Role of Youth in the Arab World and Aspirations for Democratic Change in Lebanon
Arab youth aged 15-29 years constitute the largest age group in the population, but tend to be poorly organized and lacking in programs and networking opportunities. The youth groups that do exist are affiliated for the most part with political parties or government, and do not provide young people with opportunities to express their views on policies and programs affecting their current and future lives. Nevertheless, in February 2005, soon after the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, a popular and non-sectarian youth movement that came to be dubbed the Spring 2005 movement managed to topple the government and force the withdrawal of Syrian troops from the country, where they had been stationed for the past 25 years. This spontaneous movement, which began as a sit-in by youth groups in downtown Beirut only four days after the assassination, raised expectations for much-needed political, social and economic change. Two years later, however, these changes remain largely unrealized. Spring 2005, otherwise known as the Intifada of Independence, provides an example of an emerging youth movement that tried to mobilize public opinion in support of reform, succeeded in the short term and failed just short of meeting expectations for real change. This research initiative will trace the history of the movement, its vision and strategy, and how it evolved and affected the political process itself. Researchers will examine the movement in relation to the current political context, as well as its potential to move away from sectarian identities and organizational structures. The project is expected to yield a better understanding of the potential role of youth movements to contribute to the process of democratic change and, through a regional meeting, facilitate the creation of a youth network in the Arab world.