Meet the youth from the Arab region shaping political and electoral participation
Be the change you want to see
September 4, 2022
The energy, ideals and skills of young people are vital for the continuing development of the societies in which they live. In the Arab States region, young people under the age of 30 account for nearly 60 percent of the population, but their potential as agents of change and advocates of more just opportunities in their communities remains untapped1 .
Economic and political exclusion are the biggest challenges young people have been facing in the region. The regional youth unemployment rate is the highest globally2 . In addition, people under the age of 35 are rarely found in political leadership positions and are often not adequately represented in formal political institutions and processes such as parliaments, political parties, elections, and public administrations3 . This weakens their ability to influence policy-making about their own lives and future. Thus, amid growing global challenges and mounting regional threats, it has become more urgent than ever to leverage the youth force to advance national development and regional growth.
To this end, members of the Arab Organization for Electoral Management Bodies (ArabEMBs), dedicated to promoting cooperation on election management in the region, agreed on the importance of having a regional mechanism to encourage youth political participation. During a regional conference on "Youth Participation in Electoral Processes in the Arab Region", which took place on 23-24 August in Amman, Jordan, they launched "The Arab Network for Youth in Elections" on the sidelines of the fifth meeting of the General Assembly of ArabEMBs.
The network aims to promote youth political participation, enhance their awareness ,and build the trust in public institutions in the Arab region, through creating synergies and collaboration with youth-serving and civil society organizations (CSOs) and setting regional standards and good practices to encourage youth participation in electoral processes in the region. It will provide opportunities for regular dialogue between EMBs and youth organizations with the aim of encouraging greater inclusion and sensitivity to the needs of youth within both the EMBs and CSOs.
“We believe that meaningful participation can only be achieved with the collaboration of the different key players involved in electoral processes, including political parties, media, voters, civil society, etc. Given their mandate, the ArabEMBs are well equipped to work as a connector, playing not only a technical role but also a social role throughout the electoral cycle. The network can help bring to the table interconnected issues related to youth as well as their concerns, and facilitate communication with key political and civic actors.” said Hisham Kuhail, Chairman of ArabEMBs Executive Board and CEO of the Central Elections Commission in Palestine.
But what are some of the challenges young people face in meaningfully engaging in the political space and policy-making?
“Youth participation in the region is low because too often the systems and laws in place do not encourage youth engagement. Our role as activists is to educate other youth about the importance of their participation in politics leveraging their perspectives and new ideas that could bring an added value to the table, while at the same time encouraging political actors to put in place policies that foster youth political participation through open dialogue with youth. The launch of the Arab Network for Youth in Elections and the partnership between the ArabEMBs and the civil society, is a building block towards this achievement”, says Rashid Hamto, 39 years old from Lebanon, Program Coordinator at the Arab Network for Democratic Elections (ANDE) an NGO that works on voter awareness and youth participation through education programs and campaigns.
Here are 4 young activists from the Arab States region who participated in the launch of the network and are committed to be in the driving seats:
Jamila has worked with the Independent Election Commission in Somalia and later facilitated and trained 30 Somali youth to participate and engage in elections. For Jamila, youth participation in the political sphere is not only about youth becoming members of the parliament. The role of youth is much bigger than that.
“There is nothing without us about us! So let’s encourage youth to also be part of the local government and councils”, she says at the launch of the Arab Network for Youth in Elections.
Karrar believes that there is a gap between youth and decision-makers when it comes to representation and engagement in the region. It is important for youth to have a saying in the political space and policy-making as real representation is essential to achieving their ambitions and hopes. Youth can contribute to political reforms and promote democracy through involvement in the electoral processes and there are plenty of innovative tools out there that can be leveraged to encourage their participation and their active roles in civil society organizations, political parties and initiatives.
When we asked what has inspired him to take action in support of youth participation, he answered that he would like to see developed nations where youth can live and prosper and where human rights are respected.
Wafa volunteers in the Young Journalists Communication Project. Throughout her work with Pyalara, sheworks on activating the role of young people within their societies to improve their living conditions, especially in marginalized areas, including providing media platforms through which young people can communicate with each other to express their issues of concerns and defend their rights.
For Wafa, the issues of youth rights, participation, social entrepreneurship, and inclusion of youth in decision-making processes at the local and national levels are among the top priorities for youth to lead change processes in their communities and at the national level.
She believes that integrating and mainstreaming youth into projects and political parties brings additional value to societies in the Arab region. In her view, some of the tools that can be used to facilitate youth political inclusion and empower young women and men are training and capacity-building activities with municipalities and electoral commissions
Khaled works in a non-governmental organization that focuses on civic engagement and youth political participation, aiming at identifying the challenges that youth face in participating in the political spaces in different governorates in Jordan, and encouraging their engagement in local and municipality elections. He thinks that it is essential to reach out to youth from all governorates, including marginalized populations, youth with disability and young women, to make sure that their perspectives are reflected and integrated into policy-making to build better societies.
One of the tools that can facilitate youth inclusion is increasingly creating space for youth aggregation, gathering and exchange in public places, as platforms where peers can come together and express their views and problems, as well as think about solutions and share opportunities.
It’s also important to engage young people from within, involving them in research and data collection and analysis on topics related to them, as a way to increase their knowledge and awareness of issues that relate to their own life and wellbeing.
For details about the Arab Network of Youth in Elections and the Conference on "Youth Participation in Electoral Processes in the Arab Region" click here. Follow the hashtag #IYD22ArabReg on Social Media if you want to learn more about youth in the Arab region and UNDP work to support their engagement.
 Youth in the Arab Region, Youth Newsletter 2019, Arab Development Portal. Available at https://www.arabdevelopmentportal.com/sites/default/files/publication/booklet_final_upload.pdf
 Youth Development Index, The Commonwealth, 2016. Available at https://thecommonwealth.org/youthdevelopmentindex
 Youth Participation in National Parliaments, 2016, Inter-Parliamentary Union. http://archive.ipu.org/pdf/publications/youthrep-e.pdf
The initiative is led by the ArabEMBs, in partnership with the Independent Electoral Commission in Jordan and with the support of the UNDP Regional Electoral Support project for the MENA region, funded by the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida), and the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division.