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FDL Book Salon Welcomes Juan Cole, The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation is Changing the Middle East

Welcome Juan Cole (Informed Comment)(twitter) and Host Charles Tuttle (CTuttle)(twitter)

The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation is Changing the Middle East

In his new book, Professor Cole charts the ‘Arab Spring’ revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, touching upon Syria and Yemen. He credits the Millennial Generation (those born between 1977 and 2000) as a major force behind the varying attempts to change the status quo. As he wrote, “the millennial generation of young Arabs took to the streets, in the millions, chanting ‘bread, freedom and social justice.’ Basically calling for ‘dignity’ (karama), a sense of personal autonomy and rights to freedom of one’s person and one’s political beliefs that must not be infringed by the security forces of each ‘Republican Monarchy.'” Utilizing the latest social media tools on the internet, the youth were very adept at networking and coordinating the numerous direct actions that rattled the regimes.

As Prof. Cole wrote, “Young people are the key to the rapid political and social change in the Arab countries that have been in turmoil since 2011,” Arguing that members of this “Arab Generation Y” are more literate than their elders, more urban and cosmopolitan, more technologically savvy and less religiously observant than those over 35. He further states that many Arab millennials, a generation suffering from “Depression-era” rates of unemployment, used their free time to agitate for democratic change:

they were ‘biographically available’ for meetings, Internet communications, and small demonstrations

In extensive interviews with many student activists and bloggers in Cairo, Benghazi, Tripoli, Tunisia, and even Paris, often during the height of the Arab Spring, Prof. Cole takes the reader inside the youth movements in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, showing us how activists used technology and social media to amplify their message and connect with like-minded citizens across the region. As he wrote in his preface:

The rise of the internet may not have been as central to these social movements as some Western press coverage assumed. Nevertheless the revolutions were at least to some extent enabled by blogging, Facebook and Twitter campaigns, satellite television, and smartphones. New media allowed activists to get the word out about torture and corruption in ways that the state-dominated press would not have. The internet worked in tandem with popular social and political movements that moved like deep currents to produce these waves of change.

In closing Prof. Cole wrote about the seriousness of the times, “The rise of crime and of political terrorism from Muslim extremists and the constant instability and changes in the executive, while serious problems, should not blind us to the achievements of the youth in putting increased personal autonomy and dignity on the table for societal negotiation. They have kicked off what is likely to be a long inter generational argument, in which there will be both advances and setbacks. We are still two or three decades from the time when the Arab millennials will come to power, but they have laid down markers on the future of the region.”


[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. – bev]

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