Why Youth Policy

There is more than one reason for policy researchers to turn their eyes to youth. In the Middle East, the discourse on youth has transformed tremendously reaching a point where making policy for and with youth seemed necessary. There has been great interest in the growing young population of the region during the past 3 decades in demographic research. The “Youth Bulge” was a “demographic bonus” that necessitated extensive socio-economic development.

Economic opportunity may have characterized the narrative on youth in the region until 2011, though such research has warned of consequences of youth entrapment in so-called “waithood.” The threat has become clear with youth involvement in Arab uprisings in some Arab countries and later with the increasing allure of terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq to youth worldwide with promises of easy life.

More recent international reports, as the US National Intelligence Council Global Trends report and the most recent UNDP Arab Human Development report, have highlighted these risks as major future challenges for the Middle East region. Lose of connection and empathy for the community resulting from challenges as delayed independence and lack of respect and appreciation of youth capabilities were seen as a major cause for youth radicalization.

In addition to creating economic opportunity, Engagement in all shapes and forms began to seem vital for maintaining stability and lowering risks of extremist violence. This meant that policy makers needed to identify with youth and to find ways to enrich their connection to society. The youth need to see that their ambitions and ideas have weight and that their capabilities are recognized and appreciated.

A majority of research projects and initiatives on youth in the region have focused on high-density Arab countries as Egypt. Data and studies on youth in the Gulf Cooperation Council states were less available. The generalizations on youth in the region did not always apply to youth in Gulf states that have grown in different settings. The difference was made clear by the Arab uprisings in 2011. The ripple did not hit Gulf states as hard as it did Egypt or Libya. This has also made clear that there was a major gap in knowledge on youth dynamics in the region.

Still, the idea of engagement remained relevant in the Gulf states for many different reasons. The economic shift away from oil has brought more attention to youth as major players in bringing about transformation. There has been an evident increase in interest in youth policy making and youth data. Policy research entities in the region have not yet caught up with this new direction.

Worldwide, studies that look at youth as participants in society that may have impact on policy-making have been slowly emerging with the growth of examples where youth lead and make positive impact. More policy labs are being established around the world to tackle various policy questions on youth. These new efforts will continue to be oblivious to the intricacies of youth dynamics in the gulf if policy researchers in the region do not increase their contribution to youth policy research.