The Youth Crisis in Middle Eastern Society
The culture of the Middle East is presently undergoing one of the greatest crises in its modern history. The old authoritarian order, so widespread through much of the region, is running out of steam and out of time. The gulf between ruler and ruled has never been greater, while frustration and anger among the general population at existing conditions—economic, social, political, and international—is at new heights.
In the meantime, with the 11 September 2001 al-Qa’ida attack upon the World Trade Center, Usama bin Ladin has made a bid to determine the nature of relationships between the Muslim world and the US. Both Muslims and Westerners are now engaged in a discussion of the implications of what “Islam” means in political terms; both sides are struggling with how to avoid any sense of inevitability about a “clash of civilizations” and how to apportion “blame” for the state of serious tensions between the two sides that affect all levels of the population in the Muslim world. The US military overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the far reaching implications of this kind of change have as yet untold implications across the region.
Against the background of these dramatic events there lies a less dramatic, but possibly more important, phenomenon that may have greater impact over the longer run than even terrorism and war. I refer to the emergence of a huge and growing population of young people in the region whose presence will likely shake present regimes from within more devastatingly than even the forces of international politics. This demographic factor, sometimes designated as a demographic “youth bulge,” refers to the unusually large percentage of young people among the overall population.