“Why Arab Youth Give the Middle East Some Hope” with Bessma Momani


Good afternoon, everyone. We’re going to go
ahead and get started. I’d like to take a second
to introduce Bessma Momani. Doctor Momani is an
Associate Professor in the Department
of Political Science at the University of Waterloo
and the Balsillie School of International Affairs. She’s also Senior Fellow at
the Center for International Governance and Innovation, and
a Fellow of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation. She’s been a nonresident
Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute in
Washington DC, and also a visiting scholar at Georgetown
University’s Mortara Center. She’s authored and
co-edited over six books, and over 60 scholarly
peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters that have
examined things like the IMF, the World Bank, as well as
petrodollars, regional trade agreements in the Middle East,
and economic liberalization throughout the Arab Gulf
and the Middle East. She is also the author of the
new book, which you should all pick up a copy of outside
of the front door there, entitled an Arab
Dawn, Arab Youth and the Democratic
Dividend They Can Bring. So join me in welcoming
Professor Momani. Thank you. Thanks everybody for coming. The good news is
that, this is going to be a talk that’s going
to be a positive outtake on the Middle East. So you’re in for not being
depressed for a change when talking about the
Middle East, which is really an important starting point. And in fact, one of the
reasons why I really was motivated to
write this book, was because I would go to
the region many, many times, and having traveled the
region over my own lifetime, seeing things get better there. And yet, things in terms of
the portrayal of the region just seem to get worse, when
talking about the Middle East, particularly from the West. So the book is [? really ?]
about a region that, I think, is at the cusp of an enormous
amount of positive change. And if you were at
one point impressed with those young
people– for example, during Tahrir uprisings
against the Mubarak regime– it’s the same youth. They haven’t changed. The region may be
inundated with forces– and I’m happy to talk
about this in the Q&A– like ISIS and radicalization. But that does not
represent their region. And I always have to
remind my own students, you know, if we’re using the
numbers of ISIS for example– and this is just a segue. I apologize to
bring this upfront. But if we think of ISIS as being
30,000 to 50,000 fighters– that’s that high
number is 50,000– the Arab world on its
own has 380 million. That is equivalent to 0.00001%. If you take the 1.6
billion Muslim world, the numbers are even smaller. So it’s an aberration, and
what I want to talk about is the majority. So let me introduce you to
Arab youth of the region. So one of the
things that I really want you to have as a take away
from this, and from my book, and the talk, is that there
are profound intergenerational changes. And again, as a person who
visits the region often and speaks to people
on the ground– I’m a political
scientist, but as I was a saying to one of
your colleagues earlier, I think I wanted to be an
anthropologist, you know, talking to people in the region. You know, I think, I went
always as a– maybe even as a child visiting the region–
I was a want-to-be professor, really trying to find out what
was going on on the ground. And I have seen enormous
changes in values, and ideas, and thought structures. And it’s just coming
to the fore now, where we’re starting
to see that really shake the political
foundation of these countries. So my argument is
that, even though we may have a lot of negative and
perhaps even pessimistic views about the prospects of
a political revolution– we can talk about the idea
that Egypt perhaps did not have a fulfillment
of its resolution, that Libya is stalled today. Tunisia is creeping forward. I would argue that
still at the core of it, young people at
the very core are having a social and cultural
revolution that make them very distinct from their elders. And I think it’s
something to the positive. It’s a progressive movement. It’s things that I
think can be explained by unintended
consequences of government policies, international
factors, whether we talk about globalization,
in this case, some of the positive trickle
down effects of this have been felt throughout
the Arab world, and also just a
sense of awakening. I think that word
is very appropriate. I really love the
word Arab Awakening, because it is sort of
this coming to age. And if you have doubts
about this numerically, just remember that the Arab
world– 60% of the population is under the age of 30. If the average
age of those youth are now in their
early 20s– I know it’s really hard to think of
the early 20s, young people, as being the decision makers–
but give them 10 to 15 years. When the elder generation
is off thanks to the reality of mortality, we are looking at
the decision makers of society. OK. And they have something
to say that is profoundly different than
previous generations. And that’s what I’d
like to talk about. So there are three
themes in my book. Although, there’s
four real ones, but I’m going to talk about
three, because the fourth one is a bit of a surprise. But the three
themes of my book is to say that Arab youth today
are far more entrepreneurial. And I really want to dig down
here, because entrepreneurial to me says a lot about, not just
the sort of conventional wisdom that they are starting
new businesses, but also that they have a
very different relationship with government. Right. The social contract
with the state has fundamentally changed. The second aspect of Arab youth
and their cultural changes is that there is a great
desire for political freedom. And we’re going to talk about
how that manifests itself. It’s using new tools
of analysis that even as political scientists,
we have to break away from, i.e. political parties
and civil society organizations. If you’re going to look for
political party movements as your one unit of analysis
for political freedom in the Arab world, you’re
going to be disappointed. But if you’re willing
to look deeper and put on an anthropological
lens, there’s a lot of movement in that
country– in the countries I’d like to talk about. The third thing that I see
very interesting in the region is a desire for cosmopolitanism. I think that’s the one that
really surprises people. That somehow, Arabs
have an identity that is much more worldly,
less parochial than we see in the
media, and definitely less of this sort of
particular types of identities that we attribute,
whether we’re thinking of this awful– sorry,
hopefully nobody here is a fan of these
books– but you know, Jihad vs McWorld and
Clash of Civilizations. Those kinds of
analyses are so far from the reality of
the Arab world, which tend to be a hybrid of many
different kinds of values. So let’s talk
about the economic. I think one of– and I’m
a political economist by training, so perhaps
you know, the old adage of seeing everything
as a nail when you’re a hammer pretends true. But one of the things that
I found very interesting in looking at the Arab world,
is the great developments done in the economic
field, and particularly, when it comes to education. One of the things that
we know from Arab youth, and what they cried in Tahrir
Square, and other places was economic dignity. Right. It was bread. Right. First and foremost, freedom,
and then, it was social dignity. And the reason that I
think that we continue to see surveys of this
