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SPRING´-or-WINTER? INSURRECTIONS AND YOUTH POLITICAL PARTICIPATION IN THE ARAB WORLD

Brahim Mansouri
2017 / 7 / 4

• Introductory Remarks:

Recent insurrections in North Africa have been triggered by relatively well-educated young people, and, then, have been fueled by other groups of the population, especially the poor. Even though these insurrections have resulted in intense political transformations, they have been seen to be ideologically and organizationally misguided.

While some historical revolutions, especially the French and Bolshevik revolutions, were sustained intellectually and ideologically, the Arab Spring revolutions, even though they aim, among other purposes, at conquering the main values of democracy, equity and freedom, seem to aspire mainly to dismissing the ruling Heads of State (Ramadan, 2010). By doing so, these revolutions have overshadowed the intrinsic finality of radical change of the sociopolitical system in place (Achcar, 2012).

In general, the Arab Spring revolutions have been triggered by youth as networked within the Worldwide Web (WWW) Social Communication Forums, such as the famous Facebook and Twitter. The poor have then fueled such revolutions, but they have been finally re-appropriated by religious groups who are hostile to the universal values of secularism.

The confiscation of revolutions in favor of religious groups seems therefore to go against the aspirations of the illuminated youth and their belief in the principle of the separation between religion and political power. This demonstrates then how ideological monitoring and prior constitution of political parties matter much before triggering hazardous revolutionary adventures. Religious Sheikhs, well organized in influential groups and political parties, have been finally able to gain post-Arab Spring elections, especially in the cases of Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco. In other cases as in Syria and Yemen, religious groups such as The ISIL and Al-Qaeda spread terror everywhere.

The present paper deals with the Arab Spring movements in the Arab World with respect to youth political participation. More precisely, our paper examines youth marginalization in the pre- Arab Spring period in Arab countries, the youth contribution to the triggering of insurrections in such nations and the impact of the Arab Spring on youth political participation.

Hence, the remainder of our paper is organized as follows. Section analyzes different factors determining youth marginalization and aversion to politics before the Arab Spring emergence. Section 3 highlights the role of youth in triggering the Arab Spring in collaboration with other social classes. Section 4 analyzes the re-appropriation of the youth revolutions by religious groups and the resulting youth marginalization--;-- and formulates some main lessons for youth in general.

1. What Determines Youth Political Marginalization and Aversion to Politics before the Arab Spring Period?

It is well-known that politics is needed in all human societies in order to organize their multifaceted affairs in favor of stability, security, equity and development. To achieve these goals, people should be integrated into politics and their political participation should be strengthened. In particular, efforts should be devoted to consolidate youth political participation, especially in some countries, as in the Arab World, where the ratio of youth to the whole population is higher.

In political science, political participation may be defined as a set of benevolent actions from citizens aiming at influencing public policies, managing economic and social affairs, and electing decisionmakers nationally, regionally and locally. In this sense, political participation allows the citizen to influence and participate to the political decisionmaking, including legislative, executive and consultative decisions. Such political participation, as associated with the modern State, has steadily grown in many countries, depending on several factors such as rural development, education, poverty alleviation, as well as development of social forces and emergence of new political and cultural elites and their integration as civil, political, social and cultural organizations.

Even though only some people have the needed capabilities and skills to manage and monitor public affairs, political participation from a wider fraction of the population is systematically needed, at least to elect the best individuals and groups who can efficiently solve problems in the bosom of the society. In particular, since youth is the main pillar of the society and the key for its future, youth political participation should be strengthened as a main human right component in modern societies.

Unfortunately, young people in Arab countries have been marginalized and their political participation has been lower, especially during the pre-Arab Spring period. What are the factors which may explain this phenomenon? In what follows, we try to answer this question through a rigorous analysis of objective and subjective causes.

The phenomenon of youth aversion to politics cannot be due only to objective factors such as those related to the social situation in the Region and its political impact, political slippages since the independence, the nature of political parties, the Constitution and factors associated with the prevailing World situation. Some subjective factors may also explain youth aversion to politics and their lower political participation.

