The observer of the Arab world these days can say that the fall of dictators and corrupt regimes, and the fact that others have been compelled to start reforms they had refused for years, is only the tip of the iceberg. The transformations run deep in many Arab countries, and the popular uprisings are only one of their signs – even if they are the most important and exciting signs politically.
Perhaps reviewing some of the elements of this depth will aid the discovery of this iceberg. These elements include:
- The transformation of Arab demographics over past decades with massive urbanization. This transformation permitted daily interaction in uninterrupted arenas, which modified people’s ideas and allowed them to unite based on politics, interest or sentiment in a way not previously possible given geographical separation in the countryside and desert. (This is a separate issue from the ruralization of cities and its effects in more than one cultural and societal level.)
- The evolution of some social values in middle-class circles, and the tendency of this class’s individuals toward living in smaller family units, not drowning in extended families as in the past. This liberated some of them from the daily economic relations and burdens that had controlled the details of their lives. It provided girls and women with free space (albeit limited) in which they could dispose of their time, interact with their surroundings, and enroll in different levels of education, as well as in some sectors of the labor market.
- The 15-30 age group surpassing the 30 percent mark of the region’s population. The majority of these are either studying (albeit at extremely varied levels), working or seeking work. A great number of them use the internet and mobile phones and record films on YouTube or upload them onto Facebook, globalizing what is theirs and becoming acquainted with what others have. Their interaction with one another expands at record speed, creating states of identification and audiovisual resemblance among them that traditional media channels and newspapers did not allow.
- The (re)construction of social and political ties that dictatorship had previously destroyed – a new construction that is difficult to control or prevent. These ties began in a “virtual” world (the internet), then charges of collective emotions (following Bouzai’s self-immolation in protest of humiliation in Tunisia, or the slogan “We are all Khaled Said” condemning the barbarous murder of a young man by police in Egypt) transformed them into real or “territorial” relations in protests, sit-ins, conferences and festivals. These launched a process of collective reclamation of the public domain and many of its functions.
All this is generating new feelings in the region: pride in liberation from fear and pride in the construction of citizenship. It is also generating excitement over the solidarity – human solidarity first, and national solidarity second – that now finds its daily and nightly expression in public spaces (after the screens).
All this too could generate a new conception of belonging to the Arab world, unrelated to outdated nationalist concepts or loyalty to movements or leaders. This is a sense of belonging to founding moments, in a region whose youth speaks one language, understands the difficulty of its conditions and experiences its oppressions. It is an affiliation with human concerns that unite them and all humanity: the issues of freedom, dignity and sustenance, which come before anything else…