MENARY Monitor Semiannual Report 2021:
The State of Youth in the MENA Region

Executive Summary

Politics and Political Engagement 

This section delves into developments related to youth and politics, broken down into Elections, Political Initiatives, Protests, Repression and Exclusion, and Youth Apathy and Mistrust. Syria, Algeria, and Iran all held elections in the second quarter of 2021, which saw varying degrees of voter turnout and apathy among youth. 

Alongside elections, countries across the region saw a number of promising initiatives aimed at politically mobilizing youth, organized by governments, political parties, and civil society organizations. Meanwhile, youth-led protest movements continued in Lebanon, Iraq, Algeria, and Tunisia, continuing a two-year trend of increasing protests over political and socioeconomic concerns. 

Many young protesters were subject to repressive crackdowns, including Palestinians who faced both online and physical repression during the uprising in May and June. Despite the emergence of promising initiatives, the report highlights lingering apathy and mistrust towards politics among youth, a trend that continues ten years after the Arab Spring uprisings. 

The Politics and Political Engagement section features a spotlight on youth engagement and the state of legislative elections across the MENA region, a report previously published by MENAACTION. The section concludes with recommendations advising stakeholders in the region to strengthen initiatives aimed at youth inclusion in the political space; to prioritize and include youth in economic development strategies; to actively encourage youth and prepare them to participate in upcoming elections; and to encourage region-wide connections among youth facing similar challenges. 

Economics and Entrepreneurship 

This section is divided into several categories that analyze sources pertaining to youth and economic conditions and entrepreneurship. Looking at the main findings, in terms of economic policy, governments and educational organizations in the MENA region have been unable to address the changing job market and realigning the educational and technical sectors to the market. 

When it comes to financial inclusion, the sources observed underline that there is a low rate of inclusion in the region, which has affected people's ability to store, send and receive money. 

The third category examines the financial struggles in Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Palestine, and North Africa which are manifested in increased poverty and unemployment rates. Various sources discussed demonstrated that youth are increasingly thinking about emigration for better opportunities. 

The fourth category explores unemployment in the MENA region and how it was exacerbated by COVID-19. Following that, the report delves into employment efforts, including government initiatives to tackle unemployment. The seventh category discusses entrepreneurship and how youth have turned to it in light of growing unemployment. The eighth category examines youth training and capacity building by different public and private sector entities that implemented different programs across the MENA region to help youth with unemployment. Finally, the ninth category explores the digital economy and how COVID-19 has emphasized the need for it, and the opportunities and challenges that it presents for the MENA region.

 

Conflict 

In terms of Conflict, the 2021 Semiannual Report examines five main trends across the region: drug use and trafficking; forced displacement, ethnic cleansing, and migration; rising armed conflict; wrongful imprisonment and human rights violations; and violent extremism. 

Drug availability and consumption among youth are rising in several countries, including Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, and Syria, which are suffering from instability and insecurity. Instability is also driving forced displacement and migration in multiple countries, including Syria, Palestine, Yemen, Sudan, and Iraq, which have the highest number of conflict-induced displaced persons. Ethnic cleansing also leads to displacement in Palestine, alongside armed conflict, which escalated in Gaza in May, killing 66 children. 

Elsewhere, youth in the MENA region have been caught up in armed conflict in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq. The report also notes multiple human rights violations, including wrongful imprisonment, of youth across the region. Lastly, violent extremism and efforts to recruit youth remain a prominent threat. 

The conflict section also features a spotlight article from MENAACTION President Mohammed Abu Dalhoum calling for an integrated approach to combat the prevalence of drugs in the region. 

This section concludes with a series of recommendations advising stakeholders to address both the supply and demand of drugs to combat their prevalence among youth; to increase involvement from the international community to pressure governments causing displacement and support humanitarian work for those displaced; to create independent and transparent legal systems with more international oversight to address human rights violations; and to step up online monitoring of extremist content and adopt preventive programming to stop youth from being recruited.

 

Development

Due to COVID-19, the main development of initiatives in the region focused on addressing the ongoing health crisis. Countries across the Middle East continue to develop programs that address the most vulnerable segments of the healthcare system including, providing life-saving treatments, distribution of vaccines, and developing various societal sectors. The economy, especially, in the region has persistently declined, as key drivers of the country’s economy such as employment, tourism, and trade have continued to decline. According to a MENAACTION 2020 report, 35.7 percent of youth agree that unemployment and lack of job opportunities continue to be the main challenge that they face in the region. 

To address these issues several programs across the region have developed to ensure that engagement among youth continues. Agencies such as the World Bank have endorsed assistance strategies in the Palestinian Territories to ensure that the airy continue to have access to economic developments. Jordanian youth have also launched several initiatives to provide a networking platform for youth in the region. It is evident that the region’s main concern in regard to the youth is the lack of access to professional development opportunities. MENAACTION strongly recommends the continued development of access to job opportunities for youth in order to assist the overall economic development in the region. By providing a space for youth in the region to develop professionally and academically, MENA governments bodies, international organizations, NGOs, and research institutions will be able to help the region flourish economically and socially.

