The Arab Spring was heralded by the face of youth. From the defiant march in Egypt's Tahrir Square, to demonstrations on the Libyan streets of Benghazi, and Bahraini protestors reclaiming Pearl roundabout in Manama, the world watched as disenfranchised youths fought for freedom. Two and a half years later and those joyous crowds have since dispersed, replaced by an outbreak of violence and gloom. The Arab Spring has been succeeded by a despondent winter. The initial demonstrations were characterised by a group of internet-savvy protestors, united in their frustration against archaic political powers. The protests made martyrs of those who dared to stand up against the opposition, such as 17-year-old Egyptian protestor Gaber Salah, whose image is now immortalised on the walls of graffiti nearby Tahrir Square. The costs have been severe, yet have these sacrifices proved worthwhile for the younger generation?
In a region where the 60% of the population is under the age of thirty, the Arab Spring highlighted the severity of the youth bulge. Recent statistics from the International Labour Organisation reveal that the Middle East and North Africa region has the highest youth unemployment rate, with approximately one in four people without a job. The education system, too, is flawed. In Morocco and Algeria, university graduates are more likely to be unemployed than their peers with a lesser qualification and, in Jordan, where education is a particular initiative of Queen Rania, 53% of the unemployed youth are educated to university level or higher. Even oil-rich rich countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, where protests have been mitigated by a stopgap measure of increased social spending, the quality of education remains a problem. Qatar, boasting one of the world's highest GDPs per person, had one of the lowest scores in an international evaluation of reading, science and maths conducted by OECD, a UK think tank. With youth unemployment at an unprecedented high and considerable challenges facing the region's education sector, the unfortunate truth is that the struggles faced by the Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, whose self-immolation sparked the protests, remain common to many in the Middle East.
However, where the Arab Spring continues to bring significant change is not simply on the streets, but in the minds of those involved, as disenfranchised youths have been given a taste of freedom. One of the success stories of this tech-savvy revolution is that of Bassem Youssef, an Egyptian satirist whose political parodies posted on YouTube have lead to his own television show and a worldwide following. Despite coming under attack by Islamists, Youssef has remained popular as the voice of dissent.
For the youth striving for political and social emancipation, who are unafraid to make their voices heard, a paradigm shift has occurred, one that simply not does compute with the archaic dictatorships of old. For the sake of the next generation, one can only hope that the legacy of the Arab Spring does not subscribe to that old adage that revolutions, like Saturn, devour their young.