Clarification: I’m writing this not in any way that is analytical or academic, this isn’t even an op-ed really. Remember that this whole blog is meant to be a space for youth from all over the SWANA region to think out loud, contribute to politics and social justice freely, and also have fun and come together. This is just me being a bitter-angry bitch and thinking out loud.
Every single generation that has come before us has said: “today’s youth just aren’t political” and I just want to say a big ‘fuck you’ to y’all. Well, except for the on ground academics and activists who propelled the Arab Spring from day one, and those who led movements that made the Arab Spring possible in the first place. Obviously, that’s also a huge thank you to all the men and women constantly risking their lives to continue to document a discourse that is not ‘the official’ one and battling erasure (and the systems that enforce it) on a daily basis.
As an Egyptian, that’s an especially solid nod and a heartfelt thank you to the members of a certain youth movement. In moments of silence, they brought street activism back as a form of youth resistance and continue to inspire me and many other youth till today. Anyway, this isn’t about them per se, but here’s a link if you’re curious. This is about youth marginalization when it comes to all that is political by – you guessed it, enemy number one (they’re actually number two but we can only one talk about them atm) – our families.
Now, let’s set the scene, shall we?
It’s a Friday afternoon and your whole family is gathered at your grandparents’ house for your weekly lunch get-together. You know, the lunches where everybody smiles at one another and throws out pleasantries and compliments when they stood toe to toe in the mahkama not a day before over land disputes? Yeah, those ones. Anyway, it starts when the family is spread out around the living room and salon, you’re unpleasantly squished between your sister and your aunt’s husband’s cousin who is decked out in a gastly puke tailleur and the most ostentatious jewelry you’ve ever seen (worse than Ahlam’s temsah in that one Arab’s Got Talent episode ages ago). Of course, you’re being forced to listen to ‘reggalet el eila’ cackle over their disgustingly misogynistic jokes about being enslaved to their nekadeyyeen wives within earshot of said wives. The wives – including your mom – will probably either blow their collective fuse or (more likely) get up to set the table so they can bash their husbands together in relative peace. Or try to one up each other with their children’s latest achievements. Yes, so, the table is set, everyone eats, then it’s time for kobayat al-shay. Usually, I like to hide before any of the men demand: “ayez kobbayet shay ashan ahbes”. With me so far? Rakkezo, the fun is about to start.
So, uncle Kamal heaves suddenly and decides – mid chew, mind you – to say: “iqtisad el-balad begad yesharraf”. Now, there will be utter silence for all of 0.0001 seconds before someone is suddenly firetruck red and arguing (read: screaming)…that person is 100% a man and he is 100% logical of course, msh emotional at all, la. Obviously, they’ll have at it for a bit, until they get to the point where they’re discussing a law or organization related to women, especially a woman minister masalan and suddenly – they’re all in perfect agreement because women shouldn’t be in politics. Then, I’d go red in the face (despite my personal hatred for that kind of ‘feminism’), and I’d try to insert myself gently into the discussion. Only for the aunts and uncles to talk louder. Not giving up, I’d raise my voice a bit. They’d raise theirs in retaliation. My favorite khalto will probably step in and draw their attention so I can speak. I would go on to say something about intersectionality or labour movements or human rights and I’d be cut off three sentences in because: ‘ahhhh, enty beta’et hoqooq el insan, ha? Ma enty soghayara esh fahemmek? El seyasa lel kobar bas ya habibity, roohy zakry afyadlek’. And I would continue to boil in silence…at least until I go home and then I’d call Farah to lash out at their khara.
There’s an unspoken agreement that all our families are misogynistic, homophobic/queermisic, almost disgustingly classist, ableist, and most definitely racist. That’s besides the violently enforced religious bias, tabaan. It’s simple, they’ve stagnated. They’ve grown comfortable in their post-war ideas and are glad they can eat and sleep and clothe themselves and their families without the imminent feeling of looming death via warplanes or hunger. They don’t want to listen to any discourse except their own, they can’t, it will mean that they failed, that they’re wrong, that this false reality they’ve convinced themselves of is a mirage; naught but a foggy illusion. The truth is, they’re narcissistic, but they’re also tired. They’re bitter, but they’ve made it about us, because they refuse to face themselves. We’re an easy target. We’re youth, that means that – by default – we’re already a marginalized category. Kaman, we’re their sons and daughters? Great, they’ve got authority, we can’t even disagree, right? What is the family structure but an extension of the authority of the nation-state in our individual lives, anyway?