positive reflection that Arab youth want number
one, economic opportunity. There is a great desire
for economic opportunity first and foremost. So what this says is that
they want to have good jobs. They want to stop
some of what they think are the preventative
factors of having a functioning economy, things like corruption. They want meritocracy. Increasingly, they want the
kinds of economic opportunity that allow them as
individuals to shine. And this is really
quite prominent. And many surveys that have been
done throughout the Arab world, and including the field work
that I did across the region. I went to many parts
of the Arab world and spoke to young people. When I asked them
what’s your priority– and again, the national surveys
repeat this– it’s jobs. It’s economic opportunity,
jobs, good jobs, an end to corruption. Democracy, while very
favorable– if you ask Arab youth do you
want democracy? 92% say yes. This is not a liberal
Western democracy. This is not to say they don’t
want the opportunity to vote. But they do want now, immediate,
opportunities to work. And I think dignified
work at that as well. So one of the things that
I think we can take comfort in throughout the
region is that there’s been an enormous
investment in education. OK. I do a lot of policy
work, and often, I’m in Ottawa talking to government. And I find that I’m often
having to repeat this over and over again. There is no shortage of
education in the region. In fact, one of
the things that I think is a marker of the Arab
world that I find so powerful is this enormous
pride in education. You know, I think that I
have this example in my book, where I would talk to some of
the same women, older women, you know, 20, 30, 40 years ago. And when they would
talk about what were the markers of status,
it was initially land. It might have been
a generation later how their children got married. And now, they’re talking about
how their granddaughters finish their Master’s Degree, and how
they just got a scholarship to go abroad to do a PhD. There’s an enormous social
pride in the Arab world about education that we
have to really, I think, take comfort in. And I’m going to talk
about what that means that the individual level. But throughout the region,
we see the fastest rates. In fact, if you take a
global average per region, the fastest rates of
educational attainment is happening in the Arab world. And women, in fact,
have a higher rate of attainment of education than
anywhere else in the world, be it in the Middle East. So one of the things that
I want to think about is that, we have now rates
of university attainment, for example in the Palestinian
territories, higher rates of attainment of
education there, post-secondary, than in Canada. Libya exceeds that of most
Western European countries. Young people have a
university degree. And that comes with
a lot of confidence. That comes with a new
sense of identity. Just this great example–
77% percent of Emirati women have a university degree. That’s profound. Right. I mean that is a goal. Now, we can talk about
the quality of education. You know, I think that there is
a lot of legitimate criticism to be said, that the
quality of education needs to improve vastly
in the Arab world. OK. An enormous emphasis
on rote memorization, continued– not the
beginnings– or I should say, there needs to be a greater
emphasis on critical thinking skills. The very pedagogy of the
curriculum is still lacking. There’s a lot of
room for improvement. But what I want you to get
from this number and this idea is that Arab youth feel
extremely empowered by their education. In fact, one of
the things that I found fascinating
in talking to them was the comment that, I
have a university degree, and that prime
minister does not. Or I have my Master’s Degree. I’m going abroad to
a Western university to get a postgraduate degree. I’m not going to take any
more that x ruler or y ruler has the right to tell me
that I should be quiet. I’m just as educated
as he or she is. I mean, those kinds of
comments really come to the fore when you
talk to young people throughout the region. Just to give you
an idea, I mean, the postsecondary education
throughout the Arab world– we have seen a doubling almost
of university institutions. So there’s been an enormous
effort into building university campuses. I won’t talk about why that was. I do think it was not expecting
this sort of intellectual rise of young people. It was really to fill a
need of what was often given to them as
policy prescriptions from institutions like the
IMF, like the World Bank. So in appeasing many of these
international financial donors, countries followed suit. And what do you know? The unintended
consequence has been a generation of very educated
and now confident young people. Some of the investments in the
region are quite remarkable. I mean the King Abdullah
Education City, for example, $4 billion going
into trying to create a state of the art education
complex, 18,000 students, 7,500 faculty members. It really is, I think,
enormous investment. Many of the Gulf countries
need to be given credit. In fact, this is, I think,
one of the challenges we have in seeing
the Gulf region continue to really be some of
the most autocratic places. But the one credit
they need to be given is that they put a lot
of money into education. And in fact, I’m going to talk
about one education program that I think will give, or
is I think attributing to, a social and cultural
revolution today. And that’s the government
of Saudi Arabia. But I’ll look at
that in a second. So one of the things that we see
in addition to this education rise throughout the region
is an enormous amount of entrepreneurialism. I can’t tell you
how excited I was that when I was in the region,
people talked about creating their own businesses. It’s something that a number of
really great authors like Chris Schroeder have written about. And you know, if you go to
many of these cities in Rabat– like I visited in
Egypt, in Cairo, in Amman, in the UAE–
there’s this great desire to really create
their own businesses. And I’ve been really
trying to figure out what’s the political value of that. Because this is something,
as a political scientist, I’m quite interested in. And when you dig deep and talk
to these young entrepreneurs– and by the way, I
mean, just to give you a sense of entrepreneurship–
entrepreneurialism in the Arab world is higher
than anywhere else in the world. OK. I mean, to give you
an example, the world average of entrepreneurial
spirit of women for example, 10% of the world average
are women entrepreneurs, [INAUDIBLE] Of the world’s
entrepreneurs, 10% are women. In the Arab region,
it’s 30% to 50%. There’s a great desire
by women to also have their own companies. And some of these are
not your small, little, at home kinds of
retail businesses. I mean, some of it is
that, I mean, creating jewelry and the rest of it. But also, we’re seeing
now some of these scale up to be a very
interesting small to medium-sized enterprises
that are making quite an impact. One of the things
that interested me about this rise
of entrepreneurial is, what does it mean
about the relationship between these individuals
and their governments? And what I’m seeing
is this breakdown of the social contract. There is this feeling
amongst Arab youth that, you know what,
the government is not serving me anymore. OK. The government,
which is actually, I think, if there was a
concept of political economy that seem to be stagnant
in the Arab world, it was the [? Rhontia ?]
