How The Arab World Can Learn From The Future

الأحد 27 نيسان 2008

Written By: Naseem Tarawnah

What will the Arab world look like in 2025? Over a hundred people from across the Arab world were in Dubai for a few days to discuss life in the year 2025. It’s part of an initiative created by the British Council and Young Arab Leaders, where delegations have come together to analyze three main scenarios: a hyperlinked world, a sustainable world, and a multi-polar world. Luckily, Lina and I were part of the 6-member Jordanian delegation. It’s not a conference; it’s really a workshop, and I pretty much mean that literally. Young people are leading the discussion and the debate. What’s being discussed is linked to everything from education and health, to conflict in Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq. Engaging with all these people from across the region has been an amazing experience. We often forget how different every Arab country is. Our dialects, our politics, our needs, our situations, our economies, our cultures, our histories. Yet many of the same problems are common across the board, while others are unique. Talking to people from Palestine or Iraq has been particularly interesting as you’re able to get a sense of what war, conflict and occupation are truly like.

Even the members of the delegation differ on a personal level between themselves. From their beliefs to their socioeconomic and educational backgrounds. Our accommodations were more like apartments where every room has 3 or 4 people that have all been mixed, so we spend the night talking to each other, finding out our common problems and solutions, and essentially discovering each others’ worlds.

What’s interesting about the workshop is that at times we remain in country groups and times we’re mixed regionally. Both models produce different results. Moreover, every day we have a keynote speaker specialized in the proposed scenario of the day. The scenarios themselves are based on papers produced by various people (the hyperlinked and sustainable world(s) scenarios were written by Jordan very own, Ahmad and Batir). It was pretty interesting to note how these three scenearios managed to cover a wide variety of relevant topics and there were no restrictions in that regard. From these three scenarios we were able to talk about everything from marriage and unemployment, to economic development, education, socialization, etc.

Keynote speakers are questioned by the youth in the room (99% of those in the room are between 18-25 years old), and the questions are just fascinating, inquisitive, if not demanding at times, inspiring a round of applause from the youthful audience who can relate to it.

Afterwards, groups work together to discuss what’s been mentioned in the scenarios so far. This discussing produces very unique results which are then outputted through various medias. Groups can use TV, radio, print and/or acting to produce their output. Every output is really unique and creative. From futuristic advertisements to an Egyptian news radio broadcast in 2025, where Hossni Mubarak is still in power and little in the Arab world has changed. The outputs reflected everything from cynicism to optimism, and bled creativity. It was an attempt to force us to think outside the box, and once that was accomplished we are able to naturally figure out solutions or address the problems analytically, to say nothing of things we were able to discover about ourselves and each other in just a matter of minutes and hours.

The final day saw us, as national groups, coming together to come up with programs that could address all the issues we had discussed, as part of a British Council-Young Arab Leaders initiative to fund a project for three year or so. In the span of 30 minutes, the ideas that emerged were pretty spectacular, with our own delegation opting for a youth TV station that is broadcasted from outside the Arab world, but is content driven by the youth themselves, in every Arab country. We also recommended a regional youth-driven think tank with polling capabilities as well as a collective advocacy group.

Seeds of leadership were planted throughout the workshop, to say nothing of the bonding and understanding that was nurtured between the various Arab delegations and I think that this is something that needs to be consistently done at this point in time. The first day or so, saw many people in the room focusing on the “idea” of Arab unity, and I think that the concept faded away after the second and third day. There was the awareness that in the long run, Arab unity will depend greatly on our ability as Arab youth to grow into positions with notions of understanding and cooperation, and that can’t be done on a local or national level. It has to be done in rooms where all these people are “forced” to come together and get to know one another.

As for the the proposed initiatives, I do hope many of them see the light of day and are able to be well funded and sustained. They are, by themselves, fairly bold proposals for change in the Arab world.

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  • Shoo bitgool

    sorry, but why is she talking in English??!!

  • Shoo bitgool

    sorry, but why is she talking in English??!!

