the huge public frustration with failed, corrupt, inefficient and totalitarian rulers who are incapable of guaranteeing decent levels of wellbeing and security for all. In this image from 11 January in Tehran (Iran), a woman chats with a policeman.(AP/Mona Hoobehfekr)
For too long, the Arab and wider Muslim world of the Maghreb, the Near East and the Middle East, has been perceived as synonymous with underdevelopment, instability and violence. Within the framework of imperfect systems – socially, politically and economically – the interests of dominant elites, determined to maintain their privileges at all costs, clash with those of increasingly critical citizens, driven by the inability to satisfy their basic needs, the violence they suffer in the flesh, the daily rights violations committed by their rulers and the denial of their right to a decent life.
Added to this is the traditional and pernicious interference of regional and global powers, much more attentive to the local elites than to the local populations, determined to meddle in the affairs of their neighbours and increase their global sway, with no regard for the malaise and insecurity generated for others.
A structural hotbed has thus been created, a breeding ground for the temptation to resort to violent repression, for some, and for social unrest and protest, for others. The result is a highly worrisome situation with no way out, or so it may appear at first sight.
For decades, violent repression has been by far the preferred option of the governments in the area, combined with variable doses of patronage and paternalism aimed at maintaining social peace. To maintain their grip on power whilst showing little sensitivity to the needs and demands of their respective populations, it has become commonplace for them to resort to punishment as the preferred method for preserving, in clear collusion with many foreign governments, a status quo of which they, and their allies, are the prime beneficiaries. Hardly willing to allow free speech, and even more so after the experience of the so-called Arab Spring, a real counter-revolution is now underway, the protagonists of which are the regimes of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Syria and Egypt (not forgetting Iran on the Shia side).
With the passing of time and the impact of the successive crises that have seriously impaired the capacity of the aforementioned regimes and most others to continue ‘buying’ social peace, what they are left with, above all, is their repressive capability, and they are applying it with great resolve. This means that no substantial change can be expected in their behaviour, as they cling on to a strategy that primarily seeks to keep them in power without giving up anything substantial in return.
And the same can be said, unfortunately, of the external actors with interests in the region, given that they generally prefer to deal with the current rulers – no matter how uncomfortable it may make them feel and no matter how much their own civil societies may criticise them for their crude ‘realpolitik’ – rather than risk allowing grassroots mobilisations to bring new rulers to power and jeopardise a regional order that has long served their interests.
This powerful dynamic is countered by another, driven by a growing number of citizens who want to find a way out and see a substantial change in their situation.
It is they who are really trying to overcome the current challenges and to find solutions to the problems that define their lives and life in their countries. They have far less power than that accumulated by their rulers and those who support them from the outside. But they have lost their fear of repression and their resolve seems to be growing ever firmer, fed by the visible disgruntlement that has built up over the years.
With all the caution that any generalisation implies, the central feature of the mobilisations/revolutions now taking place, with varying intensity, in a growing number of countries – Lebanon, Iraq, Algeria and Sudan being the most recent cases – is the huge public frustration with failed, corrupt, inefficient and totalitarian rulers who are incapable of guaranteeing decent levels of wellbeing and security for all. All it takes, on such potentially explosive ground, is a simple spark to ignite the flames of revolt – such as the young man who set himself on fire in front of a police station in Tunisia; the repression of children who painted political slogans against the government in Syria; the attempt to apply a monthly fee of almost €6 for WhatsApp calls in Lebanon; the increase in the price of fuel, in Iran; or less outstanding factors, in the case of Libya, Yemen, Syria or Algeria.
The substantial difference with previous episodes of grassroots mobilisation – when the application of structural adjustment programmes at the end of the last century triggered revolts that were limited to demanding the reinstatement of subsidies for basic necessities – what we have been witnessing since 2011 is a movement with a decidedly political profile, demanding not only the removal of the ruler of the day, but also the dismantling of a status quo that, at best, offers no more than the crumbs of paternalism and clientelism. The more recent protest movements have been, and continue to be crosscutting (going beyond the usual signs of ethnic or religious identity), young (in keeping with the demographic structure of these countries), spontaneous (in the sense that they emerge from society itself and not out of foreign manipulation) and peaceful (it is the powers that be, faithful to their repressive pattern, that resort to violence as the default option).
