Sunday, 24 September was the third and final day of the sixth annual conference on democratic transition, which this year focused on the theme of “The Youth, Generational Shift and Democratic Transition” through the Arab Spring. Held in Hamamet outside the Tunisian capital, the three-day meeting brought together more than 40 scholars who debated the role of young Arabs in bringing about the Arab Spring.

Youth and Revolution

Speaking on the first panel of the final day, Mohammed Belrached elaborated that the lack of political participation on the part of Arab youth was now a defining feature of the regional political landscape. This applied, said Belrached, even to Tunisia—despite the fact that Tunisian had led the country to revolution only a few years ago. Another speaker on the panel, Elhadi Bouwachma, focused in his paper on the case of Algerian youth whose country, he said, had become inhospitable to the young, forcing them to migrate or driving them into violence and anti-social behavior. This, the speaker said, served to intensify feelings of alienation on the part of Algerian youth and to estrange them from the authorities of their country. Speaking on the experience on another region entirely, Faisal Alhassan Mahboub discussed the role of youth in political transition in Yemen between 2011 and 2015. Mahboub used his intervention to highlight a few of the accomplishments of Yemeni youth activists, including their successful efforts, alongside other political and social forces, to restructure the Yemeni military, and to displace the sons of deposed president Ali Abdullah Saleh from positions of influence in the state apparatus, before the path to democratic transition in Yemen was sidelined. Finally, Farah Ramzi gave a presentation on the political attitudes of political science students at Cairo University. Ramzi’s paper covered the political involvement of the students in her cohort, and specifically their involvement in any protests.

Arab Youth: Political Estrangement or Integration?

Mohammed Foubar was the first speaker on the second panel of the final day. Foubar offered a sociological reading of Moroccan state policies towards the country’s youth, and the government’s inability to involve the youth in the political process, despite the many and varied talents of young Moroccans. Foubar pointed to the Arab-wide revolutionary momentum of 2011 which he credited with giving rise to a Moroccan youth movement which also precipitated constitutional reform and governmental plans to better integrate the country’s youth in political decision-making, although the latter ultimately did not come to fruition.

Rahma Bensulieman offered a parallel, sociological reading of the Tunisian youth movement and young Tunisians’ approach to questions of transitional justice. Bensulieman reiterated the point that the involvement of Tunisian youth in the country’s peaceful revolution was unguided by any political leadership or formal structures. According to her, the lack of formal hierarchies in the Tunisian revolution, and its lack of a deliberate planning, led to the supremacy of the collective among the revolutionaries. This served to unify the goals and harmonize efforts by the activists.

Finally, Shadwa Ramadan spoke of the sexual harassment/sexual violence as well as other forms of exclusion to which Egyptian women activists were subjected during both the period of rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and of former president Mohammed Morsi. Ramadan argued that Egyptian women, including women activists who took part in the revolution, never attained the level of political participation which the extent of their participation in the revolution warranted.