However, objective factors seem to largely explain lower political participation from the youth. Among important objective factors, one can mention the existence of a traditional social/rural structure. Indeed, a major fraction of people in the Arab World is still rural and then, politically supervised through tribal patterns and, at best, through religious organizations such as Zaouias and Sufi Sects (Mansouri, 2012).

These social and religious institutions are different from modern civil society institutions such as trade --union--s, political parties and associations, because adherence to and withdrawal from civil society organizations rely on the principles of free willingness and benevolence while in traditional organizations, individuals are seen as adherents since their birth with no free willingness. These old social and political formations have even affected civil society institutions in the Ara World, including political parties which are still unable to liberate their attitudes and actions from tribal sediments (Mansouri et al., 2006).

Another objective cause of the lower political participation from youth in this region is the regression of the middle class within the society. Experiences of many countries have revealed that political action is always a domain of competition and conflict between elites often socially scaled at the middle class level because, simply, the middle class is often seen as able to secret and produce elites with different intellectual and political patterns. Modern education and multisectoral growth in industry, commerce, services and public administration in Arab countries during their colonization have resulted in forming and developing an important middle class, which played a driving role in struggling for independence.

The middle class experienced further development after the independence thanks to the generalization of education and the nationalization of economic sectors and public administration. This allowed small farmers’ and workers’ children to experience a continuous “social climbing”, at least until the 1980s when some countries as Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia adopted the well-known structural adjustment programs (SAP).

Following a dramatic extension of the middle class with its consequences in politicizing the society in general and youth in particular, the adopted structural adjustment policies resulted in serious economic and social crises leading to retreat and regression of broad categories of the middle class, especially public servants, small traders and farmers, and workers--;-- while other social categories climbed upward the social scale, notably liberal professionals such as lawyers, engineers and doctors. In addition, the educative system lost its role as a device for social climbing resulting in more regression of the middle class as the main source of political elites.

A third objective cause of the lower youth political participation consists of the prevailing prevention and repression policies, especially against the youth. The formation and development of the middle class until the end of 1980s led to the emergence and development of political organizations which opposed the prevailing political regimes, especially in urban areas.

Then, the political regimes used a variety of conspiracy, prevention and repression instruments such as repression of demonstrations, armed operations, coups d’Etat, arrests, abductions, assassinations, mock courts, executions, life imprisonments, etc. This political conflict between civil society institutions and the prevailing political regimes lead to lower political participation, notably from the youth who feared politics and its higher risks.

The fourth objective cause of lower youth political participation is political denigration and corruption. In Morocco, for example, the existing conflicts between the left-wing political organizations and the political regime led the latter to create what is considered as “third-party”´-or-“administrative” political parties such as the Rassemblement National des Indépendants (RNI), the Mouvement Populaire (MP), the --union-- Constitutionnelle (UC), the Parti National Démocrate (PND), the Mouvement National Populaire (MNP), and the Mouvement Démocratique Social (MDS).

These “administrative” political parties, especially during the 1970s and 1980s, often gained majority in the Parliament because of systematic falsifications in elections within urban areas thanks to multiple interventions from the main Ministry of Interior while these political parties gained easily elections in rural areas thanks to the existence of nobles who were buying voices. Hence, from the point of view of citizens in general and youth in particular, political action was considered as a simple scene created in favour of some opportunists and rent-seeking groups. Thus, given these factors, youth run away from politics. In Egypt and Tunisia, elections were also systematically falsified to allow the ruling elite to stay in power for long time--;-- and this endangered youth aversion to politics.

Another objective cause of lower political participation from youth is what can be termed “the liquefaction of political parties”. Indeed, since the 1990s, the prevailing political regimes started to adopt the same policy even with political parties which consider themselves as national and democratic, especially following the emergence of new elites within such parties and the benefits they accumulated through their responsibilities at the communal and legislative institutions.

