Diplomatic corps, private sector, representatives of civil society and key players called on international organizations, NGOs, and key stakeholders to join the national and regional efforts to implement the relevant items of the UN Security Council Resolution 2250, that deals with youth, peace and security.
To combine and commemorate Nelson Mandela Day on 18 July and World Youth Skills Day on July 15, IPI MENA hosted a webinar on July 20th under the theme “Youth, Education, and Peace Processes in the MENA.” It featured key-speaker Yassine Isbouia, Researcher and Specialist on Youth and Civil Society, Morocco and Sally Hammoud, PhD. Communication and Media Studies, Engagement and Development Consultant, Lebanon, Imjine Oubeid, President of the EL AWASSIR Forum for Dialogue and Human Rights Studies, Mauritania and Sarah Hisham Ettir, Human Resources Department, Ministry of Youth, Libya as discussants.
Opening the conference, IPI MENA Senior Director Nejib Friji stressed the ramifications of unemployment rates and the expanding youth bubble in the MENA region on youth participation in public policy, decision-making, peace-processes and in upholding the universal values such as anti-corruption, sustainable development, democracy, tolerance, good governance, and human rights.
“We need to understand the significance of youth involvement within the context of peace processes and a greater region of stability, integration, and prosperity,” he emphasized. “More than 250 million children and youth live in MENA countries, comprising around 47 percent of the total population. It is therefore vital to ensure they are active participants in policymaking processes.”
He underlined IPI’s Independent Commission on Multilateralism (ICM), as stressing that youth are potential partners in working for peace and sustainable development and should be engaged as such. “The role of ‘youth’ is a cross-cutting issue that has been integrated across all the ICM’s issue areas. A similar cross-cutting approach is needed in the multilateral domain,” he noted.
Yassine Isbouia pointed to the significance of Security Council Resolution 2250 in empowering youth towards meaningful participation in decision-making and enhancing their role as agents of positive change. “It urges governments and the international community to provide support and necessary opportunities to empower youth and promote their involvement in political, social, and economic dialogue and processes,” he stated.
He highlighted the work he has participated in Morocco to strengthen local democracy by promoting youth participation in managing local affairs. “There are ‘local councils for youth’ and ‘the municipality of Asilah as a model,’ where legislation and laws, starting from the constitution to regulatory laws, help the political, cultural, and social empowerment of youth, in addition to strengthening the role of civil society in building public policies,” he explained.
Underlining the role of youth in the case of Libya, Sarah Ettir outlined the Youth Democratic Learning Initiative, which includes a Youth Parliament and Local Youth Councils with the aim to enhance youth political participation, build their leadership capabilities, and train them on legislative and political work and local leadership.
“We have witnessed a democratic electoral process for the Libyan Youth Parliament through electronic ballot with the participation of 7,000 candidates from 13 electoral districts and more than 45,000 voters from the age of 18 to 40 years,” she stated. “Also, 64 local youth councils have been elected so far in three stages out of 128 councils, with a list system and a total of more than 120,000 members.”
She stressed the importance of training programs that were implemented during youth summer camps after having been inactive for 13 years, as well as the support and joint cooperation of the Ministry of Labour and Rehabilitation in the initiative Your Profession, Your Future which aims to aid youth in developing basic skills in vocational crafts.
Sally Hammoud highlighted that one of the characteristics of Lebanon is a form of diversity which is not well reflected in its political system. “We started having a new generation of youth with different education, values, and exposure and we had a time where there were trials of creating a change and sustaining it with time.”
She pointed to the “garbage” crisis that took place in 2015 that prompted youth demonstrations, followed by the 2019 social and political movement which brought greater demands by youth.
“In no time, groups self-organized and central Beirut became a sort of Hyde Park, and critical masses were formed to create some lobbying and new parties that took place. Most importantly, these parties were formed by youth themselves. However, because of the social fabric and complicated political system in Lebanon, we are here at a time where we have not achieved what we want,” she stated. “We have no political education among the youth – if you have any political ambition, you have to go back to your own sect, your own group, it is tribal, more or less.”
She also emphasized the limitations of traditional media industries being embroiled in the propaganda of various political parties, and the subsequent emergence of social media employed by youth as an outlet to break away from the already sectarian industries. “It started to democratize the communication process,” she noted, and was able to provide a space for youth to amplify their voices and air their concerns.
Conversely, she warned that social media also created greater polarization and the development of disputes primarily in the realm of cyber space being brought into, and materializing in, the political spaces on the ground.
Speaking to Mauritania’s youth policies, Imijine Oubeid noted that the legislative elections in Mauritania recently have allowed 11 youth to obtain their own seat in the National Assembly, following the creation of a parliamentary list composed of young people under the age of 35. “Thus, young actors suddenly found themselves confronted with legislative responsibilities,” he stated.
He stressed the dangers of disregarding youth as a solution to regional challenges and pointed to the brain drain that has been occurring, particularly in Mauritania, where 10 percent of youth have emigrated in recent weeks and months. “This state of discontent has accelerated the involvement of youth groups in terrorist organizations, organized criminal organizations and even in the rebel movements widespread in the region,” he warned.
Emphasizing the use of social media by youth groups, he referenced Twitter and Facebook as platforms used by youth to mobilize political and social change in calling for better governance, calling out widespread corruption, and the systematic absence of youth presence.
During the open-floor debate session, Mounir Bouchenaki, advisor to UNESCO and expert on the protection and conservation of world and cultural heritage, spoke about the importance of culture in playing a role in empowering youth and agreed with the speakers in the need for greater involvement by governments in supporting these initiatives.
“In the Arab region in particular, the choice made in the education sector to put emphasis on science and technology is certainly very important, but it cannot be fruitful if, in addition to the knowledge about these important topics for the development of the country, you don’t have an effort of raising awareness about culture and cultural heritage,” he stressed.
He pointed to Mosul as a concrete example of the critical role of youth. “When Daesh left the city of Mosul in 2018, it was totally destroyed, it was a ghost city. This year, 2023, I was in Mosul and there are two young associations of people from Mosul, rehabilitating a place, using the space to organize activities in a city which is returning slowly to life… young people are intervening, organizing seminars, and creating a small museum,” he underlined. “This is a field where the young generation is important and should be supported either by public or private bodies.”