Support for legitimate and representative regimes without delay
What is also clear, however, is that these movements have yet to be structured and the only factor seemingly uniting them is the desire to rid themselves of the current establishment. In many cases, this means that they have even stopped identifying leaders and do not, as a rule, have coherent government programmes. And all this reduces their strength to overcome the resistance of actors who are better organised and experienced when it comes to seizing and maintaining power.
This is why simply wishing them luck, trusting that they will finally succeed in overcoming all the obstacles in their path, will not suffice. It is likely that in addition to the persistent repression and in keeping with the Lampedusa paradox [“If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change”], some of these governments will be willing to accept cosmetic reforms to ultimately prevent any substantial change.
It is essential that Western democratic governments actively support these movements, overcoming the traditionally short-sighted approach that is content with merely patching up the surface in the hope that time will eventually bring all the pieces of the puzzle together.
The current rulers are not going to relinquish power without a fight, and even less so if they feel that they are supported by Washington, Brussels, Moscow or so many other administrations with interests in the region. The current socio-political and economic management model is totally spent, and the millions of people living in these countries no longer expect anything from leaders who have amply demonstrated that the only thing that moves them is the desire to increase their privileges. The elites have squandered any political capital left in the eyes of citizens who, fully aware of their plight and the fact that there are other ways, in the 21st century, of ensuring that their basic needs are met and their security guaranteed, are calling for a thorough clean-up of a profoundly dysfunctional system.
Although many unknowns remain, there is already scope for concluding that, without public pressure, none of these imperfect regimes is ready to change course. The problem is that the foreign powers involved in the region seem no more ready to stop aligning with them. They do not yet appear to have realised that backing failed governments is not the best way to defend their real interests, not to mention the fact that such behaviour clashes head-on with their own values and principles. It can only be hoped they will eventually come to the realisation that the best course of action would be to contribute to the establishment and consolidation of legitimate and truly representative governments.
The first two decades of the 21st century saw the return of mass movements to streets around the world. Partly a product of sinking confidence in mainstream politics, mass mobilisation has had a huge impact on both official politics and wider society, and protest has become the form of political expression to which millions of people turn.
Following moments of open class warfare in the late 1960s and early 1970s, battles against the political and economic order became fragmented, trade unions were attacked, the legacy of the anti-colonial struggles was eroded and the history of the period was recast by the establishment to undermine its potency. In the post-Cold War era, a new phase of protest finally began to overcome these defeats.
This revival of protest exploded onto the political scene most visibly in Seattle outside the World Trade Organization summit in 1999. If 1968 was one of the high points of radical struggle in the 20th century, protest in the early 2000s once again began to reflect a general critique of the capitalist system, with solidarity forged across different sections of society.
The birth of the anti-globalisation movement in Seattle was followed by extraordinary mobilisations outside gatherings of the global economic elite. Alternative spaces were also created for the global justice movement to connect, most notably the World Social Forums (WSFs), starting with Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2001. It was here that questions over what position the anti-globalisation movement should take over the Iraq War, for example, were discussed and debated. Though the WSFs provided an important rallying point for a time, they ultimately evaded politics.
In the years leading up to and following the banking crisis of 2008, food riots and anti-austerity protests escalated around the world. In parts of the Middle East and North Africa, protests achieved insurrectionary proportions, with the overthrow of one dictator after another. After the Arab Spring was thwarted by counter-revolution, the Occupy movement and then Black Lives Matter gained global attention. While the public, urban square became a central focus for protest, social media became an important – but by no means exclusive – organising tool.
To varying degrees, these movements sharply raised the question of political transformation but didn’t find new ways of institutionalising popular power. The result was that in a number of situations, protest movements fell back on widely distrusted parliamentary processes to try and pursue their political aims. The results of this parliamentary turn have not been impressive.
Crisis of representation
On the one hand, the first two decades of the 21st century have seen soaring inequality, accompanied by debt and the neglect of working people. On the other, there have been poor results from purely parliamentary attempts to challenge it. There is, in other words, a deep crisis of representation.
The inability of modern capitalism to deliver more than survival for many has combined with a general critique of neoliberal capitalism to create a situation in which wider and wider sections of society are being drawn into protest. More than a million people have poured onto the streets of Lebanon since mid-October and protests continue despite a violent crackdown by security forces.