  • shoo bitgool: while the delegations spoke to each other mostly in arabic throughout, we had to respect the fact that there was an international delegation that didn’t speak the language, as well as the fact that many of the outputs are designed to address international leaders and decision makers at the world economic forum in sharm.

  • shoo bitgool: while the delegations spoke to each other mostly in arabic throughout, we had to respect the fact that there was an international delegation that didn’t speak the language, as well as the fact that many of the outputs are designed to address international leaders and decision makers at the world economic forum in sharm.

  • Musa

    With all due respect, your excuses were not very convincing:
    -If there are foreign delegations interested in following how “Arab youth leaders” see the year 2025, they could have added some translators to their delegations, or even one of the youth leaders could have taken the job of translating. Maybe less convenient, but more compatible with the conference’s theme.

    -While there was nothing in your detailed reflections referring to the World Economic Forum, I am sure that if the Arab youth Leaders would have come out with ground-breaking outputs, someone will find a way to translate them to Shimon Peres and Bono. Ya seedi balash, let the outputs and final recommendations addressing “the leaders and decision makers” put together two drafts of the “final outputs” in both languages.

  • Musa

    With all due respect, your excuses were not very convincing:
    -If there are foreign delegations interested in following how “Arab youth leaders” see the year 2025, they could have added some translators to their delegations, or even one of the youth leaders could have taken the job of translating. Maybe less convenient, but more compatible with the conference’s theme.

    -While there was nothing in your detailed reflections referring to the World Economic Forum, I am sure that if the Arab youth Leaders would have come out with ground-breaking outputs, someone will find a way to translate them to Shimon Peres and Bono. Ya seedi balash, let the outputs and final recommendations addressing “the leaders and decision makers” put together two drafts of the “final outputs” in both languages.

  • Nada

    Musa, as one of the Egyptian participants in the workshop, let me tell you that nothing was more highlighted than our sense of belonging to our Arab origins and identities. However, to be truly heard, we have to speak their language and play their game. Mind you, this is just the beginning, and tables do turn eventually just in time for us to lay down our rules!

  • Nada

    Musa, as one of the Egyptian participants in the workshop, let me tell you that nothing was more highlighted than our sense of belonging to our Arab origins and identities. However, to be truly heard, we have to speak their language and play their game. Mind you, this is just the beginning, and tables do turn eventually just in time for us to lay down our rules!

  • Nas

    musa: if its one thing we’ve learned, it’s that in a region plagued by unemployment, lack of sustainability, conflict, instability, and lacking education and health care…perhaps the choice of language in a conference designed to discuss these issues is the least of our worries.

    Moreover, convenience is necessary in a setting like this where it is dependent largely on the group discussion which took hours some times. Having translators would’ve spoiled the informal flow and limited the debate.

  • Nas

    musa: if its one thing we’ve learned, it’s that in a region plagued by unemployment, lack of sustainability, conflict, instability, and lacking education and health care…perhaps the choice of language in a conference designed to discuss these issues is the least of our worries.

    Moreover, convenience is necessary in a setting like this where it is dependent largely on the group discussion which took hours some times. Having translators would’ve spoiled the informal flow and limited the debate.

  • Musa

    Naseem,
    Excuse my attention to trivial details Naseem. True priorities come first,although (to quote the official press release)”climate change, the bipolar world, the energy crisis, and the relations between the Arab world and West” are not exactly the biggest concerns…but still…I just thought it is a little funny and weird.

  • Musa

    Naseem,
    Excuse my attention to trivial details Naseem. True priorities come first,although (to quote the official press release)”climate change, the bipolar world, the energy crisis, and the relations between the Arab world and West” are not exactly the biggest concerns…but still…I just thought it is a little funny and weird.

  • musa: well i think its safe to say that we by far transcended the boundaries of a press release. the biggest issues focused on were education, leadership, unity, energy, water…to name but a few.

  • musa: well i think its safe to say that we by far transcended the boundaries of a press release. the biggest issues focused on were education, leadership, unity, energy, water…to name but a few.

