Report: Majority of Arab youth rejects radicalism

The new Arab Human Development report seeks to dispel misconceptions about young Arabs in the region.

By Jad Chaaban

Beirut – Arab youths are suffering from pervasive social exclusion, the highest unemployment levels in the world, and low female labour force participation, the Arab Human Development Report for 2016 has found. The annual report, entitled Youth and the Prospects of Human Development in a Changing Reality, was launched at the American University of Beirut in late November by the United Nations Development Programme.

The report brings to light a number of matters worth considering.


Young Arabs are more civically engaged and socially mobilised, especially young women, than similar youth in other countries around the world [Getty Images].

On one hand, the Arab region as a whole has achieved remarkable progress in educational enrolment and the fight against illiteracy, especially among women. Overall extreme poverty and hunger have declined, and there has been an increase in life expectancy.

Yet on the other hand, the region has witnessed a dramatic increase in armed conflict, militarisation and violence. Fifteen years ago, when the first Arab Human Development Report, or AHDR, was published, five out of 22 Arab states were witnessing conflict or political violence. Today, this number has gone up to 11.

Half of the Arab region is living in conflict, and the situation does not seem to be improving.

“Young people in the region are the main victims of this grim [economic] situation. They constitute the largest segment in society and suffer from pervasive social exclusion.”

In the past couple of decades, the region has seen low economic growth with very little job creation, which has translated into a general decline in the standards of living for the majority of Arab citizens.

Low oil prices have put government budgets, cross-border investments and workers’ remittances under stress, and Arab societies have witnessed a degradation of their social, physical and environmental capital.

With more than 75 percent of the Arab population living in major cities in the region, one just needs to visit these urban areas to witness the extent of air pollution, degraded living conditions, shrinking public spaces and the general malaise of a majority of the population.

Young people in the region are the main victims of this grim situation. They constitute the largest segment in society – 105 million are aged 15-29, 30 percent of the Arab region’s population – and suffer from pervasive social exclusion.

Unemployment among youths is the highest in the world at more than 30 percent; young women’s labour force participation is at an all-time low; and with an increasing education most university graduates migrate when they can to find better opportunities abroad.

The less fortunate ones live idle lives, waiting for things to change. This “waithood” has caused a delay in family formation and autonomy, a higher exposure to health risk factors, such as smoking and drug use, and ultimately pushed some youths to engage in extremist activities and armed conflict.

Yet the AHDR 2016 seeks to dispel several misconceptions about young Arabs that have been prevalent in previous analysis and reporting on the region.The first misconception is that the vast majority of young Arabs are prone to radicalisation and extremism.

A massive amount of recent opinion polling data analysed for the Report revealed that an overwhelming majority of youths rejects terrorism and radicalisation, albeit remaining largely conservative in their social and religious attitudes.

The second misconception is that young migrants originating from Arab countries constitute a major threat to developed economies. The AHDR 2016 found that most Arab countries are marked by outward migration; yet, the vast stock of immigrants in Gulf Cooperation Council countries means that Arab countries as a whole receive more migrants – Arab and non-Arab – than they send out.

An estimated 27 million immigrants live within the borders of the Gulf countries of the region; these countries took in about 80 percent of all immigrants – Arab and non-Arab – in the region in 2010–2014.

With the rise in conflicts in the region, forced migration has pushed many Arabs to migrate mostly to other neighbouring Arab countries, with a much smaller share going to countries outside the region such as Europe.

The third misconception is that following the failure of the 2011 uprisings many young Arabs have become apathetic and less interested in civic engagement and political change.

While it is true that the data reveals life dissatisfaction among youth in the region is the highest in the world, they are more civically engaged and socially mobilised, especially young women, than similar youth in other countries around the world.

With an extremely high electronic connectivity – more than 70 percent of young people in the region have access to social media – Arab youths are more exposed to globalisation and connected than any other previous generation. This raises their expectations and aspirations, yet at the same time increases their frustration when nothing is improving in their daily life.

The AHDR 2016 is a wake-up call for policymakers and citizens in the region to address the systemic issues that are plaguing their societies. Achieving peace and security is a core priority, with the necessity of increasing youth involvement in peace building and conflict resolution.

