Arab Uprisings: Young People Break with Tradition

Arab Uprisings: Young People Break with Tradition

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EYE ON THE ARAB MEDIA -- Arab scholars and journalists are struggling to come up with answers explaining the sudden uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and other Arab countries. Many of them, however, believe it has a lot to do with youth empowerment stemming from young peoples' ability to break away from tribal and religious traditions.

Abdel Aziz Al-Khamis, Editor-in-Chief of the Arabian Observer Magazine told the London-based television network, Arab News Broadcasting (ANB) that the Arab youth are rebelling against their parents’ ideals. “They saw how their parents failed to rebel; they saw how their parents dealt with traditional ideals such as the religious value that calls on people to obey the rulers”, and according to Al-Khamis, they are not willing to continue on the same path.

“The tribal chiefs and even the religious sheiks no longer have control over the younger generation like they used to have in the past,” Al-Khamis added, “their control used to even go over the younger peoples’ parents, but not anymore, and that is due to education and openness to other [Western] countries.”

For example, in Sidi Bouzid in southern Tunisia, the tribal and religious sheiks who are loyal to now former President Ben Ali’s regime tried to calm the uprising down, but they failed. According to Al-Khamis, they met with the young generation and talked to them, but the protestors made specific demands that their sheiks could not meet. The younger generation wants their dignity and rights that were taken away from them by the rulers, he said.

Tribal and religious leaders are losing control over the young generations because they are becoming part of a civil society that is being formed now and this is happening in all Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia and Yemen, Al-Khamis added.

Political analyst Suliman Busofah pointed out that the younger generations are more willing to challenge traditional religious values than their parents. He told ANB “in our Islamic traditions the thing that we teach our children to fear most is to be burned. But the new generations no longer have this fear. They are burning themselves alive despite the fact that their religious beliefs tells them that that they will be burned in hell because they committed suicide”

Busofah added, “Since the Tunisian uprising started, 24 people have burned themselves alive in Algeria and half of them died.”

Al-Khamis mentioned that there are other traditional values that were challenged by the Arab youth, as well. According to him, while parents have always tried to avoid confrontation with oppressive rulers because they were afraid of being harmed, the younger generation resents “following the crowd” and values “sacrificing oneself," as evident in the willingness of large numbers of people to die protesting in the streets.

In addition, while the older generations believed that one should only resist foreign colonization or invasion, “the new generations have a new view of who can be the colonizer and oppressor. They believe that the oppressors can be the local rulers and therefore the rebellion can be against them,” Al-Khamis said.

The youth are also breaking away from traditional tribal ideals. “The new generations value their individual freedoms more than their parents’ generation. In the past, the demands of the Arab individual were shaped by his group, tribe, or religious sect, but now the individual values his own freedom and believes that he can share common values with different segments of the population including farmers, western-educated students, computer engineers and even street cleaners. All these people now are mobilizing against oppressive regimes,” Al-Khamis said.

In the case of Egypt, the diverse groups that participated in the January 25 uprisings are now forming a structured organization that can potentially lead Egypt to a new era. Professor Clovis Maksoud, the Director of the Center for the Global South at American University in Washington, D.C. told Al Jazeera,  “This is a very peaceful, enlightened and spontaneous mobilization that has taken place all over Egypt. Historically fragmented opposition in Egypt has now blended together into a synthesis which provides an organizational system for this mass movement and on the other hand might provide a sense of clear direction”.

One of the reasons why the younger generation is less fearful of the regime than their parents is their ability to utilize Western technology such as cell phone cameras, and the Internet, as well as social media like YouTube and FaceBook. “A long time ago, Arab regimes were able to use violence to oppress protests," Al-Khamis said, "but now the whole world can see what happens everywhere -- even in remote villages in Tunisia and Egypt -- in a timely manner, thanks to the information technology.”

Satellite televisions, which strongly encourage pan-Arab nationalism, and social media have enabled the Arab youth to stay connected more with what is happening in other Arab countries. Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University told Al Jazeera "there is an Arabic public sphere, the walls that the regimes have erected, and which Arab satellite televisions and social media have broken down in some ways, are now broken politically too. People are borrowing methods and taking aspirations from one country to the other.”

Khalidi continued, “something has changed now. Everybody now understands that this region is linked and everybody has the same aspirations. People are taking heart of what happened in Tunisia and now what is happening in Egypt.”