In the last week of July, the United Nations held its High Level Meeting on Youth as part of the closing of the International Year of Youth 2011 in the General Assembly
This year was definitely a historic year that witnessed the massive mobilisation and leadership of youth in the Arab world. The Secretary General of the United Nations Mr Ban Ki-Moon mentioned the Tunisian young man – Mohamed Bouazizi – as an example of a young man who triggered the removal of two long dictators in Tunisia and Egypt at the very beginning of this year 2011. I was preparing for my intervention to the High Level Meeting at the General Assembly right after the SG speech when many ideas came to mind. In fact, many words and phrases came to mind: 2011, youth, international, Arab Spring, Tahrir Square, among others. I also listened to many interventions by official delegations to the UN, youth, civil society, among others.
I was asking myself, why were we here in this massive and unique room of the United Nations General Assembly? What does it mean to be in such a huge room with all these faces, representations, and experiences? How can we come out of this room with something concrete?
I recalled the days and nights we spent in Tahrir Square in the middle of Cairo. The values that brought Egyptians together in one place – sharing space, thoughts, ideas, food, among many others things – were unique. Egyptian young people of all walks of life, backgrounds, education, shapes and sizes got together in Tahrir Square for the first time united as one. They developed a sense of belonging to this square that was gradual, systematic and indeed, humane. It was like a utopia where human beings unite based on their humane values, forgetting their differences and work together for the common good. It was the specificity of time and place that brought those men and women into their default human values of coexistence. Such strong idealistic strength shaped a revolt against dictatorship and caused the Egyptian head of regime to collapse in 18 days. It also put together a reference for the Egyptian revolution’s demands, which shaped the societal pressure on the transitional government until today. It also provided a new face for Egypt that the whole world was looking up to. The rest of the Arab nations’ youth were given a strong push to lead their own revolts and demand freedom and democracy their own ways. Although it was not as peaceful as Tahrir Square, it is still powerful, consistent and committed to bring change to their societies.
Tahrir Square was not only a place of revolution and change, but also a place of consensus, solidarity, and coexistence where Egyptians of all walks of life, cultures, religions, and social class were hand in hand in sharing everything from laugh to sorrow and from bread to medicine. They were living together and protecting each other to the extent that we came up with new names like: Tahrir Square republic and Tahrir moral system.
In the UN General Assembly, I felt that same sense of unity that was felt in Tahrir Square. We were a very diverse group of people and organisations sitting under one roof to discuss youth issues in a High Level Meeting. The collection was unique, representative and powerful. It was like the collection of people in Tahrir Square, and I was wondering, can we have a dialogue that is similar to that of Tahrir Square and make real breakthroughs in the reality of youth?
We have always said we needed the wisdom of the elders and the energy and enthusiasm of the youth. The same applies today to international organisations, governments, and civil society as it does to the wise and the young and the energetic and enthusiastic. Youth need that wisdom, power, knowledge and experience so we can complement each other. This is the value of Tahrir Square, which I see is necessary to be internationalised everywhere. The UN General Assembly High Level Meeting on Youth was just a symbolic example of this. Tahrir was just a physical space in the heart of one of the largest cities in Africa, the Middle East and the developing world until it changed the way young people voiced their needs differently and peacefully. This is what the world should learn from Tahrir. Indeed, the young people of Tahrir have played a major role in the world for the sake of humanity at large.
Karim Kasim is a consultant and researcher on youth issues in Egypt. He was an active participant in the youth revolts during Egypt’s Arab Spring.
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