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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 August 2005, 15:10 GMT 16:10 UK
What role for the Middle East's young?
Young men in a mall in Dubai
The Middle East's young people live in changing societies in a changing region.

They chatter on mobile phones, follow fashion and sit exams like their Western counterparts.

But they must also navigate a complex path between traditional culture, religious values, Western attitudes and social expectations as they establish identities, choose careers and find marriage partners.

And from the new conservative president in Iran to tentative democratic reform in Saudi Arabia, political change is also shaping their world.

Do you live in the Middle East? What is life like for young people in your country? What role do they play? How do you see them? Are they tomorrow's leaders, a lost generation or something else?

This debate is now closed. Thank you for your comments.


The following comments reflect the balance of views received:

I'm sick of the stereotypical Arab mentality that the West corrupts Middle Eastern youth
Mounir Habib, Abu Dhabi, UAE
First of all, why is the Middle East always automatically associated with Islam? I am a Palestinian Christian born and raised in the UAE and honestly I think its a great place to live, with a political system that keeps the people happy. Sure, there are the rich and the poor but that's the case in all countries. I'm sick of the stereotypical Arab mentality that the West corrupts Middle Eastern youth. If Western "video clips, camera phones, Bluetooth and Jenna Jameson" are pulling Middle Eastern youth away from their faith its because their faith wasn't there in the first place or it was terribly weak. Wake up Middle East! Take what you want from the West - we can learn from them, maybe in the future after we prove that were not all barbarians the West will learn from us too.
Mounir Habib, Abu Dhabi, UAE

Arab youth must understand that "Westernisation" is not the only way to development. The main problem that I see is that youths believe the only way to be "in" and "cool" is to do whatever they see on Friends or Desperate Housewives. Although the new "global culture" is mainly Western, Arabs are not making any effort to include Arabic culture into this global one. It is like we are ashamed of our traditions, culture, and history.
Faisal, Kuwait

Liberalism exists in both developed and under-developed countries and societies. However, what distinguishes our case in the Middle East is the unhealthy adoption of Western ideas (eg: fashion, cars and music) while neglecting the core ideas which launched and sustained Western civilization (research, education, charity and productivity). Most urban youth have access to latest entertainment gadgets and clubs like their Western peers, but we hardly ever have good libraries, book stores and affordable reading material. It is frustrating to know that in some Middle Eastern countries, imported vodka is cheaper than imported books and magazines!
Kumail, Muscat, Oman

I'm a young man from Syria. Syria is the worst country ever for youth for the following reasons - we don't have any kind of freedom in Syria for youth, secondly there are no job opportunities and incomes are very low with high inflation and thirdly working for the government is for the president's loyal workers only. On top of that we have to do military service for two years - unpaid - and under all kinds of torture.
Sami, Damascus, Syria

It is vital the young in the Middle East learn from the mistakes of their elders. They must bury the bigoted attitudes of the generations that have preceded them. They have the chance to forward, they should take it and run.
Dan Braverman, Minnesota, US

I think you could write a book about the internal conflicts in the young of the Middle East. I have lived in Saudi Arabia for years and have known many young Saudi men. I've found that while they live in a austere desert nomad culture where tribe, family, religion, and modesty all are strong values, they also partake in phone sex, instant messaging, alcohol, and Gulf area prostitutes. Living this dual life must cause internal conflict in these men, and I wonder how this will affect ultimately affect the Middle East.
Jerome, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia

When I hear people talking about Western "decadence", I think that some people from the Middle East believe that there is an ever ongoing orgy in the West. I assure you, it is not the case. But if unveiled women driving cars or riding bikes to their job is considered a sin, then yes, we are decadent.
Roberto , Montreal, Canada

Why do we always have to be compared to the West in what we do? Why can't we just be seen as what we are, a unique people?
Abbas Al-Lawati, Omani in Montreal, Canada

I was born and raised in Jordan, but attended university in the United States. Returning to my country for summer vacation, I find youth parked on the sides of roads for hours with nothing else to do. It would be easy to blame the youth for their indifference, but it is important not to overlook the role the government can play in encouraging youth productivity, community involvement, and activities. The onus is on the government to motivate youth and to help them become more active and productive citizens of their countries.
Leen, Amman, Jordan

The youth of the Middle East should separate religion from politics in the future
Anon, USA
The youth of the Middle East should separate religion from politics in the future. Everyone should have the choice to be religious or not or to choose whatever religion they wish. Religion is a tool for learning how to treat others, it is not a manual to be taken word for word. I think one of the biggest problems with the Middle East is that people do not look outside the box. Think for yourselves, don't let all your ideas come from clerics and mullahs. It is possible to be a spiritual person without the strict code of conduct religion forces upon you.
Anon, USA

The problem in my country Egypt is that the young generation are completely marginalised both by the government and by our own social fabric. Add to this a poor economy, high unemployment, lack of opportunities and you have a formula for escaping reality... either to religious extremism or to a Western model of total freedom which does not suit our identity. The moderate young, who tend to be the middle-upper class citizens, have managed to grasp the best of both in terms of religious values from Islam and modernity from the West. However, until the young have freedom to express their views in any aspect of life either at home, in the community or in any political party, our societies will suffer more and more from the illnesses that we have today.
Hisham Youssef, Cairo, Egypt