Such political parties also felt somewhat a ‘struggle fatigue” and became aware of the emergence of new political forces such as Islamic-oriented and minority-based political parties. Finally, the old opposition political parties, in the framework of a new “openness policy”, invited persons from “third-party” and “administrative” political parties to join them even though they were responsible for the previous worsening economic, social and political situation. Therefore, the old opposition political parties started to behave like the previously called “administrative” political parties, and this lead youth to further run away from political participation.

It is also interesting to mention the worsening governance within political parties as another important objective cause of lower political participation from youth. While such political parties were calling for democracy, democratic transition and power transfer, they were often unable to use democratic principles within their executive and legislative institutions. In North Africa, leaders of political parties are often old, and no opportunity is given to the youth to actively participate into the political party’s life. This obviously endangers the youth aversion to political participation.

Finally, the ultimate objective cause of the existing lower political participation from youth may be due to constitutional and “legal” obstacles. Indeed, the prevailing Constitution in Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia before the Arab Spring uprisings hindered the role of the elected institutions in decisionmaking to improve standards of life for the populations.

In these countries, the prevailing Constitution gave fewer prerogatives to the Prime Minister and the Parliament to decide and solve the arising economic and social problems. In Morocco for example, before the adoption of the new Constitution in July 2011 (Cubertafond, 2011), local governments as elected institutions were subjected to a variety of legal restrictions such as the Communal Chart, the Electoral Redistricting, and the Electoral Lists, which allow the Ministry of Interior to exert a real supervision on them--;-- and this resulted in paralyzing and disabling them.

Another problem concerns the impossibility for a political party to get the majority within the Parliament because of the existing electoral laws and the nature of the conducted vote which renders rural areas as determining a higher fraction of the Parliament seats. All these factors hinder and discourage youth political participation. Concerning subjective factors determining youth political participation, one can mention the fact that young people, in some cases, are not interested in politics given that they are preoccupied by their own affairs such as education, employment, sport and so forth.

2. The Role of Youth in the Arab Spring in North Africa:

The youth marginalization and political exclusion in the Arab World, as analyzed above, has resulted in an unprecedented Arab awakening. Indeed, it is widely admitted that the blowing of the “Arab Spring Breeze” has been driven by a strong youth movement leading to a new episode of change, starting from Mohamed El-Bouazizi who set fire to his body as a sign of protestation against Ben Ali’s political regime, and ending in wide revolutions in Tunisia and other countries.

The youth have played a major role in the Arab revolutions to protest against the corrupted ruling elites, including governments and political parties which were unable to improve the standards of life for a large fraction of the population (Anderson, 2011).

The youth movement is not a clear ideological political party. It is not moreover a unique and homogenous mass. It is a movement spontaneously expressing anger and resentment vis-à-vis the prevailing reality in the Arab World, and willingness to better change the situation toward youth active participation in designing and implementing public policies. However, in spite of youth active contribution to the Arab Spring, its role in the post Arab Spring period should be taken with some caution (Anderson, 2011).

The youth movement during the Arab Spring has been seen as decentralized. Indeed, in North Africa as well as in other Arab countries, one can observe the complete absence of leaders around whose masses may rally. Political and cultural elites failed in presenting themselves as symbols for people’s movements. The movement itself has not produced a real centralized leadership even though some media tried to find leadership in a person´-or-a group of persons, like in the case of Mr. Ayman Noor in Egypt, as a youth movement leader.

The decentralization of the youth movement has largely surprised people. Indeed, the ruling elites in the Arab Spring countries, following their conventional beliefs, thought that any political movement should be supported by a central leadership. This was misleading for the prevailing political regimes which are used to hit the top of the insurgency in line with their previous experiences with the repression of the conventional opposition.

These ruling elites were therefore unable to use this classical strategy against a movement which appears everywhere to “circle” the political regimes, and, as soon as repression and intimidation increase, the intensity of the movement intensifies and becomes more efficient to achieve its targeted objectives (Ajami, 2012).

This means that in countries where the Arab Spring has not yet occurred, the prevailing political regimes are really panicking in dealing with youth movements. In fact, the old experienced mechanisms and strategies are unable to eradicate the youth movements because political regimes cannot find the “masterminds” of the movements.