state– right– this idea of the benevolent
state contributing all of these social welfare
goodies to the masses. And this was obviously
the autocratic bargain. It’s the reverse
of what I think, you know, the American
system of, you know, there’s no taxation, no representation. Well, that’s exactly what
you get in the Arab world. They don’t tax you,
because of all this oil wealth that comes into the
region, so no representation. That autocratic bargain
is breaking down. And Arab youth today are
saying the government needs to serve me. OK. And if we look at
even the Arab Spring, the way the Arab
Spring started– one of the things that
I found so fascinating was the argument by
many Arab youth who said, you know, I’m not
going to blame these isms, these structural
problems out there that have been used as
these tropes by Arab leaders to explain why we’re
underdeveloped. You’re the one stealing money. You’re the one that’s behind
all of this corruption and lack of putting in good policies. And so there’s a greater
pressure on Arab governments for accountability. And I see it in Arab youth
today, more so than before. And some of this is online. I mean, we talk about
connectivity of Arab youth. But one of the things that’s
quite interesting is– obviously, seeing them
come into the streets was a very visible reminder
of them calling for this. But even online, some of the
most interesting hashtags are things like, where’s
my money brother, which is, you know, a Saudi
very popular hashtag that was being used, criticizing
the Saudi government for, look, you say we’re wealthy. Where’s the money? Right. Asking governments
to be accountable is something that previous
generations did not dare do. And they didn’t dare
do it, because there was this great trope above
them saying that they were a country at war. There were all these
enemies both near and far. And so we had to
have people be quiet for the sake of stability. That logic is no longer
resonating among Arab youth. And I think that’s really
quite revolutionary. So Arab youth are
going it alone. And this is something
that I think, when I talk to
young entrepreneurs, there is this great
desire to not only just start these great businesses,
but to go very far with them. And they’re quite ambitious. One of the things that I
had an opportunity to do is to go to some of these youth
start up kinds of conferences. And they point to– you may
think their the simplest things, but some of these
are apps for example. And these apps and being really
successful, and quite popular, and very lucrative. And now, they’re trying
to take those apps, and make it go global. One of the things that’s
really helping Arab youth is they have really high
rates of connectivity. In fact, one of the things
we don’t give credit for in the Arab world is
an enormous investment in connectivity. Arab youth are connected
online, very connected. In most parts of
the Arab world, we have 3G technology,
4G on its way. And the smartphone
penetration is almost at 85% in many parts of the Arab world. With $50 smartphones
sort of coming soon to a store near
you, that’s going to be a huge boost in the
capacity of Arab youth to get online and to get some
of these products and services and ideas out there. So yes, Arab youth
want political freedom. And this is– I talk about
the economics a lot– but this is not to
sugarcoat the reality that politics is important
to many Arab youth. They do want accountability. They do want meritocracy. But they do feel that political
reform is badly needed. But one of the
things that I think people are not taking
enough time to do, and I’m guilty of
that, and many of us who are political scientists
who are looking for change tend to look at the usual
markers or units of analysis, like political parties. We fixate on these
issues, understandably so. We look for civil
society as markers of political liberalization. But I think one of
the things that– and I think political
scientists in the room would agree– you
know, the Arab Spring was pretty much missed by all
specialists in the Middle East Studies. Right. Particularly, a
political scientist should have seen and
known this was coming. Why? Because we were looking
for these markers. And in fact, if you
wanted to find out where the revolutionary
conversation was, it was happening online. And this is a thing that I
think is quite interesting. So satellite TV was
the first, I think, entrance into the [? medio ?]
ecospace or ecosystem of what was calls for not only
accountable government, putting government to shame when
there was corruption, and increasingly, that now is
filtered into the online world. Social media– I mean, one
of the things that I think we failed to
recognize, that there is a whole conversation
going online in social media, in blogs, in videos. And Arab youth are
the protagonists of this conversation. They’re the ones talking
about change from within, change for the better. One of the things that I
think is quite interesting, for example, you know, the
Arab world has the highest the number of YouTube users
per capita in the world, same with Twitter. And the conversations
are extremely political. They’re not just consuming. They’re also generating. Right. Again, some of the most critical
types of YouTube videos, and the most popular
and widespread ones, in fact, Saudi Arabia is
a great example of this, are very political in content. OK. It’s asking for accountability,
asking for, again, an acceptance of or
appreciation of meritocracy, all the things that
you would think just don’t exist in a very parochial
society like Saudi Arabia. But quite the contrary,
there’s a lot going on. But we’re just
not attuned to it, I think, as
political scientists. Blogs– one study
done out of Harvard, 50% of which were
done by women– there’s an enormous, I
think, cultural change in the Arab world where women
are increasingly more vocal. They’re online, often protesting
things like patriarchy, very much. And this is one thing that is
surprising– I’ll talk about it in a minute– also
very religious. One of the things that we need
to think about when we talk about the Arab world is
not try to divorce religion from progressive
values and attitudes. Because in fact, they’re
coming in this very interesting symbiosis in the region,
that I think is quite unique. One of the other
factors that I found quite neat in the Arab world,
is to this point of identity. You know, Arab youth
have for too often felt as though the world, and
I think the discourse even in the West has
perpetuated this, that somehow they
were forced to choose. Either you are a Western,
liberal, progressive, or you were Muslim,
fundamentalist. And you only cared for the kinds
of scriptive characteristics that you would be given to–
a sect, tribe, et cetera. And one of the things
that is so interesting about Arab attitudes–
and the polls that have been done
across the region– is this enormous
feeling that they are neither Western nor Eastern. They’re this hybrid. OK. That they are part
of both societies. And this is something that
I see very, very visibly. In fact, one of the things
that I think is most, you know, let’s say
visible, is the way that many Muslim observant women
choose to wear their hijab. I mean, that’s the most
visible, I think, example. You know, they want
to wear the hijab. But they also want to buy
the latest couture from Zara. They want to shop at Mango. They want to wear all
of the Western fashions. But they also want
to wear their hijab. And that’s just one example. But take that onto
everything from increasingly, the video games that young
kids are wanting to play. They want to play
video games that are sensitive to
their Muslim culture. They want to play with dolls,
where my favorite enterprise is the Fulla doll in
the Arab world. You know, the Fulla doll
was basically a challenge to Barbie. And she has her day wear. Right. And she has her outerwear,
which includes her hijab. And it has all of the
accessories– no Ken doll. It has all of the accessories. And it’s a very popular brand. Now, I know these are, sort
of, they may sound trite, but it’s something
about Arab people today. And I use the– I
apologize, not to say that Arabs and Muslim
are synonymous, because it’s a very
multicultural and multireligious
territory and area. But many and most
Muslims are Arab. Or I should say, most
Arabs are Muslim. And so many of those who
are Arab and Muslim do want to have both identities. They want to be very
Western and very Muslim. And this is something that we
