SAHWA Researching Arab Mediterranean Youth: Towards a New Social Contract.


As the Arab Spring unfolds into its fourth year, research on the whys and wherefores of this process have mostly focused on dynamics of transition. Although Arab youth were at the forefront of the popular protests that initiated these processes of transition and have remained the most dynamic social actor, little (albeit increasing) attention has been paid to young people in the Arab Mediterranean countries, including their views and prospects. As a result, despite the growing interest for the region, a glaring lack of knowledge about Arab youth (ways of life, socio-economic conditions, values, perceptions, etc.), and as a consequence about Arab societies, has marked the views of external actors and policy-makers so far.

In this context, the SAHWA Project brings together fifteen partners from Europe and Arab countries to research youth prospects and perspectives in a context of multiple social, economic and political transitions in five Arab Mediterranean countries (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and Lebanon). The thematic axes around which the project will revolve are education, employment and social inclusion, political mobilisation and participation, culture and values, international migration and mobility, gender, comparative experiences in other transitional contexts and public policies and international cooperation.



Building on the existing academic and policy-oriented research on Arab and global youth, the SAHWA Project aims at addressing a variety of issues related to the youth in Arab Mediterranean countries with four broad objectives:

1 Conceptualizing transition in Arab Mediterranean countries with a focus on youth, from an interdisciplinary perspective.
2 Mapping political, socio-economic and cultural change in the Arab Mediterranean world in a context of multiple transitions, focusing on: • Perspectives from different countries and stakeholders • Prospects for youth and trends to anticipate future change • Identification of opportunities for youth, considered as a transformative agent.
3 Comparing similar transition processes in other historical contexts as possible models to inform the management of political and economic transformations in the Arab Mediterranean.
4 Informing policy-makers with a range of tools and original frameworks of analysis to achieve a better understanding of the role of youth and contribute to a better design of national public policies and EU cooperation to support change in the region.


SAHWA is an interdisciplinary collaborative project that brings together socio-anthropological, economic and political, sociological and cultural approaches. The SAHWA methodological approach will be articulated in two “moments”:

Empirical Research

A Multi-country Youth Survey carried out amongst 10.000 young people in Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia to take the pulse of Arab youth in these countries. The questionnaire will cover all the research questions of the project and will create a significant comparative dataset for the region.
A Fieldwork in Local Context research to explore the youth conditions and values in different socio-economic contexts within each country and across countries. Based on social ethnographic techniques, this fieldwork will serve as a basis for a set of youth life stories, a cartography of change, a documentary on “Being 20 in Arab Mediterranean countries” and a Shababpedia.



In order to establish a complete picture of Arab Mediterranean youth in the countries studied, the SAHWA Project will mainly focus on three topical issues that shape today’s youth conditions and expectations:

Youth Opportunities

It will deal with education, employment and social inclusion. The aim is to research the determinants of the mismatch between demand and supply of skills in the labor market and the expectations of young people in this respect, in particular young women.

Youth Empowerment

Youth Empowerment comprises social and political mobilisation and participation as it will intend to analyse patterns of mobilisation, social organisation, political engagement and use of social media, contextualised by socio-economic, political conditions and historical revolution

Youth Cultures

This aspect includes values, representations and social conditions. It deals with cultural practices of young people in relation to the articulation of different social conditions, focusing on the evolution of youth social values and civic participation.


The aforementioned issues will be explored through four main cross-cutting issues that play a key role in figuring out constraints and improving factors for Arab youth in the region:

Gender Equity

Gender equity will be taken into account to research different pathways for fostering equality between young women and men and the existing or emerging conditions for establishing social justice in gender relations.

Migration and International Mobility 

Migration and international mobility as Arab youth condition in the region comprises a wide series of push factors that have a strong influence on migration trends. In this regard, the SAHWA Project will research the main determinants of migration and migration intentions, analyse the way they evolve over time, and examine their effects on local societies and transnational mobility

Comparative Transition Experiences

Research on other transition experiences may help the SAHWA Project to draw lessons from youth conditions both during and after transitions in Eastern Europe and Turkey.

Public Policies and International Cooperation

Moving towards in depth-knowledge on Arab youth conditions, careful consideration will be given to public policies and international cooperation sectors and more specifically to youth and gender policies, in particular in the ENP context.



SAHWA Project General Research Questions


  1. Youth Concept: What are the differences and similarities of the youth experience in Arab Mediterranean countries as compared to other parts of the world?    
  2. Youth Diversities: Which factors shape individual perspectives and experiences of young people’s multiple transitions (biographical, cultural, political…)?
  3. Youth Consciousness: What is the impact of the ongoing political changes in the Arab Mediterranean countries on young people’s lives and on the construction of a generational consciousness and intergenerational dialogue as a new social contract?