Decentralization is one of the most powerful forces of the youth movement because it refuses the “idolization” of persons and struggles for a transition from the tutorship of individual leaderships towards the rule of institutions. Such decentralization was therefore efficient in paralyzing actions of despotic political regimes. Nevertheless, after the overthrowing of the authoritarian regimes, the youth movement will certainly need new organized strategies to adapt to different situations.

Another factor which drove the ability of the youth movements to mobilize the masses during the Arab Spring is what can be termed “the divorce from ideology” and the presentation of the common human and humanitarian heritage as an identity for the movement. This enabled the youth movement to mobilize the masses and opposition political parties. This mass mobilization cannot be achieved through a movement from an opposition ideological faction because it will be necessarily hindered by a discredit from opposite ideological parties.

Ideology has not been completely dropped from the participating youth consciousness. Ideology has rather been left behind and has been removed from the main impact area, leading the youth to participate into the movement on the basis of several different ideological patterns in a unique framework where various participants can present the common human and humanitarian heritage to finally succeed in what political parties failed for decades. The common heritage consists of democracy, public and individual liberties, civil state, intellectual and political pluralism, and citizenship as a gathering umbrella.

Rejection of tyranny and oppression and aspiration to freedom constitute the main components of the common heritage among the youth who have actively contributed to the revolutions in North Africa in particular and in the Arab World in general (Abdelwahed, 2011). However, democracy and civil vision toward the future of Arab countries were clearer in many cases given that the sole alternative to despotism is democracy and only the civil state is able to guarantee a common background where people may peacefully and decently live together.

The youth movement has returned to the origin away from marginal conflicts between ideological currents around subsidiary issues. The origin is the absence of basic rights and the citizen’s marginalization. Hence, the youth movement has centered on the claim for basic liberties and rights and the removal of ideological differences, but without thinking to a complete removal of the ideology itself. In this historical context, it is needed to center on this origin and then to build the suitable background for better political and intellectual competition between all the existing ideological tendencies on a civil and democratic basis.

3. The Re-appropriation of Youth Revolution and New Marginalization of Youth in North Africa: Lessons for African Youth:

Youth in North Africa have not succeeded in transforming their spontaneous revolutionary action to an efficient political action. This is partially due to their weak political experience and the fact that some of them “know what they don’t want but they don’t know what they want”. This means that the youth have no clear vision for the post-Arab Spring period when they failed in finding a place for themselves within the political game.

In fact, the role of youth should not end at the triggering of the revolution. Their role should continue to hold beyond to safeguard and complete the revolution path. They triggered the revolution and then, they should continue to work in its favor since they are more liberated from individual interest and political advantages, and they are less concerned with ideologies.

Unfortunately, young people who triggered and sacrificed themselves to the revolutions believe in the values for which they fueled such revolutions but they did not have the needed leadership, organization and money to pick the expected fruits. By contrast, Islamist political parties, especially in Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia, enjoy historical depth within the opposition, power of organization, unity of belief and experience in gathering money. All these factors have allowed them to draw a road map and a strategy to access power, and, therefore, they have finally acceded to power, even though, because of specific factors, religion-based parties finally lost power in Egypt and Tunisia.

In doing so, Islamist political parties have re-appropriated the revolutions as triggered by the youth and fueled by the poor (Totten, 2012). Without these revolutions, Islamist political parties, in the current historical context, can never expect to access power through free elections. The Arab Spring experiences and their electoral outcomes are rich in lessons, especially in terms of democracy, rule of law and governance. They reveal in fact that the problem for youth, who form the major fraction of the populations in these countries, is not only to change over the Head of the ruling elite, but also to metamorphose the whole system of values, which is hostile to democracy and freedom, notably anti-secularism values.

This presupposes therefore a thoughtful and organized political participation of the youth, not only during the revolutionary process but also after. Political participation has to be understood here in terms of freedom and capacity to adhere to political parties and to form others as well as in terms of freedom and capacity to elect and to be elected. It is important to note that this commitment of youth to political participation is dramatically inadequate in Arab countries, notably because of cultural, economic, political and social factors.

