Young, educated and underemployed: the face of the Arab world's protesters
January 28th, 2011
10:53 PM ET

Young, educated and underemployed: the face of the Arab world's protesters

Images of unrest from the streets of Egypt and Tunisia this month revealed mostly male crowds of protesters in jeans and leather jackets, hoodies and argyle sweaters, baseball caps and flannel shirts not exactly the bearded Islamist traditionally associated with revolt in the Arab world.

Who are these people and what are they fighting for? They are the young and unemployed, or underemployed, many with advanced degrees struggling to find jobs to support themselves and their families. Many have lived their entire lives under the same leader and want change, believing that it will lead to a better life.

Muslim-majority countries in North Africa and the Middle East have the highest percentage of young people in the world, with 60 percent of the regions' people under 30, according to study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

With unemployment rates at 10 percent or more, those countries also have the highest regional rates of joblessness in the world, reports an article published in "Foreign Policy" titled, "The Arab World's Youth Army."

The article highlights the stories of Tunisians in their 20s who took to the streets last month to protest corruption in various levels of government and a lack of meaningful opportunities. One young man with a master's degree in computer science described a daily routine of internet job searches at a coffee shop in Sidi Bouzid, home of 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi, a fruit seller who burned himself to death after bribe-seeking police took his products, effectively sparking Tunisia's uprising.

The young man's high school economics teacher estimated that just 5% of his students from the young man's class have found jobs since completing high school.

In the streets of Egypt, CNN spoke with several protesters who shared similar grievances, especially after President Hosni Mubarak announced Friday that he had asked his government to resign without giving any indication that he planned to step down.

"We are one of the richest Arab countries and we want to live. Let a new government form, but if we don't get what we ask for, we will go back to the streets again and again" said Mohammed, a 20-year-old student.

Yousef, an 18-year-old taxi driver, credited the Tunisia uprising with spurring Egyptians into action.

"We don't care if a new government rules for 100 years to come. We just want a good, honest government. (President Zine El Abidine) Ben Ali said he understood the Tunisians and what did the Tunisians do? They kept protesting until he fled the country. We will do more and more, we will continue our demonstrations and we will do 3,000 times more of what the Tunisians did," he said.

"Mubarak needs to resign and some of the regime figures need to be arrested and they need to face trial. We demand justice. Some of the parliamentary figures are good, some are just corrupt and they need to face justice. We don't need the same ministers with different posts. We need new elections."

Of course, the problem is not exclusive to the twentysomethings of the Arab world, but the complaints are the same. A resident of Shubra, an impoverished neighborhood in Cairo, said his chief concerns were corruption and economic hardship.

He spoke about the rising prices of staples such as rice, wheat and bread. He was dismissive of Mubarak's promises to bring about reform and vowed to continue protesting.

"We do not want him or the government or the parliament and we want all the corrupt people of this country to be tried for every penny they stole from this country," he said.

"We went out today and we were ready to die so our children can live with dignity."

– CNN's Saad Abedine and Salma Abdelaziz contributed to this report.

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Filed under: Egypt • Protest • Tunisia
soundoff (75 Responses)
  1. hong

    rice is rising every where because of global disasters. you cant always blame government. where is the next generation of farmers. i live in a city and i grow mushroom in my basement. there is an old saying man made money. money didnt make man. its time egyptian forget the teaching of business. and the teaching of giving. we can die with debt but with donation and gift to each other we prolong our life. there is always a solution to every problem are we willing to move towards a better goal

    January 28, 2011 at 11:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Daryl

      This is not so much a reply to Hong, but a comment. The majority of these issues are created by the West. I have worked in Asia and Australia in Resource Sector HR and frankly, we do not recognise these "Advanced Degrees". They mean little to us as countries. Australia has a skills shortage, yet Egyptians, and the others are not eligible to be employed or granted Visas. Medicine, Engineering, etc degrees from overseas are always grades badly. Similar to degree holders from South America who moved to the US or Aust after revolution. It is an Arrogance issue. The West generally like to point out how good these education systems are...

