An Arab Dawn
Arab Youth and the Demographic Dividend They Will Bring
Toronto, Ontario–We are surely inundated with the daily flow of news from the Arab world. And the news is crystalized around sectarian conflict, collapsing political orders, hard-to-break economic stagnation, cultural polarization, and geopolitical rivalries. But is that all there is to the Arab world today? Are there developments in Arab societies that could be harbinger of important socio-political and cultural changes to come beyond what we are fed daily by the news media?
An Arab Dawn by Bessma Momani is a refreshing and a much-needed upgrade—to borrow a term from the high-tech world—to our stagnant understanding of the current dynamics inside the Arab world and societies. It is a meticulously researched work stuffed with data and facts that sheds light on the quiet transformation of Arab societies and how those transformations are moving the entire region toward a whole new era. And the engine of this yet-to-be acknowledged transformation is the Arab youth.
The book’s premise is that an increasingly educated, cosmopolitan, and tech savvy Arab youth—including a growing class of urbanized women—are moving the region to the cusp of a major transformation. According to the author, Arab societies today are offering “a demographic dividend that needs to be nurtured.” It is, for example, refreshing to know that despite their differences, the Arab youth from across a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds share a similar outlook on political governance, economic management, and education.
Momani, a professor at the University of Waterloo’s Balsillie School of International Affairs, dispels much of the worn-out analyses of Arab societies in the West and uncovers the superficiality of behaviouralist theories that blame socio-cultural factors for slow political and economic development in the region. For example, the author offers data that point to better socio-economic indicators such as higher rates of academic degrees in the Arab world than some parts of the world like Asia. Another development worthy of our close attention is change in cultural attitudes in rural Arab world, which includes manifestly valuable attachment by rural Arab women to attaining post-graduate degrees as opposed to establishing a family at a young age. These are developments that are surely bound to jolt the future make-up of Arab elite, including the power elite, and will set the stage for a new phase in the distribution of wealth and power in Arab societies.
In a way, Momani invites us to think outside the box when it comes to studying the Middle East’s social dynamics. She encourages us to peel off layers of daily occurrences in the region and dig deeper into how some long overlooked factors are shaping the post-Arab Spring era and preparing the region for a new phase.
A deeper look at the political economy of neoliberal policies of the 1990s, rejection of notions of strongman rule in exchange for stability, increased transnational ties between the Arab and Western worlds, the quest for knowledge and answer to religious and moral ambiguities will all go a long way in preparing ourselves in the West for the emergence of a whole new Arab era. Despite the wide-scale destruction in key parts of the region and the understandably bleak outlook presented to us by the media, it is fair to suggest that the Arab youth today are leading the charge for socio-political developments that will lead to amelioration of the human condition in their respective societies.
An Arab Dawn captures and puts on display the quiet transformation that the Arab world is undergoing. It offers what the potential impact is for the West at a delicate time in international affairs. It is an essential reading for policy makers in leading Western democracies as they grapple with devising a set of new policies for a tumultuous region that is struggling to come to terms with the post-Arab Spring era. As for us in Canada, the significance of An Arab Dawn becomes more pronounced as Canadian foreign policy makers in Ottawa will have to face the challenge of formulating a new and non-ideological foreign policy.