Towards more inclusive youth engagement in Arab Mediterranean Countries

Tunisian youngster. Source: Khamsa Documentary.
Tunisian youngster. Source: Khamsa Documentary.

The young people are not heard. Nobody tries to listen what he or she have to say, or find out what his or her needs are. When strategies are being drawn, 50 or 60 years old individuals try to think for young people. But this does not work… When I attend events about young people, I am almost all the time the only “young” person. I believe that young people should be listened to, implicated in public affairs decisions. They have ideas, but they never get a chance to voice them (MA_LS_1: 16; 21-year-old male).

Young people in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and Lebanon see an ageing political class presiding over the destiny of their country. There is a gap in the youth’s representation and they are excluded from the sphere of decision-making (National Case Study Algeria, 2016). SAHWA data shows that young people communicate more among themselves on the national political agenda than with the older generations.

As The Revolutionary Promise report has already described, the instability of the socio-political environment in Arab Mediterranean societies is a challenge. In light of the continued state efforts to impose public order, the majority of political and social actors are likely to remain reactive rather than proactive. In this kind of environment, it is crucial to continually “revisit and restructure the machinery responsible for the marginalisation of youth from the public sphere”, as the report proposes (ibid.: 116).

In the perspective of “learning from the South”, we conclude this paper with recommendations that share the aims of Scott Atran (2015), in envisioning a more “inclusive and enabling environment in which youth actors, including youth from different backgrounds, are recognised and provided with adequate support to implement violence prevention activities and support social cohesion”. Alternatively, we want to stress “the importance of creating policies for youth that would positively contribute to peace-building efforts, including social and economic development, supporting projects designed to grow local economies, and provide youth employment opportunities and vocational training, fostering their education, and promoting youth entrepreneurship and constructive political engagement” (Atran 2015).

These needs and aspirations are clearly expressed in the SAHWA research project data. In this way they also correspond with the global policy processes on better youth inclusion, as expressed in the recent UN Security Council Resolution on Youth, Peace and Security in which Atran’s recommendations were incorporated in December 2015. For the first time the Security Council agreed on a resolution that focuses entirely on the role of young men and women in peace-building, emphasising their engagement as the main source of countering extremism and youth radicalisation. The resolution represents an urgent need to engage in youth and youth-led initiatives as important partners at all levels of decision-making in the political, economic, and social processes that affect their lives. The resolution especially encourages the development of:

a. evidence-based and gender-sensitive youth employment opportunities, inclusive labour policies, national youth employment action plans in partnership with the private sector, developed in partnership with youth and recognising the interrelated role of education, employment and training in preventing the marginalisation of youth;

b. investment in building young persons’ capabilities and skills to meet labour demands through relevant education opportunities designed in a manner which promotes a culture of peace;

c. support for youth-led and peace-building organisations as partners in youth employment and entrepreneurship programmes.

The SAHWA research project data clearly shows that these elements highlighted by the UN resolution are also highly important to develop in the AMCs. To conclude our analysis of the young people’s aspirations of engaging in society, the most important element to highlight is the impact of the marginalisation of the young: the absence of political tools to influence the management of state affairs and resources and the grave challenges to the attainment of aspired life chances due to structural obstacles to the labour market. There is also a need to open new horizons of non-violent civic engagement for young people and to facilitate confidence-building measures by offering meaningful roles in public debates and decision-making processes without the risk/fear of negative repercussions. This can only be achieved in the more inclusive societies that the Arab Mediterranean youth aspire to build. Euro-Med Youth Cooperation can play a role in achieving this ambitious goal. Doing so, however, necessitates a profound reshaping of these cooperation policies in the near future. Although the EU is in the process of implementing its Youth Strategy (2010-2018) and mainstreaming cross-sector initiatives in this regard, the youth dimension remains to be mainstreamed in the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), which affects its cooperation with countries on the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean.

Therefore, we recommend that:

1. Youth centres should be better supported in the future and different forms of youth exchange programmes could be coordinated through Euro-Mediterranean youth cooperation schemes. For example, in Tunisia many youth and cultural centres are educational entities that offer young people opportunities to access a wide variety of leisure training and awareness raising activities, allowing them to express themselves and develop their imagination. These youth spaces could involve youth-led management and also bring together local employers and jobseekers.

2. Adaptation of the national youth policies and national civic councils of youth organisations, namely, national youth councils, should be encouraged and, if needed, facilitated through Euro-Med youth co-operation. For example, in March 2016, NET–MED Youth and several youth organisations gathered in Tunis in order to engage a common reflection on the implementation of a national youth council. This consultation mechanism aims to become an appropriate framework through which young people contribute to analysing public policies, elaborating strategies and formulating recommendations related to youth. This experiment from Tunisia and the work of the National Youth Forum in Lebanon could be used as examples, supported via Euro-Mediterranean youth cooperation schemes, to carry out similar processes in other southern and eastern Mediterranean countries. The process should be inclusive, meaning that different youth-led initiatives and actors should play integral roles at all stages, including agenda setting, design and implementation. More societal discussion and transparency is needed on the role of foreign funding for civil society organisations as well as state control over associational life in general.

3. Euro-Mediterranean youth cooperation schemes could involve a wider range of youth-led initiatives and civil society organisations. These organisations could create and develop new and less formal political engagement practices that allow young people to acquire their autonomy and independence in society (National Case Study Algeria, 2016). The role of different civil society organisations in developing new forms of applied training or vocational schools that aims to bridge the gap between jobs and the youth should be actively elaborated alongside local partners.

4. A cross-Mediterranean network of youth researchers could be established in order to follow and evaluate youth policy processes and to acknowledge the changing social, political, and economic realities that shape the lives of the Arab Mediterranean youth. This youth research body could be supported by Euro-Med Youth cooperation and have members from the EU, Council of Europe, and Arab Mediterranean states. It could organise thematic and annual seminars, knowledge exchange and work jointly on research projects, aiming to support youth engagement locally, nationally and transnationally as a necessity.

5. Last but not least, we want to highlight the principle of “learning with the South” that we introduced at the beginning of this paper. We claim that in order to analyse and struggle against the cultural, political and material inequalities between Europe and the Arab Mediterranean, there is a need to revise and deconstruct the pedagogical roles beyond the developing/developed dichotomy. The young people living in Arab Mediterranean societies can teach Europeans important lessons about the future. We agree with Teivainen that “once we achieve this change in attitudes, we have better possibilities to advance global democratic transformations” (2002: 60).

* This is a fragment of the SAHWA Policy Report on youth engagement in Arab-Mediterranean countries “Towards more inclusive youth engagement in Arab-Mediterranean countries” published on November 2016.

References

Atran S. (2015), The Role of Youth in Countering Violent Extremism and Promoting Peace, available at http://blogs.plos.org/neuroanthropology/2015/04/25/scott-atran-on-youthviolent-extremism-and-promoting-peace/, accessed 20 May 2016.

National Case Study. Algeria. (2016) Centre de Recherche en Economie Appliquée pour le Développement (CREAD) / SAHWA research project.

SAHWA Ethnographic Fieldwork 2015 datasets from Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Lebanon and Egypt (consists of narrative interviews, focus groups and life stories; for more information visit footnote 2).

Teivainen T. (2002), The World Social Forum and global democratisation: Learning from Porto Alegre, Third World Quarterly No. 23, pp. 621–32.

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