At the same time, people are less and less willing to accept unrepresentative politicians – and this is likely to continue in the future. From Lebanon and Iraq to Chile and Hong Kong, mass mobilisations continue despite resignations and concessions.
In Britain, the Labour Party’s defeat in the recent general election is attributed largely to its failure to accept the 2016 referendum result over EU membership. Decades of loyalty to the Labour Party for many and a socialist leader in Jeremy Corbyn calling for an end to austerity couldn’t cut through to enough of the millions who voted for Brexit.
In France, a general strike in December 2019 over President Emmanuel Macron’s proposed pension reforms has revealed the extent of opposition that people feel towards his government. This comes barely a year after the start of the Yellow Vest movement, in which people have protested against fuel price hikes and the precariousness of their lives.
The tendency towards street protest will be encouraged too by the climate crisis, whose effects mean that the most heavily exploited, including along race and gender lines, have the most to lose. When the protests in Lebanon broke out, they were taking place alongside rampant wildfires.
As protesters gain experience, they consciously bring to the fore questions of leadership and organisation. In Lebanon and Iraq, there has already been a conscious effort to overcome traditional sectarian divides. Debates are also raging in protest movements from Algeria to Chile about how to fuse economic and political demands in a more strategic manner. The goal is to make political and economic demands inseparable, such that it’s impossible for a government to make political concessions without making economic ones too.
There has also been a resurgence of the far-right in many countries, emboldened most visibly by parties and politicians in the US, Brazil, India and many parts of Europe. This resurgence, however, has not gone unchallenged.
The convergence of crisis on these multiple fronts will reach breaking point, creating conditions that will become intolerable for most people. This will galvanise more protest and more polarisation. As governments respond with reforms, such measures on their own will be unlikely to meet the combination of political and economic demands. The question of how to create new vehicles of representation to assert popular control over the economy will keep emerging. The fortunes of popular protest may well depend on whether the collective leadership of the movements can provide answers to it.
The economy, corruption and unemployment. These are by far the top concerns amongst citizens across 18 Arab countries, according to a ground-breaking new poll released by YouGov this week.
The optimism and hope that inspired the Arab Spring nine years ago has vanished, upended by a new wave of anger sweeping the region. The result has been the toppling of Algeria’s president and protests across Iraq, Lebanon, and Egypt.
The poll also revealed most Arab citizens feel their leaders should prioritise the economy over all other issues, be they national security related, religious or sectarian.
Arab leaders must take note of this data. But it should also inform the decision-making of EU policymakers too. The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) after all are the EU’s backyard. MENA and the ripple effect of what begins there will inevitably reach Europe too; the refugee crisis proved that.
The poll results also suggest the EU has a timely opportunity to encourage positive reform in the MENA region. The EU has long hoped to encourage reform through initiatives like the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and the Union for the Mediterranean. The basis for these initiatives was “shared values.”
This new poll, draw from the responses of thousands of Arabs across 18 MENA countries, shows these shared values exist more today than ever before. Respondents supported economic liberalisation, women’s empowerment, religious minority rights, greater transparency and criticised the politicisation of religion. You could say Middle Eastern citizens increasingly embody the values of the EU itself.
One of the biggest historical criticisms of EU initiatives like the ENP and the Union for the Mediterranean has been that it seeks to impose European standards in an imperial “civilising” effort towards Europe’s neighbouring regions.
Dr. Saqib Qureshi Senior business strategist and expert on democratic policy development
This is particularly notable given one of the biggest historical criticisms of EU initiatives like the ENP and the Union for the Mediterranean has been that it seeks to impose European standards in an imperial “civilising” effort towards Europe’s neighbouring regions.
But with the emergence of a new generation of Middle Eastern citizens embodying home-grown, forward-looking values, it is unlikely such EU efforts will now be viewed by Arab people as an attempt to impose alien values upon the region.
But the window of opportunity is narrow. Should the economic situation in nations like Iraq or Lebanon continue to deteriorate (both nations cited corruption as the biggest problem for their country), the inclination for the masses to rally around more extreme political positions may once again return.
Indeed, economic fears were present across the MENA region. 61% of respondents across the Arab world believed the future would be better if economic matters were put above all other policy issues, be they political, religious or sectarian.
Such a decisive majority opinion on this issue is likely to be due to the sheer anger in the Arab world over corruption. Respondents from every MENA region overwhelmingly cited corruption as the single biggest problem for their country. 42% of respondents were concerned about unemployment, hardly surprising given that across the region, 30% of young people are currently unemployed.
