As I watched George Salibi on Lebanese television speaking to leading figures of youth and student organizations affiliated to Lebanese political parties, who like most young people demonstrated enthusiasm, I was disappointed that the program did not focus more on the issue that was raised in the closing question. Salibi asked, “As young leaders of your parties, can you be different to senior party leaders?”
The answers that were given by the young leaders of Hezbollah, Amal, the Progressive Socialist Party, the Lebanese Kataeb Party, the Lebanese Forces Party, the Free Patriotic Movement [the Aounist Current], the Frangieh’s Al Marada party, and the Future Movement, were all unrealistic. According to the young leaders, the senior party leader is not a dictator and they can differ and propose new ideas etc. One positive aspect regarding these answers was that they did not suggest that they must pledge allegiance to the “inspired” political party leaders. Rather, these young leaders sought to rise through the ranks and gain a position amongst their seniors.
How would anybody benefit if the youth of political parties and currents, and social and political forces everywhere resembled their leaders? What about the benefits of rejuvenation and “young blood”? Unless by young blood, the old leadership means irrational youth who follow orders blindly.
Hassan Nasrallah was thirty-two years of age when he took over leadership of Hezbollah in 1992 following the assassination of its late Secretary-General Abbas al Musawi. Nasrallah was young and represented the new generation of this “divine” party. As a result of his youth and vitality, as well as other factors, Hassan Nasrallah transformed the party into the party-cum-state that it is today in Lebanon.
When Sameer Gaegaa broke away from the Kataeb to form his own party, he was a young man and associated with Bachir Gemayel, who was also a passionate young man when he first entered politics.
Waleed Jumblatt was also of a young age when he assumed leadership of the Progressive Socialist Party following his father’s assassination, even if some view this as hereditary succession.
But after many years of leadership positions in the field of Lebanese politics, these leaders have aged and lack any political creativity to the extent that their words remain unchanged and are repeated over and over.
The problem is that the youth blindly repeat what their leaders say. By doing so, we are killing the development of time and everyday seems like Groundhog Day.
Why do nations take pride in their youth, have trust in them, write lengthy poems about them, set up development programs for them and set up ministries in their interest? The answer is because they are the source of change and pure energy. However if this is exploited to ensure that the same old wheels continue to be rotated, the element of purity is consequently eliminated.
Up to 60 per cent of the Arab world’s population is made up of youths. Dr. Marwan al Muashar, former deputy prime minister of Jordan and the World Bank’s Senior Vice President of External Affairs said during a speech that he gave when the World Bank’s report on education was issued in February, 2008, “The Middle East and North Africa are facing new challenges that have a direct impact on the education sector, the most prominent of which is the region’s young population that is considered one of the highest in the world.”
But the youth are completely absent and play no part in the public sphere. They are indeed a “silent majority” according to their own words. We do not really know their interests, their visions of the future, or their opinions on what is happening or on what should be done. The majority of the media does not have access to them nor do they have access to the media. As for ministries, agencies, and bodies that carry the term ‘youth’ in their titles, they have either transformed into giant bureaucracies or only show an interest in the youth with regards to football.
There is no other way for the youth to express themselves except via the internet, which many people cannot afford in terms of cost or time as they may have to study or work; nevertheless, the internet remains the fundamental and unrestricted outlet for young men and women as they can express themselves on public issues and criticize economic, education and media policies without fear of reprisals.
Those who use internet chat rooms and forums are not obliged to reveal their names or identities. People should not dismiss what is written online as nonsense and even if chat rooms, forums and the Facebook website are not ideal academic resources, those who are part of the decision-making process should pay attention to this platform in order to understand public opinion.
Some of us will remember the effect that Facebook and the Egyptian youth had on politics and how young Kuwaiti bloggers pushed for significant public action to be taken regarding amending the number of electoral constituencies to five. I witnessed a [parliamentary] session full of young men and women as part of public and parliamentary action in Kuwait. The session was open for all and each young man and woman carried his or her laptop to receive and send commentary on the events.
The process of change and enthusiasm is always associated with the youth and in many cases, universities have produced people who initiate change. Young men are not all as reckless as some senior figures believe, as many have changed the course of history. Alexander the Macedonian, who changed world history with his invasions and conquests, which still have an effect on the histories of nations, died at thirty-three years old. Tariq Ibn Ziyad entered Al Andalus at a young age, the great German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel wrote his greatest books at thirty-five years of age and Imam al Shafi’i issued fatwas at the age of fifteen.
The youth has the courage to renew the vision of the present and of the future and are inspired by older symbolic figures. If the youth are convinced that the time has come for change but senior figures fail to seize the opportunity, then the youth will, without thinking about the senior figures.
It is well known that the youth form the catalyst for social movements, artistic struggles and political trends. The youth always look ahead and believe that real change is yet to come.
Al Qaeda is a good example of the danger entailed in neglecting the youth. The youngsters of this movement have been deceived by its raging fires; therefore, we should pay attention to the youth so that they do not become part of such a movement.
The last of the Rashidoun, the rightly-guided Caliphs, Ali Ibn Abi Taleb, famously said: “Teach your sons knowledge other than your own as they are born into an age other than yours.”