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. reg

    Democracy did not come with the other resources in the New World. The US had to fight a bloody Revolutionary War to obtain it and then a Civil War to preserve it. And we battle every day to maintain it. Revolution must come from within and be sustained from within. Don't blame the US for decades of oppression. As the saying goes, all it takes for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing.

    January 29, 2011 at 2:48 am | Report abuse |
  2. Yonas

    Democracy is gonna flood africa. This is really a good learn for the dictatores of east africa if they are able to learn. Lets remove dictatores from the world. Bravo Egyptian, Bravo Tunisians. We east african people follow you. Victory for people who seek Democracy.

    January 29, 2011 at 3:31 am | Report abuse |
  3. gmh

    What is happening in Egypt is VERY serious. I think most Americans are on the side of the people. I just hope when all this is settled that the Egyptian people pick a young leader that has a balanced between his religion and his view of leadership. Someone who understands Egypt's place in the stability of the Middle East. This would be horrible if it turned out like Iran............May these people get what they want and that they achieve a calm existance not just for them but for the stability of the world. I pray for ALL of us this turns out peacefully. {REG. Your comment is an intelligent one. Good comment}

    January 29, 2011 at 3:34 am | Report abuse |
  4. P-Noy

    Good Luck on Tunisia and Egypt, We had the same problem in Philippines until Our People Power Revolt.
    But caution on how to replace the government. Choose a government that the people can choose and replace not leaders that stays until they die. Term Limits. Freedom is very hard to earn, so choose wisely.

    January 29, 2011 at 3:43 am | Report abuse |
  5. Cesar

    Or, let's place our tongue in the freezer, get freezer burned on our tongue, and think it's ok to french kiss someone hot. Hooray for progress.

    January 29, 2011 at 4:37 am | Report abuse |
  6. koko

    Mubarak asked his pepole to respect the law, where he never respect the law and The judicial verdicts.
    thousands of prisoners with court for so many years, Abud AL Zomer had fished 5 years back his punishment period in jail for 25 years and he is still laying in prison up to the date and thousands more in different stories but one fact always injustess. I hope to find Egypt without this ugly face which all of the Egyptian hate more than the devil.

    January 29, 2011 at 4:38 am | Report abuse |
  7. Cesar

    Egypt must rid itself of Mabarak. This tyrant does not care about the working class; kind of like the Republicans here in the good old US of A.

    January 29, 2011 at 4:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Markey Marshall

      Well put,Cesar. Thank you.

      January 29, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Keeeshawrn

      says the billions to obama's corporate pal's

      January 29, 2011 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bimbombay

      Fool. What have your Democrats done for you since they took power in 2006? Nothing. They took more from you. They ravished your economy and exacerbated your working man status. Brain washed, go on with your liberal mind .. global warming, Bushes fault, etc. Make a living out that.

      January 29, 2011 at 8:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cesar

      The trouble is Bimbombay is that the Democrats upon taking office in 2007 were corrupted by the MIC(military-industrial-complex) in Washington into supporting the Bush administration so thus becoming "deliberalized". Today the MIC runs almost everything in Washington,D.C.

      January 30, 2011 at 9:58 am | Report abuse |
  8. laurie b

    Exactly how do you get the whole government to resign?

    January 29, 2011 at 9:24 am | Report abuse |
  9. Cesar

    @Markey, you're welcome, Markey.....

    January 29, 2011 at 6:31 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Tyhouston

    Who cares about their jobs, heck they probably have jobs that should have stayed in America. So the more jobs we outsource to help the world, the closer our country comes to turning into this type of pit?

    January 29, 2011 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Keeeshawrn

    sounds like the us, except unemployment is higher in the us

    January 29, 2011 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Clwyd

      You ignorant fool. Their unemployment is higher than ours and the Koch brothers just met with the republican repulsives to offer unlimited $ now that the Supreme Court has ruled spend and buy elections. Blind fool! Watch more FOX.

      January 29, 2011 at 7:49 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Minh Tran

    The same problem of outsourcing or moving jobs to China happen every where in the world. World Trade Organization with world trade agreements has been a major advantage for big corporations bringing jobs to China for the cheap labor market along with no fringe benefits requried as well as no cost of chemical waste management. This is the world crisis. There must be a balance between trading and employment. These current trades are not fair to the job markets of a lot countries in the world.

    January 29, 2011 at 7:20 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Clwyd

    So what else is new! We have that problem world wide. The republicans and bush did a good job that seems to be lasting a long time in order to correct their blunders and stupidity, but now the republicans have the Supreme Court in their pocket, and the Koch $ to pay for unlimited spending for their campaigns .

    January 29, 2011 at 7:47 pm | Report abuse |
  14. SS

    DEMOCRACY IS FINE BUT...

    without jobs few democratic regimes can last for long. The problem is that capitalism or free enterprise can not create enough jobs for all the Egyptian and Arab young. They will need some form of redistributive system with pockets of free enterprise augmented by government work programs. Democratic socialism is the only solution for many of these countries and the U.S. must cease trying to block it from some delusionary paranoid perspective.

    January 29, 2011 at 7:47 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Maddie T

    "We don't care if a new government rules for 100 years to come. We just want a good, honest government" – Ben Ali

    Ben you might want to rethink that comment, as the lasting too long is usually what causes a lot of these governments to become corrupt, even when they start out with good intentions. The leader gets too comfortable and starts feeling like he's a king instead of a president. At least in the US, you can get rid of the president in four to eight years if you don't like him/her (someday God willing). Now if only we could get term limits in this country for congress as well....

    January 29, 2011 at 7:50 pm | Report abuse |
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