  • HI Naseem and congratulations for being voted with Moammar to speak at the May 2008 WEF. It is a fantastic opportunity and a very good selection indeed.
    I read on WEF website that the bipolar scenario was indded turned into a multipolar! Any reasons.
    I am still amazed with the continuous debate on why we should speak in Arabic as an indicator of identity. The WEF is a global event and the official language is English. We need the world to hear our voice so this is why using English can be an added value.

  • HI Naseem and congratulations for being voted with Moammar to speak at the May 2008 WEF. It is a fantastic opportunity and a very good selection indeed.
    I read on WEF website that the bipolar scenario was indded turned into a multipolar! Any reasons.
    I am still amazed with the continuous debate on why we should speak in Arabic as an indicator of identity. The WEF is a global event and the official language is English. We need the world to hear our voice so this is why using English can be an added value.

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  • Batir, thanks buddy. I think they felt that the emerging world dynamic will see the emergance of various powers, hence the desire to not limit the discussion to having a bipolar world, but rather a multi-polar one.

    (i would speak in swahili if i thought it would help)

  • Batir, thanks buddy. I think they felt that the emerging world dynamic will see the emergance of various powers, hence the desire to not limit the discussion to having a bipolar world, but rather a multi-polar one.

    (i would speak in swahili if i thought it would help)

  • Musa

    Batir,
    Thanks a lot for your follow-up that really added to the value of the conversation. It is also interesting to to know that you are giving this huge event the attention it deserves. After all, nothing says a lewarning from the future like a fanfare event hosted by Husni Mubarak and attended by Prince Andrew and some banks CEOs.

    On a different note, who said anything about “Arabic as an indicator of identity”?!…Heck man, we live in a country where the head of state barely speaks the language and it has not affected our identity…let me just emphasize the part that I thought it is weird that Arab youth gathered to discuss their concerns..in English…And honestly the answer is much simpler than “getting the message across by all means necessary”…The event was hosted by the British council…so it had to be in English so at least for the organisers sake…no big deal.

    Nas,
    On a serious note, congratulations on the selection. And on a more playful note, you may want to try your speech in Hebrew so that you can get your message across to Shimon Peres.

  • Musa

    Batir,
    Thanks a lot for your follow-up that really added to the value of the conversation. It is also interesting to to know that you are giving this huge event the attention it deserves. After all, nothing says a lewarning from the future like a fanfare event hosted by Husni Mubarak and attended by Prince Andrew and some banks CEOs.

    On a different note, who said anything about “Arabic as an indicator of identity”?!…Heck man, we live in a country where the head of state barely speaks the language and it has not affected our identity…let me just emphasize the part that I thought it is weird that Arab youth gathered to discuss their concerns..in English…And honestly the answer is much simpler than “getting the message across by all means necessary”…The event was hosted by the British council…so it had to be in English so at least for the organisers sake…no big deal.

    Nas,
    On a serious note, congratulations on the selection. And on a more playful note, you may want to try your speech in Hebrew so that you can get your message across to Shimon Peres.

  • Ramsiss

    Salam,

    musa to a point i agree with your traditional perspective, but from a scholars point of view i would like to add something to this interesting scenario carved out,

    Engaging in other dialects or languages is a simpler medium of communication, but also as
    much as we want the world to accept us for who we are Arabs,we must accept ourselves as Arabs.

    Whichever way you look at it musa there’s always disbalance in our perceptions of events.

    We must evolve from within using the best of our values & ethics to allure others to us,
    but still be humble with our heads high amongst
    towering shoulders.

    salam!

  • Ramsiss

    Salam,

    musa to a point i agree with your traditional perspective, but from a scholars point of view i would like to add something to this interesting scenario carved out,

    Engaging in other dialects or languages is a simpler medium of communication, but also as
    much as we want the world to accept us for who we are Arabs,we must accept ourselves as Arabs.

    Whichever way you look at it musa there’s always disbalance in our perceptions of events.

    We must evolve from within using the best of our values & ethics to allure others to us,
    but still be humble with our heads high amongst
    towering shoulders.

    salam!

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