Fighting despair is key to peace and stability in the Arab world

Sunday 01/05/2016

According to a recent survey by the International Organisation for Migration, 80% of Iraqi migrants to Germany reported the primary factor that drove them to leave their homes was their belief there was “no hope in the future”.

In much of the Arab world, loss of hope is a reflection of failure by politicians to inspire confidence. Many are perceived to be more interested in jockeying for power and influence than working for the common good.

This has often fuelled a demobilising apathy towards political life.

For decades after independence, Arab youth were promised a better future. Despite their leaders’ pledges, good jobs and a better quality of life have not materialised. The rampant suspicion of widespread corruption and the cynicism it created further undermined the credibility of politicians.

Such cynicism towards the political class can provoke unrest among frustrated segments of the population.

The more serious danger, however, is that diminished hopes can lead to doubts about the possibility of peaceful political change. In too many instances, that kind of attitude has paved the way for violence and extremism.

Also, thousands of despairing young Arabs have risked their lives in pursuit of greener pastures outside their countries’ borders. For years, and especially in recent months, they have crossed the Mediterranean and the Aegean seas by the thousands.

Confronted with disappointing realities upon arrival in Europe, many are returning home.

The misleading narrative of greater reward in the hereafter has encouraged small numbers of confused and fragile young minds to seek the path of violent jihad.

The gaping void created by families as they increasingly disappear from the lives of their children under the pressure of modern social transformations has deprived younger generations of Arabs of a crucial support system that used to provide them with more confi­dence for the future.

Social media, smartphones and almost universal access to the internet have created more opportunities. They have also bred more frustration among young people who have greater awareness of their personal shortcomings and the limits of their own environments.

This vicious circle will be hard to break but there are possibilities other than despair and self-destruction.

A 2016 University of Maryland survey of Tunisian public opinion indicated that 78% of the population in this small North African country said the “most important obligation for Tunisians” was to “excel in science and technology”.

Only 1% of respondents said the overriding obligation should be to “travel to Muslim countries to fight enemies of Islam”. This runs against the reductive and misleading perception that Tunisia is principally the top breeding ground for jihadism in the Middle East and North Africa.

It also shows there can be light at the end of the tunnel in the region.

Despite all the manifestations of catastrophic failure surrounding them, young people in the Arab world still have dreams and they want to pursue these dreams in their home countries. It is time that local leaders — assisted by the international community — give them a better chance to break the cycle of despair and offer them a realistic vision of a better future on this Earth, not in the hereafter.