      January 30, 2011 at 5:04 am | Report abuse |
  2. hong

    look at asian they found GODs love everywhere. i have a family of 3 i make one bag of rice last 1 month can you?

    January 28, 2011 at 11:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joscion

      Its got more to do with the corruption than rice.

      Egypt,Tunisia governments have taken their peoples money and squandered it leaving their countries with poor infrastructures and lack of jobs. Its now upto the people to stand up fir what's theirs, their country.

      Power to the people!

      January 28, 2011 at 11:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • LY

      It's not a matter of frugality. These people can't afford to buy things in the first place. Thanks to Bernanke and the American money printing press, we've created inflation and have exported that to the rest of the world.

      January 29, 2011 at 8:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • David

      I agree with LY. This has nothing to do with frugality. Frugality doesn't help if the real problem is widespread unemployment. The Egyptian government claims an unemployment rate of 30% but if you look at the statistics, the unemployment rate among college graduate is TEN TIMES higher. For those of you who are Americans, think about what it would be like in this country if our own unemployment were to triple and if this unemployment were to last for several years. We've already seen stories about Americans losing their homes and I'm sure we've heard stories about college graduates who are taking jobs as servers or custodians just to make ends meet. Can you imagine what conditions would be like in this country if we had the same economic conditions that face the average Egyptian?

      January 29, 2011 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse |
  3. hmmm

    looks like the people want change – we should do everything we can to support. I think that it's long overdue in the Arab world.

    January 28, 2011 at 11:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jon

      I think it's long overdue in the Western world as well.

      January 29, 2011 at 7:34 pm | Report abuse |
  4. chrissy

    i agree hmmm and it sounds very familier with the united states dont u think?

    January 28, 2011 at 11:54 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Stephen Real

    Get on the plane Mubarak !

    January 29, 2011 at 12:01 am | Report abuse |
  6. Sharon

    I do not think the west appreciates what it has been like to live under these leaders – terrible. To make it worse, the US has helped keep both dictators in power.

    Trust me when I say, that a revolution in the Arab world will make the US a safer place. Education without freedom and opportunity breeds anger – and guess what, the US owns some of that anger for supporting these corrupt governments. Let the people choose their future on their own terms and Al Queda has nothing to offer.

    January 29, 2011 at 12:46 am | Report abuse |
  7. like

    like president bush said. Democracy in iraq will spread throughout the middle east.

    January 29, 2011 at 12:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Peter E

      If you think Iraq is a democracy today than you really haven't been following all the government power struggles and corruption there lately.
      Let's just say a 'version' of democracy will spread, as it has been ever since the arabs and other middle easterners threw off colonial rule. Remeber the Iranian revolution?

      January 29, 2011 at 1:00 am | Report abuse |
    • Cesar

      Get real,like. Actually what happened in Iraq has absolutely nothing to do with the uprising in Egypt. Besides,Iraq is a pseudo-democracy in the hands of Muslim Elitists placed there by the coalition forces. The West controls Iraq today!

      January 29, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bimbombay

      Is Bush still president? I thought Obama took over together with Pelosi. Golly gee olf Bush is still running things. I thought Obama ended the Iraq war. Wasn't he in solid with the Islamic leaders and understood the Islamic people? I thought Obama and Hillary had it all wired. Weren't they going to end Gitmo to? Create jobs? Bail out mortgages? Save mortgage payers? Create a whole new auto industry? But no ..you say Bush is running things now?

      January 29, 2011 at 8:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • peribsen

      If you really think that the Iraq war has helped to spread democracy in the Arab world, you have understood little of what has been gone in the ME for the last years.

      January 29, 2011 at 11:11 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Peter E

    Let's see... popular uprising in the Middle East by young, educated, poor people. A corrupt, tyrannical ruler who is a puppet of foreign powers. Where have I seen this before...
    Oh right, in Iran in 1979, when they threw out the puppet tyrant Shah and replaced it with an Islamic theocracy.
    I wouldn't yet celebrate Egyptian 'democracy.'

