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Egyptian women demonstrate outside the Lawyers’ Sydicate in Cairo on January 27, 2011, demanding the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, 82-years-old, who has held on to power for more than three decades ever since the assassination of his predecessor Anwar Sadat was gunned down on October 6, 1981. (AFP PHOTO/MOHAMMED ABED)
Davos, Switzerland Young people are upending the Middle East. They have both the numbers (approximately 2/3 of the Middle East is under 30) and the facility with the tools of 21st Century revolution (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube) to do so.
It was young people shouting Death to the Dictator from rooftops in Iran in 2009. It was young people who chased Ben Ami out of Tunisia. It is young people who are braving tear gas and rubber bullets in Egypt. The threats keep coming, but they keep going – and the whole thing is just getting bigger and spreading wider.
Asked about the uprisings at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Bill Clinton said it was a generation yearning for their place in the modern world. They want to have a say in their society, they want to shape their own destiny. This is a desire deep in the human condition.
Mohamed ElBaradei may well be the face of the opposition movement, but here in this snowy, sleepy Swiss hamlet, far away from the hot and smoky streets of Cairo, is the man who may have been the spark.
Yemeni demonstrators hold their national flags during a rally calling for an end to the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in Sanaa, Yemen, Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011. Tens of thousands of people are calling for the Yemeni president’s ouster in protests across the capital inspired by the popular revolt in Tunisia. The demonstrations led by opposition members and youth activists are a significant expansion of the unrest sparked by the Tunisian uprising, which also inspired Egypt’s largest protests in a generation. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)
In his presentation at a faith community meeting here at the World Economic Forum Amr Khaled said, “Arab and Muslim youth need to be listened to. No one listens to them. They have dreams. We need to bring out those dreams.”
For decades it was extremist groups who understood young people best. It’s not an accident that suicide bombers are in their teens and twenties. Al Qaeda and its allies target young people. They strike at that soft spot of identity, purpose and pride. They deliver their message in YouTube videos and sophisticated websites.
A man makes a peace sign as he carries a child during a protest in Tehran, Iran, on June 18, 2009. Photo/ Reuters via Your View
But Amr Khaled was unwilling to forfeit this rising generation of Muslims to the extremists. And he was unwilling to let their ugliness tarnish his faith. As the Muslim tradition says, “God is beautiful and loves beauty.”
Khaled started a website and invited young people to post their dreams. He put up pictures of Neil Armstrong reaching the moon, the then and now of Dubai, the rebuilding of Germany after the destruction of World War II. These are examples of dreams realized, he said.
Hundreds of thousands of Muslim youth sent Khaled their dreams.
“Love your religion,” he told them. And once-secular Egyptian youth started to pray again.
“Build your society,” Amr told them. And thousands became involved in cleaning garbage from the streets of Cairo and starting rooftop gardens.
“Cooperate with each other, in your own society and across the world.” Christians and Muslims in Egypt started doing joint volunteer projects and attended interfaith conferences Khaled organized.
Khaled is beating the extremists on their own territory: media. He is prolific – television shows, YouTube videos, website posts, tweets. But all the messages are really just one message. God made you beautiful. God made you powerful. God gave you dignity. God gave you stewardship over this His most precious Creation. Use your beauty, your power, your faith, your dignity to accomplish your responsibility. Be a dreamer. Be a builder. Change your life. Shape your society. Invent your destiny.
Before something happens in the world, it has to happen in your mind. You have to imagine your freedom before you fight for it. You have to believe in your own power to change things before you actually change anything.
What we are seeing now in the Middle East is a generation of young people who learned how to love themselves, believe in themselves, change themselves.
And now they are changing the world.
Egyptian demonstrators demanding the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak and calling for reforms shout slogans in Cairo on January 26, 2011. Placard in Arabic reads: “Mr President Leave” AFP PHOTO/MOHAMMED ABED