need to come to terms with, I think, in
understanding the region. It’s quite, I think, a
different way of looking at it. One of my favorite
statistics– and this was a study done by some
Saudis in Saudi Arabia– which I think has, if you sort of
had the spectrum of, you know, the country that’s the most
progressive to the one needing the most reform, most
obviously not just being a theocratic state but has so
much change that’s necessary, it’s Saudi Arabia on
the far side of one. I found this fascinating. 64% of Saudi youth
want to marry for love. You know, in a country
that segregated, official segregation, that’s very high. OK. That’s a high number. A decade ago, the
same study was done. It was 53%. So there’s an enormous change
of values, this individualism that’s coming through
the Arab world, that I think is quite unique. One of the things I
also found interesting, I wanted to speak to Arab
students who come to the West. I spoke to students both in
the United States and Canada. And I really wanted to get a
sense of how Arab students, you know, what were the attributes
that they see of great benefits here in the West. And specifically, I want to
introduce you to a program that I think is
going to bring really the kind of social and
cultural revolution I’m talking about to Saudi
Arabia in particular. The Saudis have,
since 2005, invested in a program called the King
Abdullah Scholarship Program. And basically, what they do is
they tell their young people, if you get an acceptance letter
from a foreign university, we will pay for you to go there. We will pay your tuition. We will give you
a stipend, allow you to come back and forth
to Saudi Arabia once a year. And this program has resulted
in about 90,000 students to the United States
alone every single year. OK. We are now in a position
where Arab youth, add to that a couple of
other countries like Kuwait, the Emirates, Egypt– we have
more Arab students coming to the West than any other
group, exceeding that of China, exceeding that of
India per capita. It’s quite enormous. The numbers are pretty darn
close even on a nominal amount. The amount of students that
are here from the Arab world studying are quite spectacular. And I’m going to talk about
what they bring home with them. The program is so
great that I think one of the things that
I love about it the most is that this year
they’re at 50% women. Previous years, two years
ago, there were about 45%. A few years before
that, we were at 40%. This year, they’re at 50% women. Now, I just want you
to think about this. So a Saudi father is
sending his daughter to go abroad, to the
United States usually. It’s the number one
destination to get her degree. If that’s not a social
and cultural revolution from a society that
pretty much segregates its people along
the lines of sex, that’s an enormous change in
social attitudes at the family level. Right. So these women are going back. I had a great opportunity
to talk to these women who went back to Saudi Arabia. And what did they discover? I mean, you know,
this is fascinating. Because you would have
these young women say, I lived alone for four years in
the UK or in the United States. And I lived alone. I function as an
independent person. After four years,
it was obviously a huge learning curve for me. But now, I’m this independent
person with my degree. And I’m going back
to my country. And I’m being told by
religious authorities that I can’t change my cellphone
plan without my father’s permission. Are you kidding me? Right. So this is the
kind of revolution that I see happening. 300,000 of these students
every year are abroad. This is a program that started
in 2005, and well-funded. And actually, what I have to say
is commendable that the Saudis, that they put this money
aside for them till 2020. Do the math. That’s a huge crop
of young people who are going to
change Saudi society. Not today, not tomorrow,
but 10 to 15 years, when these young people go
back as the technocrats, as the decision makers
of their society, there is going to be,
I think, that kind of social and cultural
revolution, and for the better. OK. So in speaking to these young
people when they went abroad, and I really wanted to know,
what are the things that you take back with you? Right. I mean this is my
favorite question. Not to mention, the other
one I found fascinating was, so did you
find it hard moving to this city or that city? They would say, I
mean, culturally. But you know, before I
left I Googled the streets. I knew where this street
was and that street was. I knew where the Starbucks was. I knew where– they had
this enormous insight into living life in
the West that I thought was really quite fascinating. It just shows you
how– you think about– I’m interested in
more and more lately about migration patterns. My father immigrated from
the Middle East in 1960s. You know, and when he was
coming to Canada in his case, you know, it was
a one way journey. And he didn’t know anything. He didn’t know what
snow looked like. He didn’t know what many of the
things that was ahead of him. How that has changed
for this new generation says a lot about the
benefits of circularity, that we no longer have
this one way migration, that we’ve to think
about transnationalism, as another concept that
I’m quite fascinated with. But one of the
things that I found interesting in talking to
these students and asking them, OK, so what are the things about
living in the United States or Canada that you
would take back home? Number one, environmentalism. We want recycling. It was beautiful. I couldn’t believe it. We need to recycle. This is something that we
know we completely don’t have. We need more services
in waste bins. We need more services and
education of how to recycle. We need to use solar power. I mean, just, they
were so excited. I’ve done about– I did about
five or 10 different focus groups with different
groups of Arab students, mostly Saudis, some
Syrian as well. And that they were so fascinated
with the environmental causes and issues was really
quite interesting. And finally, multiculturalism–
you know, this was to me, I think, one of the
most gratifying. You know, I would hear this
over, and over, and over again. They’d say, you know, I’m
a minority in the West. And when I come to the United
States, Canada, or the UK, the way I’m treated is
generally very positive. I’m treated as a human being. I’m given respect. That’s not the way we treat
minorities in the Arab world. That’s not the way we
treat, particularly, workers who come to Saudi Arabia. We treat them like slaves. That’s wrong. Next time I go back
home, I am going to stand up for those workers. Because the same way
that a border agent looks at me coming with
my Saudi dress, is the same way
that, you know, I could say– the way I’m
treated in a positive way. Why can’t we have
that same sentiment shared with all these minorities
who come to our country? That’s I think the kinds of
values and sort of impression that would this is
having on Arab youth. And they’re going
back in droves. People ask me often, are they
going back to the Arab world? Absolutely. The return rate is about 95%. 95% of these youth
are going back to their countries of origin. And I think they’re
carrying with them more than just degrees. It’s not just Western degrees. They’re carrying Western
values with them. And I think, added all
together one day, again, looking at the Arab world
as this demographic pyramid, whereby the young
people are really the majority of the population,
when they come of age and are the decision
makers, I think they’re going to be very impressive. So my conclusion is to say
that today’s Arab youth are a new generation. They’re much more dynamic
than previous generations. There is more optimism
in these citizens. They’re more global. They feel very much
as a global citizen. And I think that really the Arab
Spring was just the beginning. And I know that it’s hard
to be optimistic at a time when there is so much
despair in the region. But I want you to
keep that in mind, that this is the
story of the majority. The story of the majority
is that the region is changing from within. It’s not without its troubles. It’s not an excuse
for Arab governments to assume that the is the
status quo is good enough. Arab youth, in
fact, want better. And one of the most
important, I think, understandings of
the Arab Spring is this great sentiment
that Arab youth feel that they deserve better. It’s a [? Ted ?] [? Girs ?]
