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Forum discusses Arab youth challenges

In a two-day conference entitled “Arab Youth: Challenges and Future”, discussions and lectures were presented by many Arab countries’ experts and youth representatives. During the forum, held under the patronage of His Highness Prince El Hassan Bin Talal, speakers emphasized the importance of Arab youth participation in their respective country’s political, social and economic fields.

Speakers also discussed reasons and future solutions to challenges that young Arabs are facing in the 21st century. No society moves forward without continuous communication with its future generation, said the Prince, during the opening ceremony of the forum. Prince El Hassan, president of the Arab Thought Forum listed a number of statistics revealing the impending problems facing Arab countries. He pointed out the increased number of illiterate citizens in Arab countries, low income, lack of democracy and death among youth and children due to diseases and lack of medicine.

The Prince outlined the importance of bridging the gap among generations, enabling the Arab youth to make important decisions which in return make them gain more responsibilities. Many of the participants in the conference presented and exchanged ideas with officials from civil society institutions, including sociologists, intellectuals, political analysts and researchers on their future hopes and aspirations.

The participants also discussed concrete ways to solve the problems facing the youth sector in the Arab world. Why are we focusing on youth? Ibrahim Badran, vice-president of Philadelphia University in Jordan, asked. To look into the future means they [youth] are the ones who will determine and shape our society and country, he answered. Badran also said there are currently 168 million people in the Arab world who are young (between the ages of 15-32).

The technological advance, education, employment, the need for freedom and democracy are desires that youth in the Arab world yearn for, Badran said. Moreover, speakers said political, social, environmental factors and moving towards modernity are important factors for today’s youth.

Badran, like other speakers pointed out to the positive aspects of the continuous development in many sectors of society. Development, they said, means the exchange of ideas between the different generations, freedom of choice (social and political), the ability to achieve goals as well as ambitions, developing security (financial and otherwise) and living in a healthier environment. According to statistics presented in the conference, of Jordan’s 5.3 million residents, 3.2 million are considered youth. Only 1.1 million of these young men and women are productive.

But the chart shows ominous numbers of productive youth vis-à-vis the population of the young throughout the Arab world. Participants from Saudi Arabia, where youth population is 14 million of which only 4.7 million are considered productive, pointed out to basic necessities and needs for development.

There is a need for the Arab youth to be active participants in society, where their ideas are heard and their goals can be achieved, said Abdel Ilah Al Salawi, one of the Saudi participants. The right to mental and physical health is of utmost importance as well as education, independence be it socially, politically or otherwise; basic human requirements should be met like food, water, clothing, etc.

A report entitled “What does society want from youth?” was also presented by Muna Shaqir, a researcher from Jordan. The Jordanian society is considered young with 50 percent of its citizens are young, said Shaqir. “You would think that any society with this age range should be dynamic, active and ever-changing but I do not consider Jordan to be like that,” she stated. “Today’s Jordanian youth do not possess the qualities with these descriptions and abilities,” Shaqir said as she pointed out to social and political obstacles, which are impeding the process of development for Jordanian youth to reach full potential. “On the surface it may seem like Jordan’s society is completely modern; but actually it is still traditional and some of its institutions remain in the dark,” she added.

In his closing remarks, Prince El Hassan said the rights of citizens, family planning, gender equality and justice in economic development are all important ideas and objectives that must be met to empower Jordan’s youth. “We are still not a society which rewards its citizens and workers; there is still corruption in many places and unfortunately that is the main reason why some of our best youth, when asked, said they would immigrate,” he added and concluded, “If we develop into a society that rewards, gives citizens their rights then the results, I believe, would speak for themselves.”

Amman,04 13 2004
Rana Sweiss
The Star
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