This all makes it timelier than ever for the EU to leverage its trade relations with the MENA region to help bridge the divide between citizens and the State in the Middle East.
But here, too, the EU’s efforts are under threat. The EU’s trade leverage is competing with that of economic powers like China. China’s investment in the Arab world and the conditions attached to them – in relation to equal opportunities, economic participation and fair competition – differ to those of the EU.
Not only is China not concerned with using its economic ties to support forward-looking values and principles, it could potentially halt or even reverse some of the progress that has already been made.
Dr. Saqib Qureshi Senior business strategist and expert on democratic policy development
Not only is China not concerned with using its economic ties to support forward-looking values and principles, it could potentially halt or even reverse some of the progress that has already been made.
If the EU fails to scale up its engagement with the Middle East soon, countries like China will fill the vacuum.
This increases the imperative for the EU to ensure that it engages with the Arab world in a way that strengthens it economically.
Increasing the opportunities and economic standing of Arab populations will alleviate some of the frustration and anger they feel that has built-up as a result of a lack of opportunity. However, this engagement must also build on the increasing convergence of shared values which will lead to a more tolerant and liberal MENA.
Dr. Saqib Qureshi is a senior business strategist and expert on democratic policy development who has advised governments in Canada, London, Washington DC and Dubai. His forthcoming book is The Broken Contract: Making Our Democracies Efficient, Representative, and Accountable.
Peter Welby in his December 15, 2019, write up describes An alliance of people of goodwill in the Gulf, as More than 500 religious and political leaders, academics and civil society activists from over 80 countries gathered in Abu Dhabi last week to launch a set of principles that champion the shared values of different religions and promote joint action for the global common good and against extremism.
The image above is: A group of the world’s most respected Islamic scholars and faith leaders, joined by experts from governments and representatives of civil society organizations signed a new charter to build global peace, based on tolerance and religious freedom. (WAM)
It is notable that this took place in the Gulf, and not in Europe or the US. The UAE has long prided itself on its promotion of tolerance — naming this past year the Year of Tolerance — but the event was attended by religious leaders from across the region, including Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, Secretary General of the Muslim World League in Saudi Arabia. The Charter of the New Alliance of Virtues is devoid of most of the usual platitudes that can form interfaith charters, and is based on an idea that could be embraced by all without being seen as owned by any one religion. This is because while the original Alliance of Virtues upon which this project was based is known of through the Islamic tradition, it predates Islam. The story goes that following the period of conflict around Makkah known in Islam as the Sacrilegious War, a Yemeni trader brought some goods to the city, and sold them to a Makkah nobleman, who refused to pay what was owed. The trader climbed Mount Safar, the place for public appeals at the time, and denounced his fraudulent purchaser and all those from Makkah who allowed one of their own to act unjustly. Other noblemen were appalled by the treatment meted out to this guest, in violation of the rules of hospitality let alone the rules of trade, and so convened an Alliance of Virtues that committed to defend the values deemed common among them, including the defense of the weak against the powerful. We know about this because Muhammad, before his prophethood, was there, and spoke about it later. And although it took place in pre-Islamic Makkah, he said that such was the value of this alliance that if he had been asked to join after the coming of Islam he would have done so. And despite this endorsement from the Prophet of Islam, the alliance can be viewed with equal approbation by other faiths too. The Alliance of Virtues was not formed by Christians or Jews, but by people whose goal was simply to do good work. This means that although this new Alliance of Virtues is designed with the Abrahamic faiths specifically in mind, it is open to any who share the values it espouses.
The Charter of the New Alliance of Virtues is devoid of most of the usual platitudes that can form interfaith charters, and is based on an idea that could be embraced by all without being seen as owned by any one religion.