argument from history. The idea is, revolution
was born from the sentiment that, I am educated. I am knowledgeable
about the world. You can no longer
say you know more than I do in terms of
how they relate to power. And I deserve better. And you have to deliver
that to me as a citizen. And that’s the kind of, I think,
cultural and social change that’s happening
in the Arab world. And the fruits of
that, I think will come with the demographic
dividend of them being the majority of society. Thank you. Yeah, I’ll take
questions, absolutely. I know there’s going
to be a lot of them. Way in the back? For the 64% of Arab youth
that want to marry for love– do you have a gender
breakdown on that? Males and females? Yeah. And so that’s Saudi Arabia. And actually, if we were
to go to other parts of the Arab world,
oh, it’s much higher. It’s in the 90s. But in Saudi Arabia, where
there’s official segregation, it’s 64%. And there was no
discernible difference between men and women. Straight. Thanks for coming. So what I heard you saying
was that– the reason why the Clash of
Civilisation argument was so upsetting to social
scientists who know something about the Middle East partly is
because it casts the Arab world in this horrible way. But the other part of it is
because it conflated culture of with something that was
more like a political economy. Right. And so like, after 9/11
when Salman Rushdie’s like, see, yes to miniskirts,
yes to ham sandwiches, yes to lipstick. And no to, like, segregation. But the part of the
problem with that was that it assumed that if
you are observant and don’t eat pork, or if you don’t want
to wear a lot of lipstick, then somehow, you’re
more like the terrorists. And what– so I mean,
I think, my question is, there’s always going to be
a difference of where we draw that line of– so I mean,
whether they want to marry for love or not, is that
really an indication of what kind of governance
they want to have, or whether they like Hollywood
movies or not, or whether? You know, there’s
always this like, do we have to take
everything on wholesale? Or can maybe you
have a different kind of cultural evolution,
but then also aspire to more social
egalitarian, social justice oriented frameworks. And even like the
individualism, you can be more
community-oriented and have a better social justice
framework than somebody who’s really individualistic. I’m a little wondering about
sort of the cultural slippages. Well, how do we attribute
what cultural thing to what political ideology? Yeah. So what I think about the
individuality that I see– they’re very family oriented. This does not take
away from the reality that people feel that they can
be appreciated as individuals, but still want to be
very family oriented. I think those two–
again, I think there’s a Western
conception that it’s either or, is my point. And that actually, what
I find in the Arab world is this amazing hybrid. Right. That they may be
very family oriented, but they want meritocracy. And if you sort of think of the
[? Vaburian ?] classification, or all these other sort
of cultural attributes, sort of like, these are
two ideal types and choose. And somehow, we’ve
been forced in trying to understand the Arab
world, that somehow it’s one or the other. And in fact, even the dialogue,
are they a secularist? Right, which we put in
as modern and liberal. Or are you religious? Like, choose between
two– you know, they are two extremes in many ways. Right. And I think Arab people reject
those binary views of the way culture needs to be described. They can be very
religious, and also want to have a secular society. I mean, that’s not actually–
it happens all the time. It means that I want
to have my right to be very religious
in the personal sense, but don’t want to be
dictated to at a state level whether or not I should be
able to or have to wear, let’s say a hijab or
some other things. Right. So I think, it’s about the
fact that in the Arab world, there’s this hybrid. Right. They want to take
pieces of both and don’t want to be pushed into
these binary tropes that have been given. And really, this is I
think, and maybe perhaps as someone who
studies the region– the academic
literature from those who study the region
have become more sophisticated to
understanding that. But I think there is still
this overall general sense. And even in the way the
popular media describes, or mainstream media,
describes the Arab region, it’s sort of like,
it’s one or the other. Either you wear mini
skirts, and that means you’re for democracy. Or you wear a hijab,
you must be one that supports the
totalitarian Islamist state. No. Right. So I think that’s
what I was trying to get to in the book
is really how they want to blend both very easily. And I also position it in
that, previous generations did feel like they
had to choose, more so than this generation. One of the things that I
really found quite fascinating is talking to a lot of
mothers of young people. And I would hear this
complaint over and over. Now, it was a little
bit on the elite side. Right. You go talk to people in
Cairo among the elite. Talk the Omani elite,
talk to the elite of, particularly, I would
say outside of the Gulf, even in Morocco. I would hear these women say–
you know they’re my age– and say, my daughter,
she’s in her 20s. And she wants to wear the hijab. I fought against
wearing the hijab. You know, there’s a sort
of like, that my generation as a woman, we chose. We chose not to wear it. And now, this generation
is regressing. So then, I talk
to the daughters. And the daughters say, I
don’t see the conflict. Like, I’m a progressive
Arab Muslim woman, who wants to wear the hijab. I can do both. And I think, that’s what I
mean by the intergenerational, that even that trope
of choose was something that previous
generations, whether it was because of the ideology
of Arab nationalism that came with it, this
very anti-Islamist trend. I mean call it what you will,
these modern states, I mean, sort of the Baathist
party and the Nassarists, and the rest were all
imposing this idea, that to be modern we have
to sort of shun religion. This generation does not feel
that they’re incompatible. On the contrary, they feel
they’re very much both. Does that help? Yeah. No. Sometimes I hear you
say, and sometimes I thought you were saying,
oh, it’s good that they’re getting Western values. No, I like the
fact that– no, no. So what I’m saying
is that they have a confidence about being
able to integrate everything, seamlessly. That there is no contradiction
in their daily lives. There’s no contradiction. And I think that’s
important for us. And the book was really
written for a Western audience to understand that in many
ways the Arab world does not have to be either or. That the young generation
reject those binary views that were put on their parents. And they’re very much saying,
I embrace both of them. I am a feminist. And I’m a Muslim feminist. I mean, the concept of Muslim
feminist– and again, taking, forget progressive brown, but
you know in mainstream USA, telling them that there
is a progressive Muslim. They’re like, those
are oxymorons. Right. So that’s what I’m
really trying to get at, is that there is like
this great, I think, symbiosis of values
that are both Western. Some of it is individualistic,
and very family oriented, and religious. And they co-exist
in this way that I think we don’t appreciate. Yes? I thought it was a
very enlightening talk. My first question is related
to how you kind of talked about the education
rates among these youth, and how they’re going to
be the new bureaucrats of the societies that
they enter back into. But my question is related
to how this high population of young people–
my question is, how does that affect societies
where the economy is not so stable? Or rather the
politics of the time are not so stable, like the
frequent clashes between people who support Mohamed Morsi who
was couped by Egypt’s military, and then, who support
the military junta, that effectively
that’s now in power. Or in places like Yemen, with
an incredibly high population of youth– like a vast
majority of the population– but at the same time, the
economy is completely stunted. And there’s a
civil war going on. How does that high youth
population in cases work in countries that
are not so stable? Doesn’t that have
a negative effect? Or could that have a negative
effect on the overall stability of country? Yeah. And you know, I mean, the book–
in fact, the final chapter is as a political
economist, you know, I really lay out how the
governments really have to work on inclusive growth. I mean, one of the things that–
but I do want to take part with this idea that
economic frustrations will lead to violence. Because I think that’s also–
that causal link has been– I think there’s a lot
of problems with that. So what I do think
though, is that many parts of the Arab world, and you
pointed out Egypt and Yemen, and obviously Syria you
can put in that as well, are not in a state that I
think we can with ease talk about this transition. It’s going to be a
much bumpier ride. Obviously, 22 Arab countries,
we are talking about a few that are in a state of
heightened civil war. And I think latent civil war
in the case of parts of Egypt. Nevertheless, I do see something
going on with Arab youth there that is part
of The Awakening. You know, one of
the things that– I just– there’s a picture
of the cabinet of Sisi that stands out. I mean, if you look at the
latest cabinet of General Sisi, I mean, you can’t find
someone under the age of 70. I mean, it’s a very old cabinet. And one of the
things that I think is, again, a virtue of time. We have to be patient. But I think there is a
young crop of people, in Egypt in particular, who
are just waiting to take over. It’s going to take time. This is not an excuse
