Hosted by Kadir Has’s Center for International and European Studies, Professor Sayigh spoke about the legacies of past dictatorships, their social dynamics then and now, how the state of affairs in civil-military relations may either further or hinder progress and about what happens if “old style, non-cohesive” capitalism is simply replaced by a new type of the same category.
What interested me most was the role of young people amidst all this long overdue reorganization of some societies. Are they part of it? Involved? Beneficiaries?
It is understandable that before and during a civic uprising the most pressing item on an individual’s agenda is how to help rid a nation from the abovementioned authoritarian rulers or outright dictators. Nevertheless, another element will be how to redistribute the country’s wealth as in all likelihood, before the uprising began, very few owned very much.
Once the first attempts at establishing democratic rule have been successfully completed, the economic issue will not have gone away; on the contrary, those who combined demanding democracy with asking for economic and social rights will raise their voices even louder as according to them, now is the time to act, not tomorrow.
Dr. Sayigh stressed that in Egypt, for example, both before and unfortunately after the end of the reign of the Mubarak clan, 40 percent of Egyptians have had to make do with no more than $2 per day. On the other hand, local elites and the upper-middle classes were and will continue to be either extremely, or at least reasonably, well off, no matter who is running the country.
The event was supported by the İstanbul office of Germany’s Friedrich Ebert Foundation, which underlines not only the significance of the issue, but also the emergence of Turkey as a key player in trying to find a peaceful solution for the conflict in Syria, and in doing so, attracting widespread and international attention for Turkey’s foreign policies. As the discussion progressed, it became clear that if after a revolution (or “spring”) the subject of “class” will not have been adequately addressed, and when old elites become new elites the entire otherwise positive outcomes of a civic uprising might be in jeopardy.
This is particularly true if young people can not find employment at all, or if they do are unable to raise a family on a minimal salary; if workers in general are dissatisfied about low pay and unsafe workplaces; for as long as trade unions are merely “democracy inspired cosmetics” without real bargaining power; if young women are discriminated against; and above all else, if access to primary and secondary education is either problematic or if obtained of low quality. If this is the case, the chances are that one day soon another authoritarian leader might emerge supported by the army as a “father figure,” and thus, all previous democratization endeavors may have been in vain.
Whilst it is fairly easy to convince the hopeless, futureless youth about the need to take up arms during a civic uprising, it is much more courageous to offer them a role in shaping society afterwards. This is the task for all actors involved whether in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt or elsewhere and one day soon in Syria, too. Governments must find ways of investing in education. Teachers must be equipped with modern pedagogical tools. Businesses must be restructured, willing and able to employ and train apprentices. Normally democracy is as good a trademark for attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) and selling products overseas as “Made in XYZ.” If the youth of the Arab Spring cannot benefit from the winds of change, the outlook is not just gloomy but resembles a tinderbox, ripe for civil wars and enormous bloodshed.
The Turkish Spring -- if I may refer to the country’s last decade in this manner, and especially after the announcement of both the FATİH project and Parliament voting on the streamlining of primary and secondary education -- seems to be not just a “success story” (terminology courtesy of the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social research -- SETA) but an exportable model for democracy in the Middle East as a matter of urgency, enabling youth to carry on after the dust of a civic uprising or “spring” has settled.