But in the idea of shared values between the faiths lies the question. The interfaith world has long been dominated by a philosophy that seeks to downplay differences and focus on commonalities. There are plenty of commonalities to choose from, particularly in the Abrahamic faiths; for example, the belief in one God who created the universe and all that’s in it, and is directly concerned with the actions of humanity. But there are also profound differences, which will not be overcome by ignoring them. Moreover, the classical interfaith model is dominated, particularly among the Christian and Jewish participants, by religious liberals, occasionally operating well outside the orthodox parameters of their faiths. This domination leads to fears among many conservative believers of syncretism that the purpose of interfaith work is to deny that differences between religions are significant, and to push the belief that all paths to God are equally valid. The problem is that the social hostility and mutual suspicions between religions, at both a local and the global level, are often dominated by the conservatives. Gatherings dominated by liberals will fail to make significant movement toward overcoming these hostilities — they are preaching to the converted. Herein lies the delight of the new Charter. Not only are its values truly shared, at least in orthodox theologies of the Abrahamic faiths (values including human dignity, freedom of conscience, justice, mercy and peace), but it is backed by a number of US evangelicals, who among the Christian groups are most vocally hostile to Islam. They are also within the Christian tradition focused on the truth of the bible and the imperative to proselytize. They are not even close to syncretism between religions. The purpose is to draw on those shared values not to edge toward some specious “ever closer union,” but for shared action. Between them, the Abrahamic faiths account for more than half of the global population; if these principles are acted upon, it can have a powerful and wide-ranging effect. But here lies the challenge. Writing the Charter is only the beginning. Unlike many documents, it has been written, targeted at and signed by individuals rather than institutions or governments. Modeled upon the previous Alliance, it is an alliance of people of goodwill. But as with any Charter, its only value will come if it is acted upon. It must turn into practical reality. This will be the challenge for its signatories over the coming years.
Peter Welby is a consultant on religion and global affairs, specializing in the Arab world. Previously he was the managing editor of a think tank on religious extremism, the Center on Religion and Geopolitics, and worked in public affairs in the Arabian Gulf. He is based in London, and has lived in Egypt and Yemen. Twitter: @pdcwelby
Tolerance holds different meanings for different people.
For some, it means not being prejudiced. For others, it’s the ability to endure the existence or behaviour of those they disagree with.
According to the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), it’s a conscious decision to recognise people’s fundamental rights and the inclusion of their diversity.
In some parts of the MENA region, tolerant societies remain a work in progress, according to London’s 2018 Legatum Prosperity Index, which measures the wealth and well-being of 149 countries.
The UAE ranks 39th globally, the highest among Arab states on the list.
UAE TOLERANCE INITIATIVES
The emirates appointed a Minister of State for Tolerance in 2016, dedicated to promoting the qualities of acceptance and inclusion among residents.
The country also held its second National Festival for Tolerance this year.
The nine-day-event hosted multicultural activities and musical performances for UAE residents from more than 200 countries.
The festival highlighted inclusion and the accomplishments of people with disabilities. It also featured a cricket match in which foreign workers, primarily from the subcontinent, took part.
Abir Kazbour, an author and filmmaker originally from Lebanon, is a member of the UAE Champions of Tolerance program, which teaches residents methods to communicate the message of acceptance and understanding.
Kazbour is currently working on a short film to recreate a personal experience she had of a cultural misunderstanding when should would regularly extinguish her Indian flatmate’s candles.
Unknowingly, she was disrupting her fellow roommate’s prayer rituals and once the cultural clash was cleared up, the pair were brought closer together.
“When we talked and there was dialogue between us, we could understand and sympathize with each other,” says Kazbour, recalling the anecdote from her book called The Key of Tolerance.
For Kazbour, the issue of tolerance hit home at an early age in 1997, when she was visiting family in Tripoli, Lebanon.
“Most of them were from one sect,” she says. “So, when we said we were going to our neighbour’s, for example, they would say, “No! How can you go to them? They’re from a different sect, they hate us.”
This type of closed mindedness went some way to helping the author decide to live outside of Lebanon.
TOLERANCE & UNITY IN LEBANON
This October, Lebanese nationals came together and took to the streets in protest about the actions of the government.
Lebanon is governed by 18 different religious groups, which decide how citizens marry, inherit money and even how they’re buried.
Some believe this has contributed to the country’s social and economic malaise.
Beirut organisations like Adyan have been working to unify Lebanese people through education since 2008.
“What we need to do is to get people to live that diversity as an enrichment, and not as a fear from each other,” says Dr. Nayla Tabbara, the director of the Institute of Citizenship and Diversity at Adyan.
POTENTIAL REMEDIES FOR EXTREMISM
Dr. Tabbara says that in addition to unifying people and encouraging positive societal change, practicing tolerance can also help prevent isolation and radicalism.
