At a time when Nobