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Gulf must bridge generational divide, says panel

Emirates Literature Festival panel says happy youth critical to promising future for region

  • (From left) Francis Matthew, Omar Saif Ghobash, James Naughtie and JE Peterson at the Emirates Literature FestImage Credit:
  • (From left) Francis Matthew, Omar Saif Ghobash, James Naughtie and JE Peterson at the Emirates Literature FestImage Credit:
Gulf News

Dubai: The future of the Gulf states hinges on bridging the generational divide with youth to give them a stake in their own citizenry, said a panel of writers and historians at Emirates Airline Festival of Literature.

Speaking at ‘The Gulf’s Political Journey’ session on Monday, panellists posited that amid an uncertain US administration under President Donald Trump, tomorrow’s stability in the region will be shaped by inclusive domestic policies crafted in concert with modern, technologically connected youth.

Omar Saif Ghobash, UAE Ambassador to Russia, author of ‘Letters to A Young Muslim’ and a respected thinker on moderate Islam, said the UAE’s extensive efforts to reach out to its youth “is going to make a massive difference”.

“In the UAE, we are trying to be more responsive to youth through the Ministry of Youth and youth councils,” said Ghobash. “For me, it’s quite exciting. We’re opening up space for youth in a way that we really haven’t for our own generation. We don’t have middle-aged men’s councils.”

The approach should pay dividends by expanding choice and opportunity in society.

“There’s a whole generation of people my age and slightly younger who have been exposed to the outside world and have this battle between whether they should live their own lives and think they can as an individual or whether they should come back home and contribute,” said Ghobash.

“I think I should be heading towards a society here in the Emirates where we are going to be allowed, to allow ourselves to develop as individuals,” Ghobash said. “I think these youth councils are actually a great opportunity to localise around that.”

J.E. Peterson, American historian and political analyst who has worked for 45 years in the region, said the culture and attitudes of the Gulf are changing over time.

“I found it interesting the way that the outlook of the people has changed over time for generations due to advancement of education, or talking about social media’s impact,” he said. “Long before that was the impact of satellite television and the internet itself.”

Governments need to be in tune with their own relationships with upcoming generations, he said.

“It’s a progression. Governments in this part of the world, like everywhere, really need to adapt and evolve to meet changes, that is where the problem lays for the gap between what the people, younger people want and elders want and what the government is prepared to give them,” said Peterson.

Francis Matthew, Editor-at-Large of Gulf News and a journalist in the Middle East for 35 years, said youth are key to a stable transition to the future for the region.

“If you are looking for political stability in the next 10 or 20 years, the way you can gauge it looking at how much the leadership in any one country are engaged with their 20-year-olds and If they are active, they can start there … the transition is likely to be smooth,” said Matthew. “I would say in the UAE it’s quite smooth in the sense of the young people.”