Building a new Arab renaissance
Arab societies must harness the creativity and potential of their young people to create a better life for those living in the region
When the revolutionary spirit spread through the Arab world in 2011, there was a wave of optimism that things would be different, that it would change the way people think and tackle challenges.
The reality has been far different. Intolerance, racism, ignorance and weak institutions are still the order of the day. Whenever anyone mentions developments projects, there is the inevitable talk of failure. Many now admit that it is not only about swapping old leaders with new ones. There is a need for deep structural change that can create long-lasting economic, social and political benefits for people.
As emotions have subsided, a general feeling of pessimism and even depression has set it. People often refer to a verse from poet Nizar Qabbani to describe the mood now: “If I had known my end, I wouldn’t have begun.”
This kind of attitude, however, demonstrates to some extent the naivety of those hoping for sudden and permanent change. The reality is that any type of transformation takes time. It is often a slow systematic process, not limited to specific figureheads or certain groups.
Hijacked youth movements
Young people are important drivers of change in societies because they actively participate in the first stages of a revolution. However, they fail to provide effective and successful alternatives. And they are impeded by unscrupulous people with their own agendas.
These opportunists, having observed safely from afar, hijack these movements for their own benefit. This certainly happened in the recent Arab revolutions, but history is replete with examples of the same thing taking place elsewhere.
Facing the guillotine in 1794, French rebel George Jacques Danton’s last words were: “Every revolution eats its children.”
This kind of attitude, however, demonstrates to some extent the naivety of those hoping for sudden and permanent change. The reality is that any type of transformation takes time. It is often a slow systematic process, not limited to specific figureheads or certain groups.Mohammed Fahad Al-Harthi
Refashioning society is a social rather than political endeavor. There are groups in some Arab societies that are more powerful than their governments. They resist change, believing that their current situation is ideal. Conservative societies oppose new ideas fearing Westernization and marginalization.
The conflict between tradition and modernity, in its various forms, occupies the minds of leaders and the public, because they are in the midst of massive social and technological advancements.
Faced with these circumstances, the involvement of the youth to advance societies becomes critical.
A case in point is the influence of the 1968 student revolution in France on Europe, with young people subsequently drawn into decision-making processes. Many young people also played seminal roles in changing their societies in the developing world.
Change does not occur in a vacuum
Change, however, does not take place in a random manner. It is subject to a particular society’s rules and circumstances. Young people are eminently qualified to take part in these processes because they are flexible and willing to employ new ideas.
The manner in which they have adopted social media networks has helped to move the world forward at a quicker pace because it has opened their societies to other experiences and cultures.
Arab societies must harness the creativity and potential of their young people to create a better life for those living in the region. They must be given the support, opportunity and freedom to make their contribution.
Hanging on to outdated traditions because it is comfortable can kill the spirit of innovation. Change is inevitable and people here must embrace it. Our people can certainly be enriched by encompassing the views of others. If we seek qualitative transformation of our societies, we need to fight the negative attitudes frustrating our youth.
In the past, various cultures and religions emerged from our region. The people then were able to cope with these changes.
The resulting renaissance saw them build large empires. The descendants of these people are certainly capable of equaling and surpassing these achievements, thereby ushering in a new period of growth and renewal.
This article was first published in Arab News on Feb. 26, 2014.
Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi is currently the editor-in-chief of Arab News and Sayidaty. A prominent journalist who worked with Asharq al-Awsat in London and Arab News in KSA, Al-Harthi later moved on to establish Al-Eqtisadiah newspaper in KSA, in which he rose to the position of Editorial Manager. He was appointed editor-in-chief for Arajol magazine in 1997. He won the Gulf Excellence award in 1992.