This Brave New Arab World Should Inspire Us All

18/02/2011 10:33 | Updated 22 May 2015

It has all happened so quickly that it's been hard to keep up with the revolution that has spread like a red ribbon across North Africa and the Middle East. But even the least clued-up observer must have noticed that change is in the air.

Young people, many of whom are too young to remember life before the autocratic regimes that rule their countries, have spearheaded a wave of protest from Morocco in the west to Yemen in the east.

The pro-democracy protestors are demanding things that we take for granted: free elections, real political parties, a police force that upholds rather than undermines the law, a free press.

So far they have claimed two scalps – the Tunisian president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who fled to Saudi Arabia in mid-January after weeks of mass protests, and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarek, who finally resigned on Saturday following 18 days of constant demonstrations.

In recent days demonstrators have also taken to the streets in Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq and elsewhere.

The protestors are overwhelmingly young, highly educated - and frustrated. They want the chance to get a decent job, leave home, start a family.

But youth unemployment is sky-high – over 50 per cent of those living in the countries of North Africa and the Middle East are under 30 and between 20 and 80 per cent of them (depending on the country) don't have jobs.

Many study for years then struggle to get even a £1-an-hour position in a call centre. Meaningful jobs are often controlled by those linked to ruling cliques which means that bribery, not education, is the main career determinant.

It was only ever a matter of time before this generation decided enough was enough.

Now, through Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites, they have finally had the means to connect, to organise, to spread information.

This is inspiring stuff, which makes it all the more disturbing that Western governments and commentators were so willing, especially in the early stages, to portray these genuine popular uprisings as something to be feared.

The spectre of Islamism was raised, and of chaos, as though those pesky Arabs simply could not be trusted to run their own affairs without a friendly dictator to keep things in order.

The turn-around since has been significant. President Obama has spoken stirringly (when does he not speak stirringly – I wonder what he is like at breakfast?) of the protestors' "hunger for freedom"; Hilary Clinton of the internet's role in giving the "freedom to connect".

Given Western government's unstinting support of corrupt and brutal regimes across the region such words, however stirring, can't help but sound a little hollow.

Still, this is a time for optimism. I for one am hugely inspired by the bravery of a generation willing to risk their lives for a better future.

One Egyptian protestor spoke to The Guardian with tears in his eyes in the hours following Mubarek's resignation.

"For 18 days we have withstood teargas, rubber bullets, live ammunition, Molotov cocktails, thugs on horseback, the scepticism and fear of our loved ones, and the worst sort of ambivalence from an international community that claims to care about democracy," he said.

"But we held our ground. We did it."


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