On April 3, 2021, Prince Hamzeh bin Hussein of Jordan was confined by the Jordanian armed forces to his home and cut off from outside communication. While many observers speculate about palace politics, Matthew Lacouture delves into the significance of the prince’s statements decrying corruption and economic mismanagement. He shows how Hamzeh’s words echo the grievances of activists as he traces the evolving discourses of labor, youth and popular mobilizations across Jordan.
The mood in Tunisia was tense after Ramadan, a month after 38 tourists were killed in the beach resort of Sousse at the end of June. Key buildings on the capital’s main boulevard, Habib Bourguiba Avenue, including the Ministry of Interior, were surrounded with barbed wire and conspicuous police protection. Parliament had just passed a counter-terrorism law criticized by local and international human rights associations for granting extraordinary powers to security agencies.
On June 7, Turkish citizens went to the polls to elect the 550 members of the Grand National Assembly. Although the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) won 41 percent of the vote, it lost its majority in the parliament for the first time since 2002. It was a major blow for the party’s founder, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose plan to become a more powerful executive with fewer checks and balances seems to have been vetoed by the electorate.
“Once,” the Iranian comedian Mehran Modiri notes, “our marital relationships were formed over long distances. An Iranian man would explore the world abroad with his father’s money. When the money ran out, he would suddenly miss home-cooked qormeh sabzi and ask his family to send him a pure Iranian bride, so innocent she has seen neither sunrise nor sunset.” Today, Modiri continues, Iranian marriages are long-distance even when the couple is in the same room: “The husband is on Facebook while the wife watches Turkish serials. He might be 90 years old, and she’ll be on Instagram. He orders out for dinner, but she’s on a diet. The children are away at nursery school.
Nearly four years later, the dusty road between Sidi Bouzid’s main thoroughfare and the humble residential quarter where Mohamed Bouazizi grew up is still blemished with the same potholes. He was not known in his hometown by that name. Though international media outlets immortalized this moniker after he set himself on fire, the first name of the young Tunisian street vendor who lit the now clichéd proverbial match was Tarek. (Full name: Tarek al-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi.) His friends called him Basbousa. In the popular discourse, the story of Sidi Bouzid’s December 2010 uprising is something of a fairy tale: The youth revolted, the tyrant fell and the Arab world’s first real democracy was forged in the fires of Bouazizi’s rage.
On January 25, 2011, like most of the rest of the world I watched the uprisings in Egypt on television. I was struck by the consistent vantage point: a reporter speaking from a balcony or rooftop overlooking the masses in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo. There was an occasional interview with a member of the crowd. Sporadic reports appeared from the streets of other cities — Alexandria, Suez or Port Said — where people were demonstrating.
More than 50 percent of Syrian refugees living in Lebanon are 17 or younger. Back home the great majority of them were in school. But youth who try to continue their education in Lebanon face social, economic and bureaucratic obstacles. The cost can be so steep that their parents may opt to keep them at home. There is a lengthy wait list to attend Lebanese public schools, which are soliciting outside donations to pay teachers and other staff for a second shift made up of refugee children.
I recently came across two accounts of Arab youth that fly in the face of conventional wisdom. One is Kristin Diwan’s issue brief on youth activism in the Arab Gulf states for the Atlantic Council, and the other is a documentary by filmmaker Jumana Manna on Palestinian “male thug culture” in East Jerusalem. The film is called Blessed, Blessed Oblivion.
Update 1 on prisoners and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, from the halls of the State Department: Last week, the United States considered releasing Jonathan Pollard, an American convicted of espionage on behalf of Israel, in exchange for Israel doing, as political analyst Yousef Munayyer put it, “several things it already should have done long ago,” including releasing both short- and long-term Palestinian prisoners. The media attention to the Pollard case is just another distraction from the wider issue of Palestinian political prisoners, whose incarceration affects thousands of families every day.
Generation Y has figured large in the global pattern of protest beginning at the tail end of the 2000s. In marches against the fraudulent presidential election in Iran, against austerity in southern Europe, against autocracy in places from Morocco to Bahrain, and against greed and corruption in the United States, people born between 1980 and the late 1990s, aged 15-30, have been a driving force. Generation Y, also known as the millennials or the We Generation, is more than 2 billion people, roughly a third of the world’s total population.
On June 16, 2012, female students at the University of Khartoum mounted a demonstration that released a wave of protest on campuses and major towns across Sudan. The young women exited the university gates chanting “Freedom, freedom,” demanding the “liberation” of their campus from the grip of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) and the reversal of a 35 percent hike in bus and train fares announced earlier by the government.
On February 12, 2011, thousands of Egyptians flooded Tahrir Square to celebrate the previous night’s ouster of Husni Mubarak, their country’s dictator of 30 years. It was an unusually bright and clear-skied Cairo Saturday, full of promise of a new Egypt. From atop the October 6 bridge that spans the ‘Abd al-Mun‘im Riyad portion of Tahrir, where just nine days earlier government-paid attackers had rained down ammunition upon pro-democracy demonstrators in the most brutal battle of the revolution, one could see dozens of crews of young people cleaning the square.
Soon after the onset of protests which eventually toppled Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, a wave of riots swept through Algeria as well, with many neighborhoods in the capital of Algiers and dozens of smaller cities overwhelmed by thousands of angry young men who closed down streets with burning tires, attacked police stations with rocks and paving stones, and set fire to public buildings. For Algerians a few years older than the rioters, these events recalled the uprising of October 1988, in which violent unrest upended the single-party state.
Shahram Khosravi, Young and Defiant in Tehran (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007).
Beirut is known internationally for a youthful jet set that likes to be identified with the world clubbing circuit, including such stops as B018, an underground nocturnal haunt reminiscent of a coffin built by Lebanese architect Bernard Khoury upon the remains of a war crime.
In evaluating women’s position in the contemporary Islamic Republic of Iran, it is important to look at the social, as opposed to the legal, aspects of citizenship. In the decades following the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Iranian society has become resolutely more modern, despite the public face of elderly tradition presented by its clerical political elite. This modernization enhanced trends that were already evident before the revolution. In 1978–1979, for the first time more Iranians lived in cities than in the countryside, and nearly half the population could read and write. The number of births per family rose in the early years of the revolution, but by 1986 the fertility rate peaked, and then began a dramatic decline.
The photograph fetched from a back room in the narrow two-story house on the edge of Bethlehem’s Aida refugee camp shows a precociously handsome adolescent, posing in a baseball cap and sports jacket against a faux backdrop of the Versailles palace gardens. A kaffiyya is tucked around his neck; his smile is mildly self-conscious. “He was 16 when they arrested him; his seventeenth birthday he spent in prison,” says Marwan’s older brother Maher as the picture is passed around. “He liked acting.”
Over the weekend thousands of Iranian students continued their protests to demand political reform. Their voices were raised in support of Hashem Aghajari, the college professor who has been sentenced to death for blasphemy. But the student movement is broader than dissent over one injustice.