Tackling rising economic inequality and inequality of opportunity, especially in access to good education and healthcare, is another crucial cross-regional priority. Arab countries are witnessing a widening divide between the “haves” and the “have-nots”, and young Arabs living in slums and peripheral areas have less chances of obtaining quality education and access to affordable health services.

The Report calls for increased government investments in the expansion of public education and providing free universal health coverage.

It also calls for opening up the political space for Arab youth, and treating them as real partners in planning the future of the Arab countries, not just as a burden or a threat.

*The writer is a Lebanese Economist and Social Activist. He is an Associate Professor of Economics at the American University of Beirut. He recently served as the Lead Author of UNDP’s Arab Human Development Report 2016.


Source: Al Jazeera


Four Christians have been arrested following a raid on an underground church in Azerbaijan. About 30 Christian believers – men, women and children – were gathered for prayer in the pastor’s house when a group of about 15 policemen came into the room and stopped the meeting, because it was ‘illegal’.

The police took the names and passport details of all those gathered, as well as compiling an inventory of all the literature in the house. Although 26 of those gathered for prayer were taken to the police station and detained, 22 were released. The other four believers – Pastor Agamamedov Mehman, Pastor Shabanov Gamid and his wife, and another member of the church, were detained for longer.

Eventually they were released and warned not to gather for prayer or worship meetings. They were told that ‘each of you may pray to your Christ in your own house, but meetings are forbidden’. If they carried on meeting, they were warned that ‘you will be arrested again with more serious consequences than a fine’.

Although the case has not been decided, authorities have told them that 24 members – not just the arrested four – will be fined 1500 manat (about £675) for attending an ‘illegal religious meeting’. Their case was broadcast on Azerbaijani TV news, and the programme described them as criminals.

Please pray for these believers who now cannot hold meetings due to the strict police control. Please pray especially for Pastor Mehman who has health problems which have been exacerbated by the pressure and the arrest.


For Christians in Azerbaijan, many of whom are in secret churches and facing serious pressure
For safety, courage and the opportunity to pray and worship freely
For the health of Pastor Mehman
For God’s protection in the upcoming trial.

Source: Open Doors


The United Nations warns of the ‘largest crisis in Africa’ as the offensive against Boko Haram moves at a snail’s pace.



The Borno state has been a focal point in Nigeria’s fighting between government forces and Boko

The United Nations has warned that northern Nigeria faces the “largest crisis in Africa” as the government’s war with Boko Haram has become increasingly bogged down

Piracy in Nigeria
In northern Borno state, the epicentre of a conflict that has spread to three neighbouring countries – Chad, Cameroon and Niger – Nigeria’s army has unleashed a barrage of air and land assaults.

The counterinsurgency has clawed back some territory, but Boko Haram has responded by stepping up guerrilla tactics, ambushing troops and attacking civilians.

In late November, Major General Leo Irbor hailed his men’s success in freeing “more than 5,200 people” in a month.

But the high number of people freed highlighted Boko Haram’s capacity to capture and hold vast, heavily populated areas.

Villagers under siege are typically forced to abandon their crops, devastating local food supplies. Those who escape Boko Haram are generally transported by the army to camps where basic supplies are also desperately scarce.


Many Nigerians say conditions in the IDP camps are difficult due to the lack of basic supplies [Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters]

The UN estimates that 14 million people will need outside help in 2017, particularly in Borno State, after seven years of conflict that has killed at least 20,000 people and left 2.6 million homeless.


The scale of humanitarian suffering has become more apparent as troops recapture and discover the “scorched-earth” conditions of villages that have fallen to the hands of Boko Haram.

But some local people complain that there are not enough security forces deployed to battle the group.

READ MORE: Nigeria’s hunger crisis could kill 200 children per day

The same day as Irbor made his comments, five people were killed in raids on villages near Chibok, the district that gained notoriety for the Boko Haram kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls in 2014.

The Boko Haram raiders looted and burned houses, set fire to crops that were ready for harvesting, and killed the locals – even though the army had been alerted to the assault.

“We’ve heard there are 700 soldiers to secure the zone bordering the Sambisa forest that is the Boko Haram stronghold,” said Ayuba Alamson, a resident of Chibok.


The purported leader of Nigerian armed group Boko Haram Abubakar Shekau appears at an unknown location in a video posted online [File: Reuters]

The forest covers an area of about 1,300 square kilometres (500 square miles).

