Next US president should back Arab youth empowerment: survey

A large proportion of the Arab public wants to see a just solution to the Palestine conflict and an improved future for Palestinian youth. (AFP)
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Updated 27 October 2020

Next US president should back Arab youth empowerment: survey

  • Arab News/YouGov pan-Arab survey provides a regional wish list of the next US president’s priorities
  • Analysts urge US to encourage economic growth rather than view the Middle East through security lens

DUBAI: Youth empowerment has long been viewed as a key driver of global development. The new Arab News/YouGov pan-Arab survey shows that the issue is a priority for Arabs. Close to half (44 percent) of the respondents said they would like to see the next US president focus on “empowering young people.”

Baria Alamuddin, an award-winning journalist and political commentator, said a long-term challenge for modern Arab states is developing economies capable of absorbing their growing youth populations.

This is especially true, in her view, of those countries that have failed over the past decade to increase the number of “wealth-creating” jobs in the private sector.

“This challenge is as immediate as ever and is a primary motivator behind Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 and equivalent initiatives in many other Arab states,” she said.

Alamuddin believes officials in the next US administration may need convincing of the value of investing in the region’s young people.

“The challenge will be to encourage these officials to prioritize the region from a perspective of economic growth and youth empowerment, rather than just from a narrow security and terrorism approach,” she said.

That youth empowerment is so widely cited as a key Arab priority does not surprise Hussein Shobokshi, a Saudi columnist and businessman, who said it reflected the Arab world’s young demographic.

“Right now the loudest voice in the Arab world on all fronts is the youth. They are controlling the rhetoric, they are establishing the priorities on the economic front, new jobs and the direction of these new jobs, and the topics that are engaging in the media and on social media platforms,” he said.

This “rhetoric or lingua franca” is to a large extent influenced by the US through technology and entertainment, he said, but also through higher education. “We were used to the engagement of the US in the field of investment, the economy, in education,” said Shobokshi, referring to the American universities in Beirut, Cairo, Dubai and Sharjah.

However, he thought that unless the US and its Western allies engage with the Arab world’s youth in more substantial ways, the resulting vacuum could soon be filled by Russia or China — causing a potential headache for US policymakers.

The survey also found that 44 percent of Arabs would like to see the next US president play a greater role in solving the Arab-Israeli problem, while 24 percent said containing Iran and Hezbollah ought to be a priority.

In this context, Alamuddin said a large proportion of the Arab public wants to see a just solution to the Palestinian issue alongside an improved relationship with Israel. “These are two sides of the same coin,” she said. “We are all fed up with a frozen conflict which has gone on for 70 years too long — exacerbated by a fragmented and weak Palestinian leadership, which has long since lost the initiative.”

The world must act together to reach and enforce a solution which does justice to both sides, she said.

READ: The methodology behind the Arab News/YouGov Pan-Arab Survey

“There is no solution without the US, but we are likely to see a more balanced process when Arab states, the Europeans, and even Russia and China play a role in ensuring that all sides come to the table and make the necessary concessions.”

As for Iran, Alamuddin believed the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” strategy has certainly reined in Iranian ambitions. “Iran has already taken huge bites out of the Arab region, with its proxies in de facto control of much of Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon,” she said.

Although Democratic challenger Joe Biden appears to recognize that he cannot simply return to the more concessional Obama-era strategy on Iran, it is unclear whether a Biden administration would have the political will to quash Iranian influence in these troubled Arab states.

“The challenge for Gulf states will be to force the threat from Iran to the top of the international agenda,” Alamuddin said.

Shobokshi also acknowledged the important steps taken by the Trump administration against Iran, but said the strategy lacked the required “universality” of including the Europeans, the Russians and the Chinese.

Comparing the differing approaches of the Republican and Democratic parties with regards to the Iranian regime, he said: “One looks at Iran as a serious national threat and the other looks at it in a much tamer fashion.”



Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

Updated 26 November 2020

Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

  • Erdogan defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts
  • Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq: analyst

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denied the country has a “Kurdish issue,” even as he doubled down on his anti-Kurdish stance and accused a politician of being a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Erdogan was addressing members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Nov. 25 when he made the remarks.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) launched an insurgency against the state in 1984, and is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and US. Erdogan accuses the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) of links to the PKK, which it denies.

Erdogan told AKP members that Selahattin Demirtas, the HDP’s former co-chair who challenged him in the 2015 presidential elections, was a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Demirtas has been behind bars since Nov. 4, 2016, despite court orders calling for his release and faces hundreds of years in prison over charges related to the outlawed PKK.

The president defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts in the country's Kurdish-majority southeast region since local elections in March 2019.

He also said the AKP would design and implement democratization reforms with its nationalistic coalition partner, which is known for its anti-Kurdish credentials.  

His words are likely to disrupt the peace efforts that Turkey has been making with its Kurdish community for years, although they have been baby steps. They could also hint at a tougher policy shift against Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

According to Oxford University Middle East analyst Samuel Ramani, Erdogan’s comments should be read as a reaction to Tuesday’s resignation of top presidential aide Bulent Arinc, who urged for Demirtas to be released and insisted that the Kurds were repressed within Turkey.

“This gained widespread coverage in the Kurdish media, including in Iraqi Kurdistan's outlet Rudaw which has international viewership,” he told Arab News. “Erdogan wanted to stop speculation on this issue.”

Ramani said that Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

“It is also an oblique warning to US President-elect Joe Biden not to try to interfere in Turkish politics by raising the treatment of Kurds within Turkey.”

But Erdogan’s comments would matter little in the long run, he added.

“Much more will depend on whether Turkey mounts another Operation Peace Spring-style offensive in northern Syria, which is a growing possibility. If that occurs during the Trump to Biden transition period, the incoming Biden administration could be more critical of Turkey and convert its rhetoric on solidarity with the Kurds into action.”

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been a key partner for the US in its fight against Daesh. During a campaign speech in Oct. 2019, Biden criticized the US decision to withdraw from Syria as a “complete failure” that would leave Syrian Kurds open to aggression from Turkey.

“It’s more insidious than the betrayal of our brave Kurdish partners, it’s more dangerous than taking the boot off the neck of ISIS,” Biden said at the time.

UK-based analyst Bill Park said that Erdogan was increasingly influenced by his coalition partners, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

“He might also believe that both the PKK and the HDP have been so weakened that he doesn't have to take them into consideration,” he told Arab News. “The Western world will not respond dramatically to this announcement but they are tired of Erdogan. There is little hope that Turkey's relations with the US or the EU can be much improved. The Syrian Kurdish PYD militia are seeking an accommodation with Damascus, while the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the largest party in Iraqi Kurdistan, is indifferent to the fate of Turkey's Kurds and has problems of its own.”

The HDP, meanwhile, is skeptical about Erdogan’s reform pledges and sees them as “politicking.”

“This reform narrative is not sincere,” said HDP lawmaker Meral Danis Bestas, according to a Reuters news agency report. “This is a party which has been in power for 18 years and which has until now totally trampled on the law. It has one aim: To win back the support which has been lost.”

Turkey’s next election is scheduled for 2023, unless there is a snap election in a year.