The Rise of the “Arab Spring Generation” Is Changing the Middle East—Perhaps for the Better

January 18, 2022 | Nir Boms and Hussein Aboubakr
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The 20th century saw an Arab world caught up in a variety of ideological currents—Arab nationalism, Communism, Baathism, and Shiite and Sunni Islamism—but the younger generation, according to Nir Boms and Hussein Aboubakr seems less vulnerable to their appeal. Not long ago, the movements loosely termed the “resistance” and associated with Iran, Hizballah, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Islamic State—which sought the overthrow of regimes in Egypt, Jordan, and the Gulf—had a great deal of mainstream popularity. But this isn’t true for those born after the cold war and shaped by the 2011 uprisings and their aftermath:

The 21st century found the Middle East younger and more educated than ever, with over 65 percent under the age of thirty and ready for change. . . . Resistance groups and the drive to suppress them led to the killing of over half a million people in Syria and hundreds of thousands in Libya, Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen. In the new approach, resistance is no longer viewed as the key for political redemption; rather, it is perceived as an obstacle preventing a better future. . . . For the first time in half a century, a new alignment among the rulers, the ruled, and leaders in the Arab world is challenging the inertia of the mid-20th century Arab political arrangement.

The “Arab Spring Generation” of restive, young, and educated Arab youth has clearly asserted new priorities. Access to formal education has had significant implications for Arab expectations of their living conditions.

[A] 2019 survey found out that 79 percent of young Arabs believe that the Arab world needs to reform its religious institutions; meanwhile 66 percent believe that religion plays too great a role in the Middle East. When asked, in 2015 and 2016, what the biggest obstacle facing the Middle East was, Arab youth prioritized Islamic State and the threat of terrorism, followed by unemployment, civil unrest, and the rising cost of living. Subsequent surveys further stressed the economic factors.

It is important to understand that Israel is at the center of the above discussion. It is seen as a player in the camp of regional stability, a gateway for economic diversification and development, a key in containing Iran, and, most importantly, in attempts to alienate Islamist ideologies from the mainstream. Moreover, since Islamists have cherished the anti-normalization agenda as their cause, it will be more natural for the pragmatists to adopt the exact opposite [position].

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