For Arab Youth, Dreams May Be DeferredProtests planned in Saudi Arabia failed to take off earlier this month, yet Saudi youth see themselves as part of a movement that has swept the Arab world. Expectation for change is extremely high — and that worries experts who say there is some danger of dashed hopes.
Hass Dennoui, founder of Re-Volt Radio, a platform promoting Arab hip-hop, films a spot along a street in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Courtesy of Hass Dennoui
Courtesy of Hass Dennoui
In Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, a young blogger plays what he believes is his role in the youth revolution.
"This is Hass Dennoui. I'm a Saudi citizen. I've hit the 26,000 mark — 26,000 hits on the blog."
Dennoui produces a popular website that features Arab hip-hop. He has introduced Saudi listeners to Egyptian artists with lyrics that reflect the politics of dissent and the celebration of a youth uprising that overthrew an Egyptian autocrat.
"When you include revolution in it, people get more interested," he says. "You can revolt by a song, you can revolt by a picture, you can revolt by an article — and that's the beauty of it."
A Movement Sweeps The Arab World
Dennoui did not march in the streets of Saudi Arabia. The protests planned in the kingdom failed to take off earlier this month. Officials this week announced plans to hold long-delayed municipal elections in April, a move that falls far short of the demands of liberal reformers.
Still, Saudi youth see themselves as part of a movement that has swept the Arab world, says Tarik Yousef, who heads the youth initiative at the Dubai School of Government.
"For this generation of youngsters, they've not had a moment in the Arab world where they could in fact rally around a particular country or a significant person or a significant accomplishment," Yousef says. "This is possibly one of those moments."
It is a sign of the long-term significance of the protests, says Riad Kahwaji, who heads the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, a security think tank in Dubai.
. He says the revolts of 2011 are on the same wavelength from Benghazi to Bahrain.
"The same chants, the same demands — compare. You're going to have a 99 percent match," he says. "So, it's the same frustration across the pan-Arab world."
A 'Profound Change In The Narrative'
The common demands are clear: An educated generation wants the right to choose and change their leaders; an end to corruption; and they want jobs.
It is a direct challenge to aging Arab rulers who, in many countries, came to power before some of these young Arabs were born, says Yousef.
"The average member of this generation of youngsters is feeling an immense disconnection with those that hold the keys to power," he says.
Yousef has documented the discontent in a book of field research he edited, called Generation in Waiting. The 2009 book describes the severe limits of Arab economies, and institutions to fulfill the demands. The 2011 protests, says Yousef, have changed the stakes.
"The expectations that have been raised, the questions that have been asked, the demands that have been put on the table — this is a profound change in the narrative of how Arabs see themselves, see their countries, see their rulers," he says.
Demands For 'A True Partnership'
In one Saudi neighborhood, the noon call to prayer is thick in the air, but Ahmed Bagadood doesn't even look up from his computer. He's scrolling through the blog he's written since 2009.
"SaudiDream.net — it has a slogan of 'Tomorrow's accomplishments are today's dreams.' "
Dreams, he says, that come from a new sense of patriotism, a term that's come into fashion with young Arabs these days. His demands reflect online petitions signed by reformers.
"I would like the government to say, 'OK, citizens, your voice count. Tell us what you want. Not: Tell us what you want on a piece of paper and we will consider it,' " Bagadood says. "We want a true partnership, and this has to happen."
So far, young Saudis say they are deeply disappointed by the royal response. Disappointment is spreading in Egypt, too, where protesters are frustrated by the pace of reform.
Is the Facebook generation prepared for setbacks? After all, the initial euphoria has turned to violence in Libya and Bahrain.
The question troubles Yousef. He says reform requires long-term pressure in a region known for incremental and reversible measures.
"I think the biggest threat is loss of confidence, loss of faith, defeated expectations that might settle in after a while," he says.
Toppling autocrats in Egypt and Tunisia may turn out to be the easy part.