Youth Civic and Political Participation in the MENA: Does Trust Matter?

By Nadine Sika
Submitted to Session P4845 (Activism, Contestation and Political Participation in the Middle East and North Africa, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Mediterranean Countries;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
The Arab Uprisings of 2010/11, were the epitome of youth political participation and demonstrations in the Middle East and North Africa. Many studies have analyzed the structural barriers of youth participation in the region, or the socio-political and economic factors that led to the mass mobilization and demonstrations of 2010/11 in the region. Six years after these uprisings, few attempts have been made to link the relationship between the structure of authoritarianism in these regimes and the extent to which citizens in general and young people in particular trust their state institutions. Based on random sampling surveys of youth in 6 MENA countries (Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, Tunisia, OPT and Morocco) and on qualitative fieldwork with more than 150 civically and politically engaged youth in these same countries, during the period from March 2015 – April 2016, the preliminary results show interesting trends and relations between youth civic and political participation and their levels of trust in formal institutions. The survey studies show that youths’ trust levels in formal institutions is very low, while at the same time, qualitative fieldwork shows that civically and politically engaged youth have very low trust levels not only in formal state institutions, but also in civil society organizations, political parties and the political elite in general.
This paper analyzes the seemingly positive relationship between the structure of authoritarianism and citizens’ attitudes in the region. It argues that youth, who have lower trust levels in their state institutions, are more likely to be politically active and to contest the power of their respective regimes. However, this participation is in the form of independent activism, not through participation in conventional organizations like political parties or NGOs. This type of activism lowers the activists’ social capital and bargaining power vis a vis their regimes, which leads to a weakening of civil society and strengthening of the regimes.