The access to power of Islamist political parties should not however surprise us because it corresponds to the political and historical reality of the whole political, social, economic and religious structure of the Arab societies. Nevertheless, an important question arises: will the Arab Spring revolutions definitively fall under the bosom of religious groups? Will religious groups return to power in some countries like Egypt and Tunisia? The Arab Spring Revolutions, even though they are re-appropriated by the religious Sheikhs, will not necessarily settle with them. The reason is that the major base of the Arab Spring Revolutions is the people’s mass with all its classes. Even if the poor with less money and knowledge constitute the predominant class upon which Islamists rely to gain elections, the normal walk of history predicts that there will be further knowledge and belief in individual liberties and civic, political and economic rights. This will weaken the predatory actions of the ruling elites and strengthen the middle class. Dissemination of knowledge among the people will necessary lead to a moderate Islam which struggles for human values, freedom and justice.

As Hegel argued, to overtake a phenomenon, we must experience it first--;-- and, therefore, to overtake political Islam, we must experience it on the ground. This means that with the Islamists’ re-appropriation of youth revolutions, ideological and political struggles will lead to the emergence of a true civil State with a wide Islamic base but with no marginalization for the other religions under the common umbrella: ‘the Motherland is for all the people”.

What are the main lessons we can derive from this analysis for youth in general? Experiences of the Arab World may be fruitful in terms of lessons for youth in other countries. Being aware of the detrimental impact of the prevailing authoritarian systems and “démocracie de façade”, youth appear today to be a true exploding social powder.

Youth in countries, in search of democracy, freedom and development with a human face, has already started to move, to contest and to protest against the political systems in place. In line with lessons derived from the experiences of the Arab Spring, it is important however to think before acting, to better interpret the real world before changing it, and to be intellectually and ideologically well-organized before the protesting youth movements become captured through new governing elites, which may be worse than those currently holding the power. Youth of the World! Act together before new political creatures come to capture your revolutions and jeopardize your opportunities for freedom, democracy, and equitable and sustainable human development.

• References:

• Achcar, Gilbert. (2012). “Retour sur le --print--emps Arabe”, Le Monde Diplomatique, May.
• Abdelwahed, Ahmed. (2011). “Arab Revolutions and the Role of the Upcoming Arab Youth”, article in Arabic, in Al- Hewar Al Moutamaddine, N° 3377, May: http://www.ahewar.org/debat/show.art.asp?aid=260662.
• Ajami, Fouad. (2012). “The Arab Spring at One: A Year of Living Dangerously”, Foreign Affairs Journal, March/April.
• Anderson, Lisa. (2011). “Demystifying the Arab Spring: Parsing the Differences between Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya”, Foreign Affairs, May/June.
• Cubertafond, Gilbert. (2011). “La Transition Marocaine après le --print--emps Arabe et la Nouvelle Constitution”, Etudes et Essais, N°5, Centre Jacques Berque pour les Etudes en Sciences Sociales et Humaines au Maroc, November.
• Mansouri, Brahim, Brahim Elmorchid, Mustapha Ziky and Sidi Mohamed Rigar. (2006). “Understanding Reforms: A Country Case Study of Morocco”, in Joseph Menash (eds.), Understanding Economic Reforms in Africa: A Tale of Seven Nations, Palgrave McMillan, Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire, England.
• Mansouri, Brahim, Fatima Arib, Mohsine El Ahmadi and Abdelmalek Elouazzani (2012), Incidence des Réformes sur la Compétitivité Globale du Maroc, Etude coordonnée par Brahim Mansouri pour l’Institut Royal des Etudes Stratégiques (IRES), Royal Institute for Strategic Studies, Publications de l’IRES, Rabat, Morocco: https://www.ires.ma/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/RAPPORT-REFORMES.pdf
• Ramadan, Tariq. (2010). “Le --print--emps Arabe Vu par Tariq Ramadan”, Interview with Les Afriques, N° 215, October.
• Totten, Michael, J. (2012). “Arab Spring´-or-Islamist Winter?”, World Affairs Journal, January/February.




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