“We need another battalion,” said Alamson.

Though Boko Haram has been weakened and casualty numbers followings its attacks are often low, the frequency of their strikes “enable it to keep up the pressure on security forces and force them to deploy”, said Omar Mahmood, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, stretching them further.


Troop numbers are also being pulled away to fight on another front in the south where fighters have been sabotaging oil pipelines and other installations vital to the country’s export earnings in a fierce dispute over local autonomy and the distribution of petrodollars.

The number of killings in the northeast, which increases after the end of the rainy season each year, is a particular cause for concern – especially on the border with Niger.

Territory in Niger has become the stronghold of Abu Musab al-Barnawi, who was declared a local leader by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) armed group after Boko Haram declared allegiance to them.

Yan St-Pierre, director of the Modern Security Consulting Group, said that pressure on ISIL fighters in northern Libya has pushed its activities further south, to countries bordering Nigeria.

As a result, their “effectiveness for supplying [fighters] with weapons and logistic material has greatly improved over several weeks,” he told the AFP news agency.

Source: Al Jazeera

Despite distance, Iraqi Christians keep the spirit of Christmas alive

Iraqi refugee Sami Dankha, 51, feeds his son Alin, 1, at his home in Istanbul, Turkey. He lives in Istanbul with his wife and five children; his brothers live in New Zealand, Australia and the Netherlands. (CNS photo/Oscar Durand) See IRAQI-CHRISTIANS-CHRISTMAS Dec. 5, 2016.

Iraqi refugee Sami Dankha, 51, feeds his son Alin, 1, at his home in Istanbul, Turkey. He lives in Istanbul with his wife and five children; his brothers live in New Zealand, Australia and the Netherlands. (CNS photo/Oscar Durand) See IRAQI-CHRISTIANS-CHRISTMAS Dec. 5, 2016.

By Oscar Durand
Catholic News Service

ISTANBUL (CNS) — Sami Dankha, his three brothers and their families used to kick off Christmas celebrations by attending a packed Christmas Eve Mass at St. Thomas Church in Baghdad. Wearing brand new clothes and sporting fresh haircuts, they would spend the night chatting, singing and eating pacha, a dish made from sheep’s head that Iraqis consider a delicacy and a staple of Christmas.

But that was 20 years ago. Today, Dankha, 51, his wife, Faten, and their five children live in Turkey as refugees, far away from the rest of their families. They are waiting for an answer to their resettlement application to Australia.

“If you count Christmas and Easter, it has been about 40 times we haven’t gathered,” said Dankha, whose brothers now live in New Zealand, Australia and the Netherlands.

Years of instability, violence and discrimination have forced Iraqi Christian families to leave their homes. Christmas, traditionally celebrated with loved ones, is a reminder of the exodus of Christians from Iraq and the Middle East to countries all over the word. Despite the distance and across different time zones, families keep the spirit of the holiday alive.

“The last time we were all together was 2005. Maybe 2006. I am not sure,” Habiba Taufiq, 69, told Catholic News Service.

Taufiq was born in Aqrah but has lived most of her life in Ankawa, a Christian enclave in northern Iraq. She is now a refugee in Turkey, where she lives with one of her 10 children. The other nine are split among Australia, France, Sweden and Iraq.

“We danced and celebrated because of Jesus. Not only us but also with other families,” Taufiq said, remembering Christmas back home. “Now there is a big difference because we are in different countries and that affects the occasion.”

To stay connected, families rely on messaging and calling apps.

“I call them on Viber video,” said Dankha, mentioning one the most popular apps among the Iraqi community in Turkey.

Last year, Dankha spent at least four hours glued to his phone as he virtually celebrated Christmas with family and friends in 10 different countries. At some point he had to connect his phone to a power adapter after running out of charge. But seeing and hearing what is happening on the other side of the call is no replacement for being face to face.

“I see them celebrating in parties, and I feel sorrowful because I am here and we are separated, in different countries,” Dankha said.

Nearly halfway around the world, in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Nesrin Arteen, 42, also uses a messaging app to keep in touch with her family.

“I talk to them often; with the internet, it is easy. But back when I arrived, it was very different,” she told CNS.

