The Middle East is home to one of the greatest and most everlasting civilizations of the world, the Arab civilization. Throughout history, the hallmark of the Middle East has been its diversity and prosperity. From the scientific discoveries of Ibn Toulon and Al Khwarizmi, to the medical discoveries of Ibn Sina. The Middle East has always been a prosperous region of the world with its vast and fertile agricultural lands, rich natural endowments, and its diverse people living in harmony. Fast forward to the year 2014, go and sit in any coffee shop in Cairo, Beirut, Damascus, or Marrakesh. You will meet many young educated people, ones filled with aspirations and burning with a drive for success. All they have in common is their desire to leave the Middle East at the first possible opportunity.
This issue is not specific to any particular Middle Eastern country; it is an epidemic facing the entire region. The educated youth are simply leaving and their countries are left neglected. The obvious question would be why? Why is everyone leaving once they get the chance?
The answer is the loss of hope. It may be acceptable for a country to go through certain economic, social, or political problems every now and then. It happens to all countries with no exception. However, the case in the Middle East is different, whereby the youth’s aspirations were raised to a very high level with the onset of the Arab spring in 2011. Most people were hopeful about a better future. Remember that we are talking about a region where young people compromise an average of 30% of the population if not more, with youth unemployment rates of about 30% as well. All those frustrated youth started growing up and demanding jobs, health care, and a normal life like their peers in the rest of the world. Instead, they had to face oppressive regimes that only knew the language of autocracy and violence. Even with the initial success of some of the revolutions of the Middle East, they were soon to be hijacked by those whom I personally consider to be the most backwards-thinking forces in society: religious fundamentalists. Those youth ended up facing one of two choices; either accept things to go back as they were before the revolutions, or accept extreme religious ideologies that want to dictate how they should live their lives. This duality of either autocracy or religious fundamentalism is not the product of the Arab spring; it has existed since the end of the First World War and due to the creation of the many artificial states that exist in the Middle East today as a result of the Sykes–Picot agreement. Neither choices would satisfy the youth’s demands for a better future and a normal life.
As if that is not enough, at the time of the writing of this blog post, there are six military conflicts simultaneously taking place in the Middle East, two of which threaten the very existence of two of its states (Syria and Iraq). The implications of these wars goes much beyond their immediate scope in this period. War means more children are not going to school, more people are losing their jobs, more infrastructure is being destroyed. Faced with a choice between stability plus dictatorship or chaos plus religious extremism, the choice was inevitable: Stability over chaos. The general feeling in the Middle East right now is that everyone is stuck in this vicious cycle with no way out. The reason is: These conflicts are not just political, they are also religious, sectarian, and communal conflicts, which makes the prospects of solving them in the near future almost impossible. I personally believe that the Middle East is currently going through a period similar to that which Europe has been through in its dark ages. The lack of education, the static state of societies, the negative role religion played in politics, the spread of military conflicts, and the barbaric images of slaughter and torture all support my belief. The only difference is that there is no renaissance coming anytime soon because this is still in the beginning. Many say the conflict in the Middle East is about God, I say God has left the Middle East. For God is all merciful, all just, and all loving. The people who revoke these principles, are the very ones who are killing the spirit of God.
Mohamed Gohary, Regional Intern at World Youth Alliance Middle East.