Last updated: 18 November, 2011

UNICEF: Arab youth “helped catalyse political change”

Millions of once passive Arab youth have helped to catalyse the string of uprisings against autocratic leaders in the region through their unprecedented access to new media, a UNICEF report has found.

“When we started researching this issue, young Arabs were largely passive and apolitical,” said Rami Khoury, director of the Beirut-based Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs which helped author the report to be released next week.

“Today, they have sparked and manned one of the most important historical transformations anywhere in the world in modern history,” Khoury said at a news conference on Friday.

Entitled “A Generation on the Move: Insights into the Conditions, Aspirations and Activism of Arab Youth,” the UN children’s agency report traced the roots of youth engagement in the so-called Arab Spring back to long-running political frustration.

“The sudden transformation from apparent apathy to extreme activism was not widely predicted,” the report reads.

“Millions of young Arabs who now demonstrate in public spaces, cyberspace, or in their community organisations have achieved an important psychological transformation from being passive subjects of adult categorisation and control, to more active agents of self-expression and social change.”

However, only a minority of young Arabs have access to the “full potential” of modern media, with women facing more stringent rules and obstacles than men, according to the report.

Around 62 percent of Arabs aged 15-29 have access to the Internet somewhere in their community, if not in their homes, UNICEF said.

Researchers, however, also found that traditional loyalties to family, nation and religion had not subsided: a recent poll of Arabs aged 18 to 24 showed 68 percent continued to identify religion as the strongest factor in their identity.

Fifty-eight percent of Jordanians polled said they trusted state institutions including the army and police over independent media and the private sector, while Lebanese youth continued to show a strong attachment to family identity followed by sectarian affiliation.