The Revolution of the Youth

Or is it?

Although today’s workshop ‘Arab Youth Politics: Challenges and Aspirations’ primarily aimed to gage the involvement of the youth in the media and political structures of the Middle East, talk invariably veered towards the events unfolding the past months.

In the spirit of technology I commenced tweeting the findings, only to be thwarted (ironically!) by the lack of coverage that made Tweets less instantaneous bursts and more agonized, two-minute delay frustrations.

And prompted a painful re-acquaintance with pen and paper. The seizures will last for days.

As the ten papers progressed another question emerged: how do we define the youth?

In its coverage of the revolutions the Western media bandies the term about – certainly, it would be incorrect to suppose that the participants in Tahrir Square were drawn solely from the 18-30 year bracket.

Yet revolution is synonymous with youth: one need only look to the emergence of Gaddafi and Ben Ali as testament to the revolutionary vigors that phase of life inspires.

The pervasiveness of the youth cannot be ignored: during a paper addressing the rise of youth and social movements in Egypt, the number of parties catering to the sector of society was noticeable: Al-Ghad, the Youth Association of Islamic Action, Youth of al-Tagm’a, Youth of al-Wafd… and so the list went on.

As is wont with such debates, the conclusion brought forth added questions, rather than solving them (and is this not how all the best meetings end?).

What are the narratives of youth?

Is the youth an imagined community?

How does the concept (and self-imagination) of youth contrast with previous generations?

Is the youth demographic, merely temporal, or is it spatial?

As a delegate from the University of Edinburgh pointed out, the issue of the shabab has been around since the 1920s and the youth have become targets since then.

Targets for regimes to revile, reconcile, engage, utilize and capitalize on: they are a symbol, an enemy, and a fresh wind of change – be it positive or negative.

Personally, I agree with a friend’s surmisal: where once we regarded identity as dichotomous or prone to grey-areas, it is now spatial in definition.

The day ended on a cautionary note, the notion that danger lurks in the romaticization of the youth by the media: where to now?

Today they are valiant fighters for freedom; in a few months, years, will they hold the same objectives that we triumph them for?

Qaddafi and Ben Ali are not just figures of farce, then revulsion, but reminders that even the blossom of youth can wither and decay into corruption and slaughter.

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