Opinions - 09.02.2011 - 00:00 

North Africa’s youth fights

Thanks to their education, young people in Egypt possess a political awareness. North Africa’s youth is demanding its right to a future. Franz Schultheis says they have little hope of seeing their dreams come true.


10 February 2011. North Africa’s societies are young – enviably young if we consider the demographic imbalances and increasing obsolescence of our advanced industrial societies. Depending on the country, between 25 and 30 per cent of the population are less than 15 years of age.

North Africa shares this circumstance with more southern regions, where an abundance of children regularly coincides with social poverty, misery and illiteracy. North Africa’s masses, too, suffer from material poverty, in spite of the often considerable wealth in oil and gas, as is the case in Algeria and Libya, or of revenues from tourism, as is the case in Tunisia. Where North Africa differs from the more southern areas, however, is through distinctly higher educational levels. In countries such as Algeria and Tunisia, this is definitely on a par with European standards.

“Educational capital” is a central factor of prosperity, welfare and the democratic systems of western civilisations. Paradoxically, however, the high level of education does not prove to be a stabiliser in North African societies – to the contrary: “educational capital” without a labour market conceals an explosive mix of empty promises that result in frustration and protest. In the industrial nations of the West, degrees and diplomas usually provide the best protection from unemployment and precariousness. In the North African regions, degrees and diplomas all too frequently turn out to be bouncing cheques. Thus the number of young unemployed university graduates almost trebled from 122,000 to 336,000 in Tunisia between 1996 and 2006. In the rural regions of Algeria, there is also an amazingly high proportion of university graduates who in conversations refer to the hopelessness of their situation.

The substantial proportion of highly qualified job hunters are chasing an infinitesimally small number of adequate positions, and in societies with distinctly nepotistic forms of social capital based on networks of relatives, these precious jobs are reserved for the offspring of a small privileged minority. Besides the “hunger revolts” that break out regularly in Egypt, this reveals a volatile configuration, as the strong presence of young people in the mass uprisings against corrupt regimes shows: thanks to their education, young people are not only frustrated but possess a political awareness and are competent in the mastery of new forms of public effectiveness. North Africa’s youth is demanding its right to a future.

Picture: Keystone, dpa, Hannibal Hanschke

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