The Arab Youth Struggle: Between Employment and Identity!

Seeing hundreds of young Arabs across the Arab world hanging out in cafés all day long leads me to wonder how our respective governments can better release their energy and ideas by providing them with genuine employment opportunities! Do these youngsters agree with their nations’ doctrines, or do they harbor different beliefs? Are they happy to be unproductive citizens? The Arab youth challenge is certainly extensive and it exists in all the Arab nations; to neglect the issue is to magnify and compound it.

A large segment of Arab youth is either unhappy with their jobs or doesn’t earn enough money to found a family – the majority suffers from both issues. Our work culture in general is not rewarding for young people, both morally and materialistically. Meanwhile, learning about the western work culture, with its higher wages and decent employment environment, tempts Arab youth to look up to western society – and to seriously attempt immigration.

The Arab youth struggle stems from the combination of our education systems and work culture on one hand and exposure to the more appealing and rewarding western society on the other! The work culture gap in Arab nations is widening because our youth’s ambitions conflict with the reality of the work market, which does not support their dreams. This has not only resulted in young people condemning many of our cultural traits; it is also distancing youth from their Arab identity.

What our parents and grandparents used to do proudly for decades is no longer of interest to Arab youth. Yet Arab job market dynamics continue to operate according to the old-fashioned approach of our older generations, who often accuse our youth of being immature and unwilling to assume responsibility. Our governments’ failure to capitalize on the latest technologies and modern workplace trends is further complicating the problem and widening the gap between generations; causing young people to intensify their condemnation of our work environment and to admire the western lifestyle even more.

Many young Arabs who dream of living and working in Europe are not only interested in earning better incomes; they also want to enjoy the decent work environment that western nations offer and that rarely exist in our region. This obvious consequence is moving many of them to either completely accept western social culture (which is different to ours), or to reap the benefits of the western work environment while struggling with their social life.

This dilemma has had a negative effect on the Arab identity, which is turning into a blend of our Arab heritage overlaid with a veneer of some western norms. Of course, abiding by cultural identity is a matter of personal choice that cannot be imposed by governments; nevertheless, the employment struggle in the Arab world has definitely affected our identity. For instance, Arab cultural values that western nations used to admire (such as personally caring for elderly family members) are fast eroding over time.

Nations tend either to abide by their own cultures (while discarding all others), or to emulate foreign cultures completely. Many young Arabs, however, tend to copy westerners’ social and leisure customs but ignore their strong commitment to work and to being productive citizens. Regardless, what is best for us is to “pick & choose”; we need to work on modernizing our work culture while maintaining our identity – which will require open-minded modern leaders that value this concept and are willing to apply it.

Arab culture has many positive traits that are overshadowed! To maintain our identity, we need to modernize our work environment. Unfortunately, our growing population drains any effort made in this regard. Therefore, we need to tackle our population and employment challenges using a different method than the ones that have failed us for decades. Neglecting to address these challenges will result in erasing our identity over time – this is already starting to happen.



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