for the status quo. It’s just to say
that, I think, we can’t assume that this is
going to be business as usual forever. It’s just not. I think I can go all
day and criticize a lot of government policies
that the Sisi government has put in place. But I think that really,
the revolution of Egypt in many ways is not done. There has been a temporary
rise of nationalism in Egypt, that is I
think, slowly abating and the luster of Sisi
really wearing off. And so you know, Egypt
has a class all of itself. But I’m happy to talk about
that as a country on its own. But I don’t think that we can
say this is the trajectory. I don’t see the
Sisi regime lasting. I really don’t. I mean, there’s just so much
bubbling under the surface there. How it will happen, how
the transition will happen? I would love for smart
people in government to recognize that they have
a window of opportunity to provide the kinds of economic
dignity that young people want, and take advantage of that. I don’t think General Sisi can. First of all, there’s
no domestic capital enough to create the
kinds of industry. They do need to attract
foreign capital. They do need to
allow investment. Will investment come to a
country like Egypt today? I don’t think so. And so there’s a lot
wrong with economic policy making in the country. That would be a
lecture all on its own. But at the core,
I think what I’m trying to get at is that
there are young people who are questioning the very
structure of the way things should be. Egypt is a big
country to change. It’s a huge, huge
ship in the ocean. And it’s going to be very
difficult to turn it around. And that’s one of
reasons I think you know, Morsi’s government
had such difficulty. It’s a mess. As a political economist,
you can no longer do satisfy, saying sort
of, edits on the margin. You need to complete
wholesale reform. And that’s going to
disrupt a lot of powers that are in place
throughout the country. So I know I didn’t
answer your question. It’s more to say Egypt is hard. Yes? How do we see [INAUDIBLE]
this translating to what you’re talking
about, positive change, 10, 15 years down the line? Do we see– like, during
the Lebanese civil war, Lebanese society
was very educated. But you saw the massive
brain drain and exodus. We’ve seen the same
thing happen in Syria, where you have an
educated populous, but needs people
who stay and fight for the uneducated masses. So I feel like, even if we do
invest in a quantity of people, quality of people, if the major
systems aren’t so out of place. We saw like, these
revolutions by you know, educated youth start
and get quelled. How do we see this transition? Yeah. Yeah. No, I agree. And I mean, the You Stink
movement is a perfect example of that youth frustration. Right. Very much non-ideological,
but just saying, you’re incompetent. Right. I mean, the You Stink movement
in Lebanon was saying, you guys are incompetent. And that’s exact–
the You Stink movement is a perfect example of what
Arab youth represent today. They are just saying, we
want functioning governments. Right. We want you to get the job done. We don’t want platitudes. We don’t want you to give
these speeches about isms and blaming everybody
else for our problems. We want you to get stuff done. And so it’s a perfect example. In terms of your question
about brain drain, I’ve been really
struggling with this, because one of the
things that I think has changed my view on this
is the idea of circularity, that brain drain
is a passe concept. You know, when
people immigrated 40, 50 years ago, they were a
loss to their community. Today with brain circularity,
the number of Arabs who now invest back in their
home countries, for example, is extremely high. We have seen, in fact, some
really interesting household data that was done
in Egypt showed that ex-pats– so
Egyptian ex-pats– were more likely to send money home
to start businesses than ever before. And the numbers are
quite outstanding. In terms of, people
are investing in their home countries. Not just buying real
estate, but investing in educating young people,
money, workers remittances, and remittances generally
are being used to, again, start small
businesses, the real drivers of the economy. In some cases, these companies
that are being created hire 25 to 30 people. That’s the average size. So there’s a lot of, I think,
new thinking out there about, not brain drain, but
not just brain gain, but brain circularity. That in this world of
transnational, you know, movement of people, that to
think of one person as a loss when they leave a country, is
no longer the case with the fact that money flows so easily. People flow easily. I mean, I often give the
example– my father’s, you know, trek to Canada
was an immigration. It was a one way ticket. You know, I have cousins who
now ought to come to Canada. And I say, they’re
transnationals. They’re not immigrants. Because they seem to have
still a business in their home country. They’re traveling
back and forth. They’re investing over there. They’re buying property here. They’re contributing to the
education of this cousin, of that cousin. They’re more connected. Right. I mean part of that is
information communication technology. My recent cousins who traveled,
who have immigrated to Canada, you know I say, it
looks like they never left the Middle East. They’re on Skype and FaceTime. And they know the latest jokes. I mean, there is a
connectivity component to that. The immigrant experience is
no longer one way experience. It’s very much a circular one. So this is not to
say that there isn’t a challenge on the ground. You talk about Syria,
which is an extreme case. In fact, one of the
things that we are seeing is a real depletion of the
expertise of the country through the refugee crisis. It’s not a mistake that many
of those refugees are teachers. And it’s a high number of
those who are on the refugee trail have been teachers. There’s a huge
brain drain problem. And it’s akin to actually what
Iraq experienced in the 1990s when we had the
Oil-For-Food program. The great exodus– my
colleague Joe Sassoon does some work on this. Right. We’re very much
the intellectuals. So that is obviously a problem. But I do want us to also
question our impression of what immigration is,
because I think it’s much more interconnected
in ways that perhaps– and Lebanese community’s
your perfect example. I mean, really,
let’s be honest here. In terms of, many Lebanese seem
to have a foot in two lands. They’re very connected. They travel a lot. They invest. They care about home politics. Some of that is
obviously facilitated by rules that allow them
to vote in home politics. So Tunisia, for example,
has now instituted this, which has made, in
fact, a very positive– I think it’s a very
positive thing for Tunisia. Because now, many of those
in France and Germany and other parts of
the Western world have a stake in the
future of Tunisia. And in fact, we saw some of
the highest voting rates. At one point, the numbers were
almost at par with Tunisians voting in Tunisia. Those in the ex-pats,
those abroad, were at the same level
of turning out the vote. So there is a lot
of room, I think, to reconceptualize and think
about immigration in ways that I think are
more of a two way. Does that answer? Sort of. OK. [INAUDIBLE] I guess the
other part of my question was more political rather
than economic and cultural, because I see like these
people are very culturally, economically, invested
in their society. But even looking at stable
regions, such as the Gulf and Iran, you see, I mean, a
lot of those governments heads are Western educated. Most of the Iranian
government like, top heads are all Western educated. If these people are
getting educated, what’s to say they don’t
just come in and buy into the system? And these educated
people don’t just continue working
for these regimes? Or having a civil society
under these regimes, like, I’ve spent time
in Qatar and the UAE. Those are a lot of
educated societies, but people put up with the
injustices of the government. Yeah. No, actually, that’s
a very good point. But I think that when
we look at the education pattern of let’s say many of
the Gulf countries in the 70s, they did send their
political and economic elite. But one of the things that’s
quite interesting now, is there’s a huge
democratization of those scholarship programs. In other words, you are
finding now many poor– I mean, there’s a lot of
poverty in the Gulf. I mean, we can’t–
it’s not all shiny. And particularly
Saudi Arabia, which has a huge poverty problem. Many of those who
are going– and I spoke to some of the families. They were very poor. Sending their– I mean, and
actually, ironically, there was an economic incentive. Because here you had
sending your daughter off or your son to go
study abroad meant that they were being taken
care of for four years. They weren’t a drain
on the family purse, really interesting. So there’s a new level
of democratization of those scholarships,
that are I think, different than the
previous generation. You’re absolutely right. If we look at the political
elite of the Gulf, particularly those who are
educated in the West in 1970s, you know, the Harvard likes
and the rest, you know, they’re the technocrats
today imposing some of the same autocratic
ideas that we see in place. But what’s different
about this system is that you just need to come
with an acceptance letter and go to the King
Abdullah Scholarship Fund, and you will get access to
the same generous program that someone from
an elite family. So that, I think, is
a little different. Please. You can probably help me– I would love to. –articulate my question. I’m searching. I like [INAUDIBLE]
don’t they have a few things they want
to do better than we do? Oh yeah, of course. What are they? Oh, well, I think, family’s
a huge– I mean, they’re– You think [? get ?]