 

Education

In reviewing sources discussing education in the MENA region over the second quarter of 2021, the main themes observed were seminars and meetings, initiatives, and Financial Assistance. Looking at the main trends, the UAE hosted the seventh seminar on Education Interference to discuss the importance of programs. Moreover, there were several education-related initiatives, many of which focused on training youth on research skills. Another initiative, in Egypt, resulted in establishing centers at universities to enhance digital literacy. Similarly in Jordan, the Ministry of Digital Economy and Entrepreneurship partnered with the Ministry of Education to launch a curriculum for digital skills development. Moreover, there were two notable efforts in Qatar and in Jordan to provide underprivileged students with scholarships and financial aid. 

This section features a spotlight article, contributed by Farah Naber, in which she outlines important steps needed to steer education onto the right path in the region. Her recommendations include addressing financial access and the curricula, particularly to ensure that students are taught transferrable skills that are relevant to the ever-changing job market. The section concludes with a set of recommendations for governments and international organizations to address the challenges facing youth when it comes to education. These recommendations include investing in online learning – ensuring their inclusivity for young women and underprivileged students. Other recommendations emphasize what needs to be done to revitalize the relevance of education to the changing job market.

 

Environment

Environmental action is on the rise among youth in the MENA region, yet its coverage in news sources was minimal compared to other themes. These sources discussed climate change; youth stakeholdership; food security and agriculture; pollution and waste management; and sustainable environmental entrepreneurship. Perhaps the main takeaways from this section were (1) there is an increasing consensus that youth should be given a central role in addressing climate change and environmental challenges, (2) initiatives and efforts on the ground remain rather minimal, yet, (3) such efforts tend to be focused on the local level, which is key for raising awareness and changing behavior, and (4) droughts, wildfires, pollution, and food insecurity were some of the main challenges discussed in these sources, however, government and nongovernment action remains subpar. 

This section features a spotlight article by Saumaun Heiat, Director of Development, at MENAACTION, who explores the implications of environmental challenges on Hamun, Iran. MENAACTION illustrates several recommendations at the end of this section, with an outlook for immediate action. Of these recommendations, we highlight the importance of enhancing the use of renewable energy for both businesses and residences; implementing more recycling initiatives; widening the space and scope for youth when it comes to climate action – transcending meetings and conferences and focusing on support campaigns, lobbying efforts, and petitions; and extending transnational cooperative agreements to address water scarcity and food security. Ultimately, challenges associated with the environment were brought about collectively, and collective action is the only way to counter them. 

 

COVID-19

The ongoing struggle to contain and tackle the COVID-19 virus in the MENA region has deeply impacted the already fragile healthcare system in the region. Sources observed over the past few months, Government and social institutions have worked on addressing four main themes, including awareness and mitigation efforts, economic effects, implications on daily life, and vaccination. In the region, misinformation among society have led to a fear driven response to the vaccination efforts conducted by the government and international organizations. To address this issue, youth in the region have launched numerous campaigns where they demonstrated to the public the dire need for precautionary measures such as vaccination, personal hygiene, and social distancing. In Jordan, more than 500 youth volunteers worked closely with the Ministry of Youth in efforts to spread awareness messages on adhering to precautionary measures and the importance of vaccination. Similar initiatives in Egypt and Iraq were launched by youth-led programs to educate the public of the dangers of the virus. 

Economically, due to numerous lockdowns across the region, employment efforts were halted, causing a dramatic increase in unemployment rates among youth. The education sector was also dramatically hit, as schools shifted from in person to online education. And, due to financial instability among families, exacerbated by the pandemic, young kids - especially girls - were forced to drop out of school, as they were not able to participate in online education due to the lack of resources. Students who do participate in online education also face some challenges. A Report by Statemagazine asserts that more than 70% of youth aged 24-34 suffered from irregularities in their sleep such as insomnia in addition to loneliness and concerns over asking for psychological support. 

As the economic and educational infrastructures continue to collapse in parallel to the healthcare systems across the MENA region, it is critical now more than ever for international organizations to provide vaccination efforts to countries in the region. Despite numerous campaign efforts, launched by youth and governments in the region, vaccination rates are still at an all-time low in middle income countries such as Syria and Iraq. The pandemic has disrupted an already struggling MENA region, therefore it is critical now more than ever for governments and local organizations to unify their efforts in urging citizens to follow social distancing and personal sanitation measures to prevent the spread of the virus. Governments should also increase budget allocations to the education sector, as the pandemic has taken a major toll on the sector in the region. 

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