I believe it is time for the youth in the Middle East to take courage and stand up, so they may have the freedom to explore other mindsets, change their paradigms and make decisions for themselves based on the truth and what is right. Although past generations oppose most Western concepts, they are not all evil - therefore today more than ever it is in the youth's best interest to sort them out and adopt those which are good.
Anais, TX, USA

I disagree with the premise of others here that Western "liberalisation" leads to an apparent moral decay among youths. It is a bit of an overgeneralisation to assume that providing the youth with the freedom of choice will ultimately lead to moral depravity. This is an argument espoused by those who fear losing power and control (political leaders and parents alike). I have been fortunate enough to have been brought up in a supportive family that stresses education and freedom of choice and thus I am now pursuing a career that I truly love and I owe it to this so called "depraved" society that I live in.
Martin, New York, USA (ex: Poland)

The roles of young people - and of people in general - seem to depend on the Middle Eastern state in which they live. In democratic Israel everyone pretty much does as they please; in Saudi Arabia women are not allowed to drive and girls escaping from a burning school may be pushed back inside if they are dressed "immodestly". It just depends.
Inna Tysoe, Sacramento, CA, USA

People keep on talking about how the young people in the Middle East are getting corrupt by the West. I am from the Middle East, when I lived there I did not drink alcohol, now that I live in the US I don't drink alcohol. The Americans don't dictate to me what my moral standard should be. If you don't like what you see in the shops don't buy it. If you don't like what you see on TV switch it off. And if you don't like what you read, put the book back on the shelf. And if you are with people whose morals and way of thinking don't match with yours, greet them and move on.
Shat, DC, US

Many of the respondents here are indicative of the problems facing the Middle East. Too many people insist on pushing their personal moral and religious values on everyone else. The West is great because it gives people the freedom to decide for themselves how they want to live. This idea that the West is depraved is ridiculous. Muslims need to get past this kind of narrow minded, prudish thinking, separate mosque and state, and, yes, embrace Western political and economic values. If the Middle Eastern mindset doesn't change the region will stay mired in ignorance and poverty.
Ahmed, Chino, California

Arab youth have to wake up from a state of indifference that has stifled development and push for getting rid of extremist elements. On one side we support erotic video clips, on the other we claim that terrorist bombs are justified. We have to realise that the future is in our hands and thus should be much more serious in our approach to understanding the meaning of life. We have a responsibility to put the Middle East back in the forefront of the world's civilisations.
Ryan W Sadi, Amman, Jordan

Dictatorial regimes in the Middle East have created a situation where some youth are looking for Westernisation and liberalisation as an alternative. This will create social and moral decay as is evident in the West. The youth need to reflect on their history and heritage. There was a time when the world looked to the Middle East for inspiration and not vice-a-versa. The Middle East requires Islamic political change in which the dictators are replaced with an elected leader who is accountable to the state and the people and who is religiously obliged to provide the basic needs for all citizens irrespective of nationality or religion.
Ibrahim, UK

I grew up and lived in Dubai until I finished high school. For those who know Dubai, it would be incorrect to say that it is considered inappropriate for a woman to be out after 10 pm. The culture in Dubai thrives on tourism, which is apparent from recent developments and in the city. Night life is quite extravagant in the city. Dubai, unlike most of the most other Gulf cities has a more liberal living standard. There are no obvious restrictions on how people dress and lead their lives. It's also one of the most metropolitan cities in the Gulf region with a good mix of ethnicities from all over the world.
Imad, London, UK

To Rod, it is not Western freedoms the youth want, it is jobs and security. At the moment because the corrupt governments are not helping the people, some turn to Islam as their guide, others get warped into depraved Western ills. The only solution is to get rid of the old government and establish a proper democratic state where Islamic values live in harmony.
Sarosh, UK

What Muslims need to do is not to follow the East or the West, they need to follow Islam, because following Islam created some of the most powerful Islamic empires that lasted until secularism, moral decadence, and corruption ended the Islamic empires in the early 1900s. The Muslims ruled by Islam were more advanced that Europe and now they are turning to Europe and the West for a role model, when the West were the ones that borrowed all the science and technology from the Muslims. What the Muslims need is a religious awakening!
Anon, US

I was born and raised in Jordan, a country which relies heavily on the power of its youth for the young leaders of tomorrow. The Hashemite Kingdom has tried to create patriotism in the hearts and minds of every Jordanian citizen towards his country; it has succeeded to some degree by creating the 'Jordan First' campaign. One of the aims is to spread education so the leaders of tomorrow are well prepared to fight the issues our country suffers from. I believe the youth has a large role in bringing Arab countries together to help create some sort of unity and understanding between them in order to facilitate bridging the gaps between the Middle East and the West. Jordan has proven to be a safe country in our politically instable and turmoil region. It is a true blessing to be a citizen of this country and a loyal Arab of this region.
Luma Qadoumi, Amman, Jordan

