Civic Engagement of Youth in the Middle East and North Africa

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In the wake of the Arab Awakening, Mercy Corps and other agencies are grappling with the question: How can the recent surge of self-assertion and of political activism by Arab youth be harnessed to promote more participatory governance and equitable development within the region? To help answer this question, Mercy Corps recently undertook research into what works to promote youth civic engagement in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and what benefits can be expected for the youth who participate, and their broader societies. The study provides strong evidence on what changes to Arab youth's political voice, social capital, propensity towards political violence, and employability are likely to result from increasing their levels of civic engagement.

The results show that few of these changes are automatic. Rather youth civic engagement initiatives must make deliberate efforts to influence them. To address youth marginalization, programs must reach youth from rural areas, young women, and at-risk youth whose voices are the most underrepresented in public debates and decisions. To strengthen young people’s social and civic values, programs need to support sustained involvement of youth in civic groups and actions, as one-off participation has little effect. And for civic engagement programs to impact young people’s economic opportunities, they must include deliberate activities geared towards preparing youth for the job market.

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