“We see a direct connection actually between extremism and tolerance,” she explains. “Extremism is, by definition, when you don’t accept difference – a different point of view.”
Forces which also make people vulnerable to extremist groups include a lack of economic incentives and sense of belonging, according to Hedayah, a global counter-terrorism centre in Abu Dhabi.
In partnership with the European Union and other groups, Hedayah works to create educational programs for youth in Kyrgyzstan.
Together they’ve developed ways to inform young people about the importance of having a strong sense of identity and belonging within their communities.
They cite that cultural and recreational activities can help young ones, especially in rural areas, follow the right path.
SEEN ON SOCIAL MEDIA: CELEBRATING TOLERANCE
Prince from India captured this moment at the National Festival of Tolerance in Abu Dhabi, saying it reflected the joyful mood of the event.
In any part of the region, interconnected populations realise the commonality of their dreams and they want a stake in their respective countries.
Lebanese demonstrators gather outside the Telecom company during ongoing anti-government demonstrations in Lebanon’s southern city of Sidon (Saida) on November 8. (AFP)
The fall of the Berlin Wall, 30 years ago, on November 9, 1989, was a testament to the irrepressible human yearning for freedom.
Restrained for too long by communist rulers, Eastern Europeans just wanted out. They saw greener and freer pastures beyond their borders.
Well before East German border guards opened the Berlin passageway in October 1989, the authoritarian governments of the time saw the writing on the wall.
In June 1989, Hungarian and Austrian foreign ministers were cutting through the barbed wire separating their countries. Others soon followed suit. They were removing long-standing separations that much of Eastern Europe erected after Hungary built a 260km fence on its Austrian border in 1949.
More than simply physical barriers, these were ideological and political walls consecrating the regimes’ distrust of their citizens and their inability to move away from dogmatic constraints.
History shows crossing borders is always the last resort when resources are scarce or when living conditions become unbearable.
Similarly, for decades, breaking through geographic barriers has been the goal of too many among young Arabs. Disillusioned and surrounded by nothing but dead ends at home, they look to emigrate — even illegally.
Today, many desperate people in the MENA region are more than willing to risk their lives to escape on the makeshift boats of human traffickers, voting with their feet in much the same way Eastern Europeans did for many decades until the 1980s.
Nearly 700 people died while trying to break through the Iron Curtain from East Germany and many more in MENA are no less committed to their cause. Thousands have died trying to cross the Mediterranean during the past few years, driven by poverty, war and a lack of opportunity.
However, unlike Eastern Europeans who fled authoritarian environments, MENA’s desperate youth have few places to find safe harbour.
Since independence, governments south of the Mediterranean have been striking deals with Europeans to fight illegal emigration and, while cooperation in that area was in order, the governments lacked the political vision and ability to draw the right lessons from the steady exodus from their shores.
Many Arab youths, unwilling or unable to leave home, have grown angry staring at walls that need to be torn down. They see prohibitive and oppressive obstacles of sectarianism, failed post-independence policies, bureaucratic and corrupt practices and a lack of freedom. More than anything else, there is a huge wall of distrust between them and their politicians, whom they see as responsible for making their lives miserable and robbing them of their chances for a better future.
Arab protesters may not be acting out against authoritarian communism but they are rebelling against equally rigid norms and obsolete rules. It is not the conflicting interests of a regional power such as Iran that will change the equation. Much like the unhappy populations that suffered under Soviet rule, they see their leaders clinging to the past, or worse, living on another planet.
If the governments of Iraq, Lebanon, Algeria and a few other Arab countries are having a tough time dealing with protests, it is because for too long they have been reluctant to initiate genuine reform. They felt they had too many vested interests at stake to volunteer change.
After years of procrastination, such change is much more difficult to introduce in a way that satisfies demanding and disgruntled populations. Much more than in the 1980s, the value systems of good governance, equal opportunity and, above all, freedom have gone global and the Arab region is no exception.
Such forces overpower the image of strength, awe and fear that assailed political regimes used to project and rely upon to preserve their rule. Whatever tools of repression they possess are not enough anymore.
In any part of the region, interconnected populations realise the commonality of their dreams and they want a stake in their respective countries.
With a lack of real and timely reform, radical and abrupt regime change often becomes the alternative.
As Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev told East German President Erich Honecker in October 1989: “Life punishes those who are too late.”
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