I write this as I’m sitting in a Costa in New Cairo and right now, I’m a little bitter and quite a bit angry, a 20/80 ratio keda. It’s not fair. Yes, yes, life isn’t fucking fair, but I just want to explicitly express without any fuckery that this is not fair. Let me say it in peace. Again. This is not fair. It’s not enough that I’m a leftist intersectional feminist, it’s not enough that we’ve been reduced to fucking zombies in their game of necropolitics, it’s not enough that I’m in an ‘Islamic’ country where I can’t live alone, it’s not enough that I’m being exploited for my labour on the daily by the capitalist ‘entrepreneurs’ of this country, nope, I just have to be young, too. Thank god I’m an upper middle class woman, and certainly that I’m both a cis woman and heterosexual. Remind me again, historically, who is it that always had the rage, the tenacity, the hope, and the strategy to revolt? Yes, proletariat youth. Who is it, again ma’lesh, who produced brilliant knowledge and sought after it to bring about thawarat fekreyya? Yes, youth.
It’s as easy as asking y’all, who sparked the June 2020 feminist wave in Cairo? Oh, young Egyptian women. In fact, it was a bunch of 22 y/o and under girls. Highschool freshmen, even. This isn’t an isolated incident. Who took to the streets in Lebanon during thawret 17 tishreen? Lebanese youth. Who revolted last year after the Beirut port bombing and mobilized the – previously relatively dying – secular party and won elections this year? Lebanese youth. In that same year, who stood in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square and in squares all over Iraqi cities and provinces, losing tens of people to militant violence for their protesting? Oh yes, Iraqi students, Iraqi youth. Who stood at the forefront of the Sudanese revolts of 2019, sparked them, led them, continued to talk about them, and consequently faced the largest massacre in modern Sudanese history? Yes, Sudanese youth. Who, today, put the Palestinian qadiyya on the fucking world map once again? Yes? 23 year-old Muna and Mohammed El Kurd. 21 year-old Adnan Barq. 19 year-old Ahed Tamimi. 15 year-old Janna Jihad. Who fucking was it, four weeks ago, that stood in Oman to protest the precarity of the employment situation? Omani working class youth. It’s the same in Yemen and Syria and Tunis and Morocco and Algeria. This isn’t news. It shouldn’t be. This generation, my generation, is just as political. We don’t need more suffocation, saraha.
The thing is, I get it. You’ve got ten or fifteen years left. But I’m twenty, I’ve got my whole life ahead of me. So, please excuse me if I’ve still got the energy to rage, to hope, to dream. I’m sorry I won’t let the system that killed you, kill me, too. We’re here to stay. Yes, there’s an extreme fucking amount of erasure, but that’s why we rely on platforms set up by our revolutionaries – why Egyptian youth rely on Mada Masr and Lebanese youth on Megaphone News and Thawra Map. It’s why we don’t put our faith in organizations anymore, but rather independent activists and scholars. It’s why quite a few of us spend time reading articles on Jadaliyya. It’s why I – as a young Arab woman and aspiring scholar – want to get published in Kohl Journal. Hell, you can find brilliant papers by Arab youth on Kohl, youth like Aya Sharkaoui and Ahmed Ibrahim. Our resistance is different. Some of us can’t hit the streets, and if we bring them online, they still need to be shrouded or they become weaponized against us (like everything else has become). You can’t blame us for not knowing things those who have come before us have sacrificed when you do not bother to reach out and listen or inform or suggest or engage with any of what we have to say. You think we’re not interested? Well, you couldn’t be more wrong.
I started writing this two hours ago, now. I was enraged and bitter and really stuck in my feels. Now I’m just pleading. Fuck the shitty and destructive generational cycle of bitterness and blame. It’s a factor in the stagnation of mobilization during the Arab Spring, y’all got all stuck in each others’ faces with the blame game. At this moment, I’m kindly asking the 80s and early 90s generation to reach out, because we don’t actually know who you are. We know famous faces, but we – I – know for a fact that it’s never those directly in the spotlight that do the work, that they’ve been weaponized too, turned-agents whether by or against their will, directly or indirectly. We are just as political, as y’all are. We need a revival, you don’t have the energy for it, but we do. Except, we can’t do it without your mentoring, because we have no idea how to navigate this minefield. You’ve got the experience, the history, the context, the failed (and successful) strategies – teach us, help us grow, and have a little faith. We’ll learn and we’ll rage and we’ll hope. But most importantly, it means we would break the shitty intergenerational trauma cycle, and it means we’ll pass it all on to those who will come after us. You wished to have someone in your corner in your time, so why are you marginalizing us, too? This could be a hopeless utopian fantasy of mine, or it could be a chance to further fuck with the necropolitics of the violent institutions that govern our existence. Even if all the politicking we do is firmly in the social justice corner, that shit matters. We just want to keep our – and your – resistance alive.
A love ethic and a little hope will go a long way.