The dilemma of social change in Gulf
By staff - Fri Jun 01, 4:02 am
Dubai: Technology, freedom, easy access to information and globalisation have altered the attitude of many Gulf youth.
Today, youth show more individualism in their behaviour, and more globalism in their way of living: they eat fast food, not necessarily wear traditional clothes, enjoy watching movies on CDs, and live in nucleus families unlike their parents who had extended families, social experts say.
However, Abdul Nasser Saleh Yafei, Qatari associate professor of social work at Qatar University, says this change is temporary and a majority will switch back, at a certain point, to old norms and family traditions.
Former Bahraini minister and ambassador Ali Fakhro is also optimistic that youth will rethink and move away from personal issues to more bigger ones, especially after the Arab Spring.
Omani journalist Al Touqi is concerned that his children will not be fluent in their mother tongue — Arabic.
Emirati sociologist Rima Sabban shares the same fear. While she defends the youth, she believes that the main problem lies in youth mimicking the West.
The youth attitude is obvious, especially with the gap between generations.
“During our youth, sources of authority and information were limited,” said Saudi researcher and writer Khalid Dakheel. “We had no satellite channels, no internet … even travel was limited,” he told Gulf News.
Today the situation is different. “The father is no longer the sole authority and reference.
“While on the internet, the youth is almost isolated. A connection is established between the two, and cultural, political and religious symbols become among the references for the youngster,” he says.
In the Arab world, Internet penetration is highest — equivalent to developed nations — in the GCC countries of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the UAE.
According to “The Internet in Arab Gulf Cooperation Council Vehicle of Change,” a study included in the International Journal of Internet Science, GCC countries have a penetration rate of more than 100 per cent, with the UAE, Bahrain and Qatar having saturation levels of 200 per cent.”
When children are addicted to computers and smartphones, “they don’t have daily interaction with parents. Accordingly, we [parents] don’t have the chance to pass on our ideas and views to them,” said Fakhro, in an interview with Gulf News.
As a result, “some of the big ideas and dreams of our generations who lived in the independence era are marginalised,” he said, referring to the middle period of the last century when almost all Arab countries became independent.
Issues of Arab unity, nationalism and social justice were “replaced by a new culture — globalisation,” Fakhro said.
One of the features of the new culture is the “excessive individualism, which reaches [in some cases] the limit of selfishness … [and] loyalty leans towards the world not to family or society or country,” he added.
Other sociologists agree.
Individualism is further boosted by the emergence of urban centres.
“In these centres, the dialects are dissolved, and tribal and family [bonds] start cracking. From here, the idea of individualism comes out,” said Dakheel. “We are in a society that is being reformed in a different way.”
Also, previous “concepts will be redefined differently”, noted the Saudi writer.
They won’t be like those from the Baath party or from former Egyptian president Jamal Abdul Nasser’s period, Dakheel said in reference to the Arab national unity ideas. “After all, a human is a human.”
The region does not have a clear Arab identity especially with their new “western” look and strong English language that came at the expense of their native-tongue, a deeper look revealed a different image.
Many youth are not fluent in English, said Kuwaiti political science professor Ganem Al Najjar.
“I know this from my students. Some are fluent, but the rest have average knowledge,” added Al Najjar, a former UN expert on human rights.
Defending the youth, assistant professor of sociology at UAE’s Zayed University Rima Sabban stressed they have their own identity, which is “a hybrid identity.”
Because youth, as a segment, is more attracted to everything new, and they use technology more than other segments in the society, their connection with the “old” became weaker, social experts noted.
“But our youth has not lost its identity, have not lost its loyalty, they may combine old and new patterns in their behaviour,” she said. Sometimes, some youth reject an idea or a concept. This, sociologists say, is their way of building personality.
“The youth could be driving a fashionable car and watching broadcasts from societies they have never heard anything about. But until today, if you come and ask a group of Qatari youth for the names of their mothers or sisters, they don’t answer. Deep inside, nothing has changed. It is only on the surface,” said Yafei. Saying names of mothers, in many societies, is considered private.
Sociologists say it is difficult to generalise a certain phenomenon. All groups exist, including the committed, the rejectionists, and the religious.
“However, the biggest problem in the Gulf countries is in the educational system which is moving away from its Arabic resources and Arabic language,” said Rima.
Children of expatriates as well as nationals prefer to enroll in private schools.
“The main problem with the youth behaviour is that we are building societies where the percentage of ‘those who mimic the West’ is very high, Rima said.
“Today, the Gulf countries play a leading role in the development in the region, and if this leadership is giving the world the impression that the Arabic language is not important, what model is the GCC giving?’
Some of the higher education institutions in the Gulf request taking tests only in English before enrollment. Many universities, however, require a second test to determine the Arabic language proficiency.
“Sometimes, I feel that telling the younger generation to hold on to their language is like holding a burning charcoal,” said Touqi.
The necessity of tackling the social problems doubles with the fact that the GCC region has one of the fastest growing populations in the world. From 28 million in 1998 to 39 million in 2008, the population of the bloc is expected to increase by one-third in 2020 and reach 53 million people.
A vast majority will be under 25 years old, according to projections. This, researchers stress, present serious challenges and opportunities.