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Arab Youth Lead Change in Middle East


In recent years the Middle East has experienced great changes in mass media and information technology. One observer and participant in these changes is Shafeeq Ghabra, host of the Weekly Diwaniya program on Kuwait television, which is also seen in other regional nations on the Al Arabiyya satellite network. VOA's Greg Flakus spoke to Ghabra before a presentation he made to the Houston World Affairs Council Monday and filed this report.

The youth of the Middle East is in the process of changing the region in dramatic ways that will benefit not only people there but the world at large. This is the optimistic view expressed by Shafeeq Ghabra, television host, author and past president of the American University of Kuwait.

In his interview with VOA, he said the youth scene is mixed in the Middle East, with relative freedom and prosperity in some parts and mostly trouble in other parts.

"In places of conflict and civil wars in the region, such as Iraq, such as Palestine, the West Bank and Gaza, such as Lebanon now, and in places of authoritarianism and other places in the Middle East and Arab world, youth suffer," he said. "Their dreams are set back and they have to keep struggling to maintain their vision, their view, their life, what they want."

But Ghabra says Arab young people are like people of their age anywhere else. They have hopes and dreams and they want express them. In this, he says, they have been aided by the increased freedom of expression that has resulted from transnational broadcasts and internet technology.

"They are able to pick and choose, to see what they want, to get the information they want. That is a big difference from the Middle East that existed five or 10 years ago, where it was more of a monopoly. There are now alternative points of view and I would say even more than that, bloggers is a rising phenomenon now in the Middle East," said Ghabra. "They are all over the place."

Shafeeq Ghabra says even state-controlled media in the region have had to open up and change their style in response to the competition they now face.

But Ghabra says people in other parts of the world do not fully understand what is happening in his region and do not do enough to support positive developments there. He says the Middle East is now experiencing some of the pain Latin America went through in the 1970's and 1980's when civil wars beset the region.

"I just recall going to a meeting for a Latin America group and they said, in the opening of the meeting, 'Welcome to the region that nobody is paying attention to." And, when I spoke to them, I said, "I come from the region that everybody is paying attention to for the wrong reasons,'" he said. "So, I hope we will pay attention to the Middle East for the right reasons."

Ghabra says the United States and other western nations should support positive change in the Middle East, with a special eye to the people under age 21, who make up half the population.

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