A visiting group of young leaders from Yemen with the State Department’s IVLP responds to the panel discussion.
On the morning of September 27, 2011, The Meridian Council on Women’s Leadership partnered with the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center to host a panel discussion on Looking Forward: The Arab Spring and What Matters Now. Speakers included Dr. Haleh Esfandiari, Director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, Dr. Abderrahim Foukara, the Washington Bureau Chief of Al-Jazeera (Arabic) Satellite Channel, and Mr. Mark Penn, the CEO Worldwide of Burson-Marsteller and President of Penn Schoen Berland. The event was moderated by Ambassador Stuart Holliday, President at CEO of Meridian International Center.
Mark Penn opened the program with a presentation of the results of the 3rd Annual ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey, which polled over two thousand Arab youths between 18 and 24 from Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq. The survey covered a variety of issues ranging from attitudes toward democracy, concerns over the economy and job growth, the politicization of the Arab youth, and the increased use of technology. Mr. Penn commented on the trend toward more youth in favor of democratic rule, particularly in the non Gulf Corporation Council countries; increased concern over the rising costs of living and the desire for more private sector jobs; the increasing interest in politics; and the increased use of internet, social networking media, and blogs, although television remains the primary source for news.
Mark Penn shares his reactions, as panelists Dr. Foukara and Dr. Esfandiari, along with moderator Ambassador Holliday, look on.
A panel discussion followed Mr. Penn’s presentation, with Dr. Esfandiari and Dr. Foukara joining Mr. Penn on stage, and Ambassador Holliday moderating. The panel touched on the survey results, but also referenced such issues as dignity, with Arab youth feeling disenfranchised and not respected by their governments. Dr. Foukara commented that most educated youths are aware of the corruption in their governments, and are not willing to accept reelections of presidents with 99% of the vote, especially when they face rising costs of living and rising unemployment. Speakers also addressed the use of technology and social media in the region, and how without which, the Arab Spring might had dramatically different results. Twitter, Facebook, and blogs not only helped organizers coordinate, but cell phones and cameras recorded events and allowed pictures of what was happening on the ground to be transmitted around the world.
The panelists highlighted the role of women in the Arab Spring movement, with women standing alongside their male counterparts in protests. Dr. Esfandiari referenced that while the majority of the students entering the university system are now women in many of these countries, finding work after they graduate remains a major obstacle to economic empowerment. She also cautioned that although the status of women in the Arab world is beginning to improve, it is an issue that requires careful consideration on the part of transitional governments as they prepare their new constitutions.
Before Ambassador Holliday opened the discussion to the audience for their questions and comments, he turned to a group of young leaders from Yemen, visiting the U.S. as part of the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program. A designated representative from the group asked for continued support not only from the United States, but from the international community, citing the activists’ commitment to non-violence and a desire for real change in Yemen. Another member of the group called for a change in U.S. attitudes towards the Middle East, saying that just as the region is changing, so should persistent stereotypes.