    January 29, 2011 at 1:03 am | Report abuse |
    • Ray

      Awwwww how cute! You forgot to mention that they elected a ligitimate progressive government by democratic means , you know what your cute cuddly CIA bears did? They organised a coup and put the shah right back! Which gave an execuse for the islamists to takeover the revolution again! I luv to hear uneducated brainwashed americans talk ! Go stuff you kids mouths with burgers and support your war loving republicans to fight the evils of universal health care ;)

      January 29, 2011 at 8:07 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Roman, Butler PA

    on New Years Eve, I attended Benediction Mass. When it came time for the Deacon to speak to the congregation, he said; you have heard from me, Father Murphy, Father George, now let us listen to Jesus. When he sat down I stood up. Went before the alter and spoke these words; I AM the ALPHA and the OMEGA. I AM the FIRST and the LAST. At that moment 5000 birds fell from the sky, 2 million fish washed ashore and so and so forth, all over the world.
    Now, you and this government know who I AM. Yet, you say nothing. Instead, you make me a poor man, to try and have me conform to man's way. You make me a poor man, I make you even a poorer nation. You make me suffer, I make you suffer.
    I will put it into the hearts of those that are oppress by corrupt governments to stirr up vengeance in their hearts against their oppressors.
    This is My Kingdom. Acknowledge to the world who I AM.
    On Earth the Witness to the True Christ is Spirit, water and blood. Let the Spirit give Witness to My Truths.

    January 29, 2011 at 1:56 am | Report abuse |
    • AP reltuB ,namoR

      I think a lot of Christians may or may not have the strong urge to pray for your confusion. 'He' lives in all of us and demonstrates 'his' power in awesome ways yes. That does not make you 'him'. It simply means 'he' is alive inside you. Long may that continue. I hope you are tolerant - for your words offer little encouragement to others who do not share your worldview.

      January 29, 2011 at 3:57 am | Report abuse |
  10. tomcat

    @Peter E....Instead of just looking at what happened in Iran in 1979, we should focus on 2011. The theme of un or under employeed educated youth seems to be the new norm in many countries. Look at the state of affairs in Ireland. Then again maybe we should look closer to home..

    January 29, 2011 at 2:01 am | Report abuse |
    • You're right...

      Let's not learn from mistakes. Let's touch the stove on Monday, get burned, and then think it's okay to play with the fire on Friday. Hooray for progress!

      January 29, 2011 at 4:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Christine

      It is extremely important to look at what happened in Iran in 1979. Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. That being said, you are absolutely correct look at what is happening all over the world today. There are countries who educate their population but either don't have opportunity or don't bother to give them any opportunity. There are countries who no longer educate their population, the US is a prime example. ironic that we quit educating people here at the same time we sent all the manufacturing jobs overseas. Now sadly, western European countries are beginning to see the advantage of no education. For example, we see this in the drastic tuition hikes in England. Clearly the middle class is getting eradicated. Americans have been dumb so long, we don't even protest. The scary part is how drastic all of this is. How many countries are ruled by people who want to drain every possible resource as fast as they can without a thought to their own population. The United States is the worst offender because not only does our government do it to us, but they are complicit in foreign governments doing the same.

      January 29, 2011 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
  11. Vince

    Islamic governments use the religion of Islam to enslave people - it is effectively a Monarchy with no real governing system other than "I take your money - you are my slave"... Sad but true... Arabs have no political power within their own countries...

    January 29, 2011 at 2:05 am | Report abuse |
    • peribsen

      Islamic governments in Tunisia or Egypt? What are you talking about?

      January 29, 2011 at 10:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael

      Strange – I had a feeling that this is exactly what happens in CAPITALIST societies – where 90% of the population make just enough to cover the mortgage payments + means to get to work (car + gas) + food and two weeks vacation a year (if you're lucky). But then maybe it's just me being spoiled rotten and not appreciate the 'opportunity' to spend over 60 hours a week working and commuting to work...

      January 30, 2011 at 8:22 am | Report abuse |
  12. leeintulsa

    I can't believe some of you people blame us for your governments. We talk to whoever's in charge.

