The Generational Gap

Dr. Saeed Al-Masri discusses the directions of social change in the Arab region

Future for Advanced Research and Studies

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Generational Gap

Future for Advanced Research and Studies (FARAS) hosted a lecture at its headquarters in Abu Dhabi titled “Social Change in the Arab Region” delivered by Dr. Saeed Al-Masri, Professor of sociology at Cairo University, on Sunday, April 30, 2017. 

In his lecture, Al-Masri focused on the growing transformations facing Arab societies in general, at the forefront of which are demographic changes, which led to a youth bulge. This forces Arab countries to address the growing social and economic needs to avoid the eruption of crises leading to political instability.  

The discussion touched upon the role of women in society in light of contradictions occurring between increased rates of girls’ education and growing unemployment among women compared to males in some Arab countries. This reveals that some Arab societies will head towards balancing education and employment opportunities for women, while relieving them from the burden of balancing work and family.

Al-Masri pointed out that there are high levels of social mobility in the Arab region resulting from the increasing beneficiaries of state education compared to previous generations. This mobility is linked to globalization, opening to the world and the growing demand for jobs and personal fulfillment. 

This is inseparable from the widening generational gap in some Arab countries due to the differences in generations’ views of the world, their values and beliefs. In addition, youth have to wait long before they have the opportunities to achieve independence and personal fulfilment (waithood), i.e. the long transition period from childhood to adulthood and achieving independence from their families. 

Consequently, this problem has led to the spread of entrepreneurship culture in the Arab world. Youth were able to find solutions for their problems away from the community umbrella through establishing innovative small businesses and startups. However, the environment in some Arab countries is unprepared for the success of such projects, due to the lack of regulations, and the absence of social security and safety nets that protect small enterprises.

On another level, some Arab societies witnessed a decline in state power in return for an increase in societal power, even its intrusion upon the roles of the state. Furthermore, there was a rise in the intermediate communities that do not belong to the state or society. These include virtual communities, communities of peripheral areas and slums, which is called "communities cross-bordering state-society relations”

This issue arises from the contradiction between the cling of some Arab countries to traditional concepts of government, and societal efforts to adopt governance, based on sharing responsibility and public affairs. This is demonstrated in the rise of what is called a “sharing economy”, and other patterns of interactions that occur independently of state power, undermining the latter powers over society. 

Finally, Al-Masri indicated that political Islam is declining and the movements representing it in Arab societies are receding. This comes after the failure of Islamists’ projects, who came to power in Egypt and Tunisia, as their experiences revealed that they do not have real vision or strategy for running state affairs. This helped religion to leave the “political cloak” and be somehow limited to society. The spread of extremism and terrorism in the Arab region is perceived to be a violent reaction to the failure and decline of the political Islam movements.

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