Arteen is from Zakho, Iraq, and moved to Canada in 1994 before smartphones became ubiquitous. At the time she had to use a call center and wait in line before she could speak with her family. And when it was her turn, the quality of the connection was not good, and the calls frequently disconnected.

For Arteen, Christmas meant attending the Christmas Eve Mass and staying up all night with her family. She fondly remembered klecha — a traditional cookie usually filled with nuts, coconuts or dates — which she could not have when she first arrived in Canada. Back then Saskatoon did not even have a Chaldean Catholic church, which made her feel removed from her Christmas traditions.

“It was a different feel, different from home. I didn’t feel the spirit of Christmas,” Arteen said, remembering the first Christmas she spent in Canada.

Over time things changed. Today there is a Chaldean church in her city, and Arteen has started to create her own Christmas traditions.

“I feel that the spirit of Christmas is here,” she said. “My children go to a Christian school and are also part of the choir. There are places where they sing Christmas carols.”

Taufiq hopes to reunite soon with some of her family in Australia. As she navigates visa procedures, she said she feels at peace that her children continue the traditions she started.

“The circumstances separated us and now we are in different countries. But we still continue living with love,” she said.

Dankha told CNS this Christmas will be special. His younger brother, Yalda, will visit him in Turkey from the Netherlands. They haven’t seen each other since 2000.

That makes one less person on his list of people to call on Christmas.

“There are so many friends I don’t know if I will ever see. Maybe one day when my country’s situation is OK, maybe then we will get together. But I don’t know if that will happen,” he said.

Source: Catholic News Service



A volunteer pastor (left) prays for Zamboanga Mayor Beng Climaco-Salazar to lead this city with 1 million population into spiritual revival

By Weng Tarrazona, Special to ASSIST News Service


Christians storm the Zamboanga City Coliseum chanting “Jesus Reigns, Jesus Reigns.”

At the height of military offensives against the ISIS-linked Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in nearby Basilan and Sulu provinces, here in the Philippines, more than 10,000 Evangelical Christians representing different churches marched around Zamboanga City chanting “Jesus Reigns, Jesus Reigns.”

Zamboanga used to be the seat of US government in the Southern Philippines in the 1900s, but has become a subject of militant terror attacks since 1970s.

A day before this celebration, two suspected members of ASG were killed in in the city, when combined forces of the military and police were patrolling a seashore in the village of Sangali. Police authorities reported that, while they were patrolling the seashore to secure the city from fresh terror threats, the two ASG suspects rained the authorities with bullets that led Philippine soldiers to return fire killing the two ASG members on the spot.


Philippine soldiers take cover during a previous terror attack on Zamboanga City.

Police later recognized the ASG members as often involved in extortion and kidnapping activities in this city’s east coast. Recovered from the suspects were .45 caliber pistols and hand grenades.

Police authorities have raised the security level in the City as red alert status because of the reported of ASG presence in the city as result of the military offensives in nearby provinces.

But despite this security challenge, evangelical Christians, both young and old, braved any security threats and continued with their praise and worship songs, prayer for the city Mayor and other government officials.

City Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco, Vice Mayor Cesar Iturralde and Congressman Mannix Dalipe, also participated in the “Jesus Reigns” celebration.


A prayer request was flashed on the huge screen during the “Jesus Reigns” celebration to make Zamboanga free from crime and further terror attacks

The program opened with the blowing of the ram’s horn, also known as the shofar, and a musical worship songs from Don Moen tracks. The program also featured a musical skit and a hip hop Christian dance from university students.

In the later part of the program, the three city government officials were asked to go up the stage and the 10,000 Christian audience prayed for the city’s officials.

While on stage, Mayor Climaco declared in prayer that peace, and public safety would Reigns in Zamboanga City for God’s glory and it would be free from terror attacks.

Defying security threats, parents also brought their school-aged and pre-school children to witness once a year event in the city.

In 2013, around 400 Islamic separatists stormed this peaceful city and engaged a three-week firefight with 4,000 Philippine soldiers where a humanitarian crisis was declared in the city. The war has displaced more than 100,000 residents when 10,000 houses got burned by the war. Three years later, the city is still recovering from that fateful war. After the 2013 war, more bomb attacks were launched by suspected ASG terrorist group. But dozens of them have also been arrested in the city.

Source: Assist News Service

Founder of the African Children's Choir, Music For Life and Friends In The West.