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Arab Youth as Political Actors

After the optimism that accompanied the uprisings of 2011, the Arab region today is losing the momentum sparked by those grassroots reform movements. Repression, conflicts, and instability are plaguing countries across the region, destabilizing institutions and populations alike. However, despite the growing negativity, there remain pockets of optimism for the region’s present and future, in the shape of formal and informal efforts by its people to counter its complex challenges.

At the heart of this process are the youth, who played an important role in the social movements of 2011 and continue to form a key pillar of societies’ resilience in the region. Youth as social and political entrepreneurs, or cultural activists, have found meaningful ways to resist the regional tendencies and are courageously carving spaces where democratic practice is geared to social justice concerns.

ARI’s rationale takes an innovative view of what is meant by “youth.” We understand youth not as social category but rather as generational practice of politics, governance, and participation that is patterned on new understandings of state-society relations. Youth have shown a broader understanding of politics, focusing less on procedural dimensions than on transforming relations between governance and civil/political society. They are pursuing freedom of expression, equal citizenship, and social justice in seemingly non-political domains. These collective understandings have pushed youth towards different forms of engagement and new forms of governance.

The project aims to foster these same values through the development of youth as political actors, by working directly with them to encourage and enhance their roles in political and social reform in ways that correspond to their own expectations and goals, and by providing concrete strategies and tools that will strengthen their resilience and capacity to bring about ground-up change.

The two-year project, running from 2016 to 2018, uses action-research methodology to support the social-economic and governance initiatives of youth in Algeria, Tunisia, Lebanon and Syria. The project’s specific activities include:

• Research into youth civic and governance practices, as well as comparative case studies of other youth actors from around the globe, specifically from Latin America.

• Learning groups, working directly with youth actors to develop collaborative strategies regarding the role of youth in local governance, political/social transformation, and other issues for engagement.

• Policy dialogues, bringing together youth actors from different groups and organizations, along with more traditional political actors, to conduct policy discussions on how youth practice can be complementary to the more traditional efforts at political and social transformation.

• An impact group involving experts in digital engagement and creative digital strategies to reach out to external constituencies, share experiences of new practices, and establish new networks and coalitions.

The project is led by Sarah Anne Rennick, Deputy Director for Management.