    We chose our government – freedom is written in blood. 'Bout time you came around. It would be so awesome if ya'll could just handle it. Make a Palestinian state, let the jews live in peace. See if i care. Whatever it takes. Freedom, and peace, are so cool. I doubt the people really want to kill each other.

    Peace is really the essence of freedom. I'm excited to see what you middle eastern folk are going to do with freedom.

    It's not all it's cracked up to be, but it's pretty cool. Good luck with that, and congratulations.

    January 29, 2011 at 2:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Ray

      the problem is you government intervenes and does not let us choose our governments! this has been going on ever since the 50's , not only that but your government spends on and empowers blood spilling dictators , example when your CIA coup in iran turned things for the worse (islamists gaining power) for the Iranians your government went ahead and supplied Saddam with military and chemical arms to attack iran, nevermind hes a ruthless killer who buries his own people in mass graves lets supply him with weapons and military knowledge so he can kill more Iranians and may be more iraqis ?! this is just one example from many , all of this so your government keeps its control over people and resources around the world , you can research south american dictators also . There is a reason americans are loathed in many places around the world , your government has marginalized many populations from world economy in favor of minorities within these societies who reap all the wealth , In my opinion and experience the world became much worse for the middle east and south america ever since the US won the second world war , instead of Nazis invading the world we have Americans dominating everywhere through bloody dictators , armies and intelligence agencies. I just read that Joe Biden (your vice president) said that he does not consider Mubarak a dictator!! very sad as i was one of those fools who thought the Obama adminstration will bring change , turns out its another face for the same "nazi" government , in my opinion.

      January 29, 2011 at 9:22 pm | Report abuse |
  13. yellow cat

    Interesting sounds like the economy of the U.S. high unemployment for college graduates and anyone else. Except in the U.S. we are complacent. Perhaps we need to protest like we did during the Vietnam War. Our economy is never going to recover. We are headed to a society of 2 classes the rich and the poor. Wake up Americans!

    January 29, 2011 at 2:26 am | Report abuse |
    • leeintulsa

      We are free people, and freedom will always win out.

      They are not free. For literally thousands of years, they've had their noses up somebodies butt. Yeah. By choice. I know, hard to believe.

      You're comparing apples and oranges.

      January 29, 2011 at 2:34 am | Report abuse |
    • John

      You said it all,yellow cat. We do need to protest but the problem is that we now live in a very selfish age we call the "me generation". People no longer believe in causes like they did back in the 1960's.

      January 29, 2011 at 3:01 am | Report abuse |
    • I'm 24 and part of this young generation...

      ...and you're just plain wrong. There are rotten apples everywhere but when did humans stop becoming humans? When did compassion and love disappear? Oh wait, they are always present inside of each of us. They sometimes need some stirring to be released - that does not mean we need a revolution. It means we must continue with free, unrestricted dialogue and not look to our compatriots to change but start instead with ourselves.

      When you've lost hope, don't blame the new folks in charge. Adapt your worldview! Freedom, love and compassion will triumph if you choose for them to do so; there are simply new parameters, mediums and tactics for evoking change. We do not need a bunch of Ches with AKs. Power to yourself - if you're living by the right values, your empowerment will increase your capacity for change, internally and externally.

      I get the feeling some of you have never left this great country and are therefore unaware of how well we're actually getting on. Anyway, best of luck to Egypt, Tunisia and the rest of the Arab world. We are all brothers and sisters - just a few too many in-laws running the show...

      January 29, 2011 at 4:09 am | Report abuse |
  14. reg

    The situation in Egypt reminds me more of the French Revolution and earlier Student Revolution and the US inner-city riots of 1968 than anything, a leaderless mob of both young idealists and common hooligans with no plans for what comes after. I pray that the outcome will be rosier.

    January 29, 2011 at 2:31 am | Report abuse |
  15. mat

    finally!! its about time these tyrannical leaders be ousted from power. they don't care about the people but themselves. big up egypt protesters!!

    January 29, 2011 at 2:44 am | Report abuse |
    • John

      Well said,mat. Thank you.

      January 29, 2011 at 3:03 am | Report abuse |
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