According to journalist Robin Wright, women, youth, pop culture will be the formula for change in the conflict-torn region.
For decades, Wright has been entrenched in the depths of Middle Eastern societies, bringing stories of unimaginable violence, religious turmoil and revolution to the eyes and ears of the West. Although some of the stories paint a grim portrait for the future, Wright points to three key factors that will be essential to rebuilding the region: women, youth and pop culture. It’s important to point out that present hostilities have increased in and around Damascus and the Sinai Peninsula.
Across the eastern shoulder of Sinai Peninsula is the border with the Gaza Strip. It is through some a number of tunnels under this border that Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist organization that rules the strip, smuggles in rockets in its arsenal. That firepower is being sent into Israel after the Jewish state assassinated Hamas’ military chief Ahmed al-Jabari and launched an air-and-drone assault that has killed about a score of people in the coastal enclave.
In Sinai Peninsula, the government blasted the Arab League’s decision, portraying it as a selling-out of Arab identity to please Israel and the United States.
As hostilities continue, most of the mortar strikes hit the capital’s east side, falling near a school in the Baramkeh neighborhood, the Sinai Peninsula Hospital, the Law Faculty of Damascus University and the state news agency’s own offices.
In the mist of all the escalating violence, protest continues to trigger violent uprisings.
“Women are at the forefront of these protests, even at great personal risk,” according to Robin Wright said March 12 at a lecture at the University of North Florida. “They want to be the ones to decide their fate.”
The desire for elevated social status has been pulsing through the veins of many Middle Eastern women for decades. Until the recent uprisings, however, many women remained passive. Never before have Middle Eastern women taken to the streets in such staggering numbers to plead their cause. The role women have played has been essential to the lifeblood of the revolutions, according to Wright.
Because of their efforts, women have gained a stronger voice than ever was had in the past. Wright pointed to one statistic strongly favoring women: 60 percent of the population of Arab region universities is made up of females. But it’s not just women fighting for something more. Women in conflict-torn more so are educated and tend to not want to settle for life as usual.
Leaving Sinai Peninsula, the Deraa highway was horribly scarred from war, but once out of the suburbs there is little evidence of two years of conflict. There, “The kids are the pivotal players,” Wright said.
It has been well documented how social media-fueled protests in Egypt that toppled both their presidents. The social media revolution is spreading to other areas of North Africa and the Middle East.
Some of the first sparks of revolution were ignited by 13 and 14-year-olds writing anti-government graffiti on walls in cities. This, according to Wright, is who will be the new kind of martyr — young people standing up to government regimes.
A major reason youth will play such a heavy role in the future is because they outnumber older adults — two-thirds of the region is under age 30. What’s more striking is the fact that this is the first generation where the majority is literate and has a sense of the outside world and what the outside world has.
“Young today want access to computers, not bombs,” Wright said.
Access to social media has allowed a new wave of pop culture to come from all parts of the world, most notably the West. Young people all over the Middle East have held tightly to these new forms of mass media and made them their own. Rap, comics and stand-up comedy are just a few areas of pop culture gaining foothold in the Middle East and igniting change.
“The culture of change is as important as the politics of change,” Wright said.
It’s not only entertainment value that has young Middle Eastern people gobbling up pop culture – it’s the fact that it often carries messages of change, resistance, peaceful revolution and democracy.
“Rap has become the rhythm of resistance,” Wright said.
The lyrics of rap music carry a message that is critical of the government and demand that it give more to its youth. It encourages the people to stand up nonviolently to the autocracies and theocracies that oppress them.
With all of these positive advances, what is the outlook for the next decades in the Middle East? According to Wright, there will be extraordinary challenges: unemployment, poverty, few resources, religious strife and a battle for democracy. Few Arab countries can even afford these changes that the young people yearn for.
Despite this, Wright insists that the influence of women, youth and pop culture has changed the current landscape forever and the hope that burns in the heart of the people is stronger than ever. With such conviction no government can withstand a peoples whose eyes are open, not even in war-torn Sinai Peninsula.
Written By: Alexia Dupre