One of the major problems we face in the Middle East is a lack of tolerance for each other
Walid Haggag, Cairo, Egypt
One of the major problems we face in the Middle East is a lack of tolerance for each other. The masses resent the fact that they are marginalised from the mainstream economy. The rich guard their conspicuous wealth and privileges and regard the underprivileged as a nuisance. The conservatives resent what they regard to be the decadence of Westernisation. The secular elites continue to act in a manner that ignores the core religious values that their society is supposedly based upon. And where is the government in all this? Far too stagnant and way too timid to upset this ridiculous imbalance. No wonder the youth are frustrated. I'm sure there is a solution out there and we don't have to look too far to find one. Malaysia is a prime example. It has maintained its religious heritage, allowed for the peaceful coexistence of its different ethnic groups and modernised its economy at an amazing speed. Surely there is something there that we, in the Middle East, can learn from?
Walid Haggag, Cairo, Egypt

I live in the Middle East and I feel like things are changing rapidly. Young people are becoming more open these days than they were five years ago. I'm pretty shocked myself, I feel like things are getting out of hand, sometimes. I guess they are imitating what they see on the television or their friends. Personally, I think people under 16 should be at home before 11 at night. These days people are roaming around in the middle of the night in the shopping malls, it is appalling! I don't know much about the future leaders, but I hope someone responsible will make good changes. These days the new technology is being abused and it's a shame when something like this is so useful. I just hope parents try to set their children on the right track because "Our children are the future".
Donia, Kuwait

I believe the youth of the Middle East are becoming more and more aware of their lack of freedom in their society. The more self-aware they become, the more their corrupt governments worry about losing control. This is really about personal freedom. Freedom to wear what you want. Freedom to read what interests you. Freedom to listen to the music you like and to dance to it as well if it moves you! These are freedoms the youth of the West take for granted today and I thank God that statement can be made!
Daniel, USA

As a young Muslim I am rather frustrated at the Western view that for Arab/Muslim countries to progress they must allow sexual freedom and free mixing. I have long lived in the UK and I know that its the industrial infrastructure and leading edge research that made UK a strong nation, not sexual freedom. What we really need is technological support and a real chance of research and high education. Islam calls for seeking knowledge "from the cradle to the grave" and it's unfortunate that our educational systems have so far failed in supporting the youth who have so much potential. The Islamic civilisation which lasted about 1000 years was known for its leading edge scientific research and development while social morals were kept intact. In fact, the decay of good morals was an element of its destruction and subsequent colonisation by the West.
Abdessalem Bouferrouk, Algeria

The youth in the Middle East are the future of this great region. Islam and the Middle East are most definitely not incompatible with prosperity and modernity; this is a myth created by the West and the backward, corrupt leaders that run these countries. The Middle East will inevitably progress because the youth think and act differently from the elders. Whether they decide to modernise in the image of the West, or as Asia, develop in its distinct manner, is up to the people of the Middle East. As a person who is a product of the West I want to reach out to these people and the peoples of Africa, Latin America and Asia and give the equality that the West for so long has consciously denied them.
Rod, Australia

I have lived and worked in the Middle East for seven years. I have seen many changes in that period, especially among the young people I have worked with. I do, however, want to warn against generalising. Just as in the UK and Europe there are a myriad of different challenges facing young people, so too are there many different challenges facing young people here and each individual reacts differently to the challenge. In Egypt, for example, it is the resilience of the people, old and young alike, which drives them. The bombings in Sharm el Sheikh and the reaction of the young people of Egypt to those bombings is an example. In two days time a motorcade of around 50 cars will be driving from Cairo to Sharm el Sheikh to hold a vigil at the sites of the blasts. This is their reaction to the terror that has hit their country.
Lynne, Amman, Jordan

I don't agree with people blaming the change towards liberalism within the young generation on Western culture. Western culture is an updated version of our culture. After all, they used to hold strict religious views towards dating and sex 100 years ago. Why not leap forward 100 steps and learn from their experience and adopt their ways than go through each step? One thing that really needs to be done is for my government to learn from the West and get rid of the corruption and truly help its citizens.
Ahad, UAE

We're all really frustrated. The poor don't have jobs and are turning to religious conservatism. The upper class and the upper middle class are bored out of their minds. There is nothing to do. Pop culture is a big joke. Our music is rubbish. I love listening to it because it's fun but after a month I get bored. Politically we are all frustrated. Our governments are all corrupt and although there is some change for the better, nothing is improving and religious extremism is a result of this. When we look at other Arab countries, we see a horrible situation in Iraq, bombings in Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and of course the never ending Palestinian problem. In Bahrain, the job market is really bad and people who have jobs are not challenged enough. The best solution would be to just leave, but I want to stay and help my country improve. The last thing I want to do is to contribute to the brain drain in the Middle East.
Rasha, Bahrain

I am an Indian national working in Kuwait. The younger lot are more pleasure loving and care free. Eat well and enjoy life is their only motto. The Western influence has set a bad example to moral values and surely music and latest technology like Bluetooth and video clips and camera phones are to blame. If this goes on for long then the Middle East will also become a morally depraved society.
M Ahmed, Kuwait






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