SAHWA Specific Thematic Questions (Workpackages)


  1. Youth Opportunities: To what extent do education systems, access for employment, and consequently the distribution of income contribute to empower young people in Arab Mediterranean countries or do they reinforce existing social exclusion patterns? If the latter is the case, what other institutions, education, or labor market reforms (might) mitigate this effect?
  2. Youth Participation: What are the underlying conditions of youth engagement and mobilization? What are the forms, factors, causes and means of participation? Who are the politically active youth and who do they represent?
  3. Youth Cultures: How has the cultural construction of youth changed in Arab Mediterranean countries?  To what extent do youth appear as a condition marked by specific cultural expressions and subjectivities, rather than simply a transitional stage of life? How do the changes in the transition to adulthood impact the emergence of new cultural trends among Arab youth? What are the strategies that young men and women utilize for constructing their identity, shaping their biographical projects and giving meaning to their social world, in the changing contexts of Arab Mediterranean countries?
  4. Gender: How do gender relations in Arab youth daily life affect and are affected by the outcomes of education, employment, cultural values and practices and political participation? To what extent do civic action and public policies take into account these dynamics?
  5. Migration and mobility: What impact does the international migration of nationals have on Arab youth values, lives, and decisions?
  6. Experiences in Transition: What can we learn from the role young people played in revolutions and mass protests in Europe and Central Asia in past decades? What are the effects of the societal transitions and transformations on young people’s lives and on the construction of a generational consciousness?
  7. Public Policies and International Cooperation: Why do public institutions develop programs and policies for young people? How do they affect young people’s lives in Arab Mediterranean countries? Is the EU Cooperation relevant for the youth in the region? If so, how can that relevance be improved?




Main trends will be analysed, as well as the evolution of the very concept of youth in the context of Arab Mediterranean societies and as a research category.


A concept paper will take stock of existing research and set out the theoretical background for the project, defining the overall research questions. 8 background papers will provide a common ground for researching Arab Mediterranean youth along the seven research themes of the SAHWA Project: - Employment, Education and Social Inclusion - Youth Mobilisation and Political Participation - Youth Cultures, Values, Representations and Social Conditions - Institutions, Laws and Practices Hampering Women Engagement - Migration and Mobility - Experiences in Transition and Transformation from Europe and Elsewhere - Public Policies and International Cooperation - A SAHWA Youth Survey in Arab Mediterranean Countries



The SAHWA Project will blend theoretical and empirical research. Therefore, the common theoretical framework and methodology will enable the SAHWA team to conduct the SAHWA Youth Survey in parallel to the ethnographic fieldwork in local contexts thus providing both qualitative and quantitative data on Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia.


Based on ethnographic techniques, this part of the anthropological research will be conducted in urban, rural and slum areas in each of the countries studied. The ethnographic fieldwork will then provide material to produce life stories, a cartography of change, a documentary on Arab Mediterranean youth, and the Shababpedia.


The SAHWA Youth Survey will be carried out in the second year of the Project amongst 10,000 young people in Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia, using a common questionnaire that will try to cover all the aspects of the SAHWA Project. This survey will thus provide a significant amount of comparative data that will then be further used through the subsequent phases of the project.



On the basis of the theoretical approach and the empirical research, SAHWA will produce a collection of scientific papers aiming to report on youth challenges and opportunities in Arab Mediterranean Countries from a local perspective. These scientific papers will cover the main Research Themes (Education, Employment and Social Inclusion, Political Mobilisation and Participation, Youth Cultures and Values, Gender, Migration and International Mobility, Public Policies and International Cooperation).


A series of policy reports and policy papers will provide guidelines and recommendations for the formulation, development, and reviews of policies that deal with youth in the region. The concrete outputs will be a series of policy briefs and policy briefings to be held in Brussels, Cairo and Marseille. A final book, with detailed findings of the SAHWA Project, will be compiled at the end of the project.


Finally, to draw practical implications from the research outcomes, two handbooks for practitioners will be produced on training and education and on entrepreneurship and innovation.



The collected datasets will be used to create a series of outputs to be generated by the SAHWA Project such as the documentary “Being 20 in Arab Mediterranean Countries” based on life stories. An open access interactive cartography will summarise the political, social and cultural changes in the Arab Mediterranean countries.


A series of country- and region-level scenarios will be developed as a reference framework for policy formulation.


The Shababpedia will take a participatory approach to engage Arab Mediterranean Youth in defining and discussing several scores of key concepts. The SAHWA community will be a privileged channel to engage youth activists and youth policy-makers into the SAHWA research community.




    The SAHWA Project expands over 2014-2016 and has a total budget of €3 million.