better family structures aren’t so fouled
and mixed up and broken? I’m being exaggerating. You’re exaggerating, absolutely. But yes, faith. And how will they do that? Because maybe they can teach us. Oh I love that. That’s great. That’s my– that should
be my next book project. You know, I think there’s– You see we haven’t
[? got educated ?] in our country,
as you well know. Two children. Two children. I come from a
family of five boys. And there are eight
grandchildren. So you can see we
didn’t even do two. Curious. Well, you know, here– so I
don’t have an answer to it. But I’ll just give
you something. You know I always
love it when people talk about– you guys just came
out of your Thanksgiving Day holiday. In Canada, we had
ours a month ago. But people– coming from an
Arab culture family– and people talk about their Thanksgiving,
and I just laugh. And I’m like, it’s Thanksgiving
at my parent’s house every day. We have Thanksgiving a lot. You know, I mean,
this idea of food, and family, and lots of people. It’s a joke, but it’s true. I think that there
is an Arab culture. Our doors are never closed. There is a great sense
of communality of food. And you know, so here I’ll
give you another example. I’m sorry if I’m
being trite here, but this is kind of interesting. I married what I would say
is a very Western person. Perhaps, even though
he has an Arab origin, but very not used to,
let’s say Arab culture and would always say,
our table fits six. You can only invite
four other people. And I said, no, I come
from an Arab household where, it doesn’t matter
how many chairs there are on the table. And I would have 20
people at my house. I mean, that’s just the norm. You know, the table
does not define how many people you can invite. But that’s a very Western,
frankly, even American cultural attitude, that you
can invite as many people as you can have
chairs for on a table. And for Arab people, no,
that’s the more the merrier. Kids, the more the merrier. I mean, if people are
walking around with plates, it’s chaos, yes. But it’s also just
an attribute of life. The reason we have two in
our country and in my family, probably, maybe not in
their family, that’s all we can afford to educate. And we were lucky to
be able to do that. Won’t that hit? It’s hitting, absolutely. Hitting strong? Yes. And so, actually one of
the things if you look– And won’t the women be
the one’s who decide how many children they have. Absolutely. Absolutely. Even if it is two girls? That’s all. Oh Yeah. Oh Yeah. No. No, that’s something
that we’ve already seen. The average family
size in the Middle East is dropping rapidly, partly
because of women’s education, partly because women want
to enter the workforce. And absolutely, as
you said, part of that is the wanting to give
them a very good life and proper education, et cetera. Also the virtues
of urbanization, I mean you can’t discount that. Kids need places to roam. And one of the things that is a
phenomena of Arab young couples as they are moving
into apartments that are smaller and
smaller, and yes, they’re having smaller families. I can’t remember the
exact numbers off hand. But there is a huge drop
in the number of children. I think we’re at three now
for the average Arab family. So it’s definitely, definitely
lower than a generation ago, which was about five or six. The only reason we
survive is [INAUDIBLE] tremendous immigration, because
otherwise we would really be in [? trouble. ?] Will the
Arab world [INAUDIBLE] that? Yes, absolutely. Will they be willing to
accept a large migration? [INAUDIBLE] I really hope they do. Are there any signs,
any hopes? [INAUDIBLE] Yeah. Yeah. Well, I mean, I think that
it’s just not a destination for immigration yet. But you know, I’m being very
general because the Gulf is quite different. I mean, the Gulf, if you look
at a place like much of the Gulf like, the Emirates, you
know, 70% of the population are foreign. Right. So there is– now, that’s a
whole other issue, because they need to start recognizing that
there should be citizenship rights, and their people. And there’s a
conversation there that is brewing in many fantastic ways. And I actually do
think that circularity of students going back is
impacting the conversation. I’ve seen it. You know, I know it’s
not the critical mass that we need to start an
entire social revolution. But it’s starting. I mean, really what
I wanted to capture was the conversation
is starting. And the fact that you have
many of these Gulf students go to the West and see how
minorities should be treated, and I’m not in any way
idealizing what things– how life is for minorities here. I’m just saying, if you want to
compare the way minorities are treated in many Gulf countries
compared to the Western world, there’s a huge discrepancy. That’s not to say that
we’ve reached the ideal. There’s a long way
for us to go as well. But those comparisons
are being made. Right. And even if they face
discrimination here, which many of them
will, it shakes them up to realize, oh, that’s what
discrimination feels like. Right, which is another
thing that I’ve seen is that, oh, that’s
how they look at me. They look at me like that. That’s how I looked at many of
those Indian and Bangladeshi workers when I
was in my country. So it’s that awakening. It’s the change of thinking
about these things. Is it critical mass? Are we there yet? No. I’m just saying that we’re
at the cusp of change in these regions, that if
you add them all together and think about this in
terms of intergenerational, it’s a more positive story
than we’re often given in sort of mainstream media. Last question. Oh, last question. Oh, this is Harlan, yes? Do you want to take
both of the questions? I would like that, yes. And I’ll answer both. So I just had a
question again, kind of talking about this
idea of Western values and individualism
being brought kind of from the West as Arab
youth are going to the West as being a positive thing. And I was wondering
if you at all saw any negative effects of Western
education or Western values with the different
Arab societies. Because for instance, like,
when I lived in Egypt, those who I knew
who had been Western educated or had gone to
elite Western universities within that country had
been completely detached from the social. Like, it’s not that they were
detached from the family, like family values
in the Arab world are very important, very strong,
and perhaps stronger than here. But what I observed
was that, for instance, there was no sort of
understanding of Arab society or Egyptian society at large. That, the person who was not
getting their, like, pension or their social services
and had been denied that from the government was
completely foreign to those who had been Western educated. They had no idea. They had no idea
what these people who aren’t using like
smartphone apps, and who weren’t part of this
new like technology revolution, and you know, because in
Egypt you have in Cairo, like, this new start up culture. But that’s a completely an
upper class, elite, kind of entity that’s detached from
90% of the population, who don’t have– who are struggling
to get food on their table. And so that, for me, like, that
kind of was a signal that maybe like this idea of individualism
and maybe these Western values are detaching people
even further and further, those people who are going to
be the elite, those people who are going to be the you know,
directing the government from the social. So I was wondering
if you had at all? What your comments on that. Absolutely, absolutely. Maybe I’ll take that question. I’ll see if there’s any– I think my question is
more methodological. Because I’m interested
in what research methods you used specifically,
but more generally, there’s not a lot
of social science research that comes out of the
