VIEW : Turk and Arab youth unite — Fakiha Hassan Rizvi
Events unfolding as a consequence of the Arab Spring had a substantial impact on the young people living in the countries in revolt. The Arab awakening is described at times as a ‘youth-driven’ movement, which is driven by the poor performance of authoritarian regimes. However, despair lingered amidst slogans of democracy, equality and freedom of speech. A recent opinion poll by Miftah (the Palestinian initiative for global dialogue and promotion of democracy) unveils that the Palestinian youth are distinctly less positive today about the effects of the Arab Spring. Presently, only 18 percent of all youth believe regional changes are positively affecting the Palestinian situation. Moreover, a study by Al Jazeera in July 2013 revealed that Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Tunisia’s youth feels disenfranchised from politics. Although young people represented a majority of those who sparked the revolutions, today they are alienated from politics.
To guide the youth in the right direction and to carve a vision for its future, the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality Youth Assembly (IMMYA) planned to arrange the Turk Arab Youth Congress (TAYC). This year, the second congress was conducted in which participants belonging to 24 different Arab countries participated, including conflict-ridden areas like Palestine, Syria and Indian-occupied Kashmir. During the congress, Turk and Arab youth convincingly decided to work together in order to chalk out a future that assuages their sufferings. I got an opportunity to attend the TAYC 2013 as a student of journalism from Pakistan, and to gather some interesting insights relevant to the Turk-Arab cooperation.
On the first day of the congress, eminent intellectuals and politicians provided the participants with the background knowledge to build a theoretical framework for understanding regional issues. Advisor to the Chairman of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), Ms Summeyya Erdogan, said that the common geography made Turks and Arabs closer to each other. She was of the view that borders had never been a barrier to the Turk and Arab brotherhood. Her message suggested that young people should remain optimistic under their common heritage and to think of Istanbul as their city. The notable part of her speech argued that Turkey works towards the ‘West’ but always takes the ‘East’ into consideration.
The first panel discussion for the first day was initiated by Fuat Keyman, Director of the Istanbul Policy Centre at Sabanci University. He threw light on the topic of the panel: “New approaches to the new world crisis” and defined the Arab Spring as a crisis of globalisation. He believed that integrated information and communication technologies (ICTs) can no longer allow countries to remain isolated. According to Mr Keyman, the Arab Spring proved both the Orientalist and Occidentalist perspectives wrong. Orientalism believed that the Arab world cannot change. However, the Arab Spring marks the initiation of a long term transformation in the region. On the other hand, the Occupy Wall Street protests challenged Occidentalism as well. As per Mr Keyman’s view, the west is weakening and the east is rising. Regarding democratisation of the Arab region, he held the opinion that Turkey cannot be taken as an exemplary model, as it is still in the phase where democracy needs to be consolidated. The rest of the Arab world is shifting towards democratic norms.
Bulent Aras, Chairman for the Centre of Strategic Research, defined the Arab awakening as the rise of collective consciousness. He elaborated that resistances do follow revolutions as history teaches us. The discussion was concluded by Yasin Aktay, Chairman of Institute of Strategic Thinking. He shared that things are only new when we have not experienced them before, and people only differ with regard to the way they react to the events happening around them. The second session of the congress revolved around building regional and global civil networks. The panel was led by Bekir Karliga, Chairman of the national coordination committee of the alliance of civilisation. He reiterated the need to develop a new and more robust sense of ‘civilisation’. As per his view, Islamic history proves that Muslims had a deep understanding of civilisation.
The next speaker for the second panel discussion was Ms Humeyra Sahin, an author. She believed that a uniform paradigm of modernisation was being imposed on the world at the moment. According to her, Internet is a tool for the present generation and it should be used for the right purposes and in the right manner. Ms Sahin thought that instead of letting the west define the east, the latter should write its own history.
Mesut Ozcan, Advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, took the topic further by explaining the significance of ‘soft power’ and civil diplomacy. His discussion tried to convince the participants that classical diplomacy is now changing, especially through cultural and academic exchanges between different countries.
On the second and third day of the congress, participants were asked to discuss different topics under three different commissions. One was based on social, humanitarian and cultural issues, the second one on economics, while the third one was based on the intervention of foreign powers and organisations in local conflicts. At the end, every commission proposed a social, economic and political solution to the Syrian refugee problem. The Turk and Arab youth had achieved a consensus on building networks to ensure an interest-free Islamic economic ecosystem. They opined that the Syrian refugees should be hosted and sponsored by the neighbouring countries (Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan), following the spirit of Muhajirin and Ansar during the time of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). On the stage of international politics, they thought that the Organisation of Islamic Conference should take a leading role and advocate the case of oppressed Muslims belonging to any region.
The Turk Arab Youth Congress 2013 was an interesting way of creating an interactive platform for the Turk and Arab youth; however, what is left to be seen is the practical application of what the youth aspires for the region.
The writer is a student of Communication Studies at University of the Punjab. She blogs at http://www.fakihahassanrizvi.wordpress.com and tweets at @Fakiha_Rizvi
The verbal content of this post was published in Daily Times on November 5, 2013. http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2013%5C11%5C05%5Cstory_5-11-2013_pg3_6