countries that you’re studying. It’s probably very difficult to
take a population based sample, and then, ask survey
questions that would capture the full range
of the socioeconomic spectrum. And I bought your book. And I’m looking
through it quickly. I noticed in here
you cite a survey from 2011 of middle
class adults in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Morocco. And so it causes me to
wonder– and I’m not a Middle East specialist–
whether the statements that you’re making about sort
of new generation of youth in the Arab world are based
population representative samples, or more
qualitative samples. OK. So the book leans on
about 20 different data sets of surveys, not my
own, done from all across. And some countries
are better than others at doing local surveys. In fact, Egypt has
one of the best. They do a population household
survey, that’s probably, I think, by far some
of the best work done. So I’ve looked at the
full gamut of surveys to look at some of
these value changes. Now, it’s really interesting,
because these surveys are looking at everything
from, what’s your main staple for breakfast. But then, every once in a while
you get some value survey. So it’s really a
fishing expedition to really find a lot
of these great surveys. But one of the things that I
was really interested in doing is going across the region
and talking to people. So often, I did focus groups. And I did focus
group with youth. And I tried to go
into different places. One of the things
that, obviously, went to some universities. I did go into malls,
which actually was really interesting. Because– and I know that
you think that lends itself to more elite. But very interesting,
malls tend to also attract a wide variety of people. Because they are safe,
clean places to hang out. And sometimes you would find
even lower middle class, and dare I say, not quite
people from villages but definitely lower
middle class who would go to these places. I went to train
stations, bus stops. I did impromptu kind
of little focus groups. Don’t tell research ethics,
oh, this will be recorded. Oops. And where else? And actually, a lot of villages. I mean, when I was
able to sort of find someone who was willing
to sort of take me on, I would ask the weirdest thing. Can I go see your
family in their village? And can we just gather
some young people to talk? I sympathize with
what you’re asking me, because I think much
of the book and what I’ve presented to you
today can seem very superficial and consumeristic. But I did see this, even
in some of the villages, the pride of education. So that reflection
of– for example, you know women in many of
these villages, you know, had a university degree. And would talk with a
great deal of confidence that their parents would just–
they would be surprised at. There was this really– I could
see this intergenerational kind of challenge and shift there. One of the things that I
found for women in many of these villages was that
the education opportunity was great. And they went. And they got their degrees. But then, they’re
going back to a village with no economic opportunities. So it’s really kind of very
depressing when they come home. And some of the
women that I talk to, I mean, they’re all about,
I need to get to the city. How do I get to
the city and create an opportunity for myself? Especially under
the situation where it’s really difficult for me as
an Arab woman to go to the city and live alone. Right. So these are new kinds
of conversations. And we’d hear some
interesting kind of ways of negotiating that. From well, three of my
cousins, we’re all going to go, and our uncle’s going
to stay with us. And we’re going to have
an apartment in the city. And they were
really creative kind of ways of challenging
social norms, but not really. Right. All of that. I heard a lot of that. And they tended to be
from the villages, which is I think really
quite interesting. There is a change. There really is a change, even
among some of the rural side. And part of that is, I think,
this almost universal desire for education. That is just– it’s palpable. I mean, I can’t– if you
go to the region and ask, like I said an older
woman, you know, tell me about your family. She will start telling
you about her son having this degree, her daughter
having that degree. And there’s just this
pride in their education that is just unbelievable. It’s not about, I own this. I own that. It’s about it’s about knowledge,
which is something, right. And I think that it’s
going to percolate upwards in a very positive way
as we move forward. The question of
Egypt is a great one, because I think Egypt is
honestly the most challenging. I know that’s kind of why I got
stumped on yours in many ways too. Because it’s the
hardest one to fix. You know, you still
have 40% illiteracy. Right. You still have an
underclass of society. I mean, it’s not even just– you
can’t even call it lower class. It’s underclass of society. There’s a huge problem and a
need for an enormous amount of investment. You know, where you– in
many of the Arab countries, you can talk about
this fantastic rate of educational attainment. But in Egypt, there’s
like two societies. There’s one that’s
illiterate, which still tends to be that 40% of society. And then, you have a whole
other segment of society that fits more of the general
norm of the Arab world. So in many ways
Egypt stands apart. Now, it’s obviously
problematic that Egypt is the most populous Arab country. Right. I mean, even from
my own analysis, I think Egypt is a
hard nut to crack. And there’s a lot
of work to be done. I don’t have easy
solutions on Egypt, because it is so hard
to crack, to be honest. But you’re absolutely
right, that there is a segment of the Egyptian
population, the middle class and above, who are in line with
the rest of the Arab world, and follow a lot of the
trends that I’m talking about. And then, there’s this
underclass of society that frankly, the government
just wants to ignore. And they want to
ignore literally, like create a brand new
city so that no one has to see the underclass of Cairo. There’s a huge
amount of investment that needs to be done in that. And if I dare say, one of the
greatest challenges for Egypt is to get over it’s
hypernationalism. I mean, you can’t be this
great civilization, and talking about culture in Egypt. It’s so hypernationalist
that it can’t see its own dirty laundry. And the dirty laundry is very
much this enormous poverty. If I can comment
on that, I think that has a lot to do with
the idea of when Nasser came to power after he over
threw Farouk, and sort of the idea of
pan-Arab nationalism. That Egypt was the center
of this new Arab super state that Nasser kind of envisioned,
that would be a third wheel, if you will in the Cold War. You know, they still carry
that idea that– or sort of that idea and that bitterness
that comes with that missed opportunity. That they used to be– the
rest of the Middle East looked to them. You know, in the 50s,
and the 60s, and the 70s. They were the leaders. And now, they’ve
lost that position. Well, I’d even go
further, that I think it was more
under Sadat and Mubarak who really started to break down
state provision of education, and services, and complete
ignoring of, you know, anybody outside of Cairo. Because Cairo, and you can
add Alexandria to that, were the basis of
political support. And outside of that,
there were no services, no good schools, no investment. So I actually don’t think
it’s so much Nasserism to blame, as much
as frankly, a lot of the neoliberal
policies that came in under both Sadat and Mubarek. The book gives more
information, I promise. And put’s it better, way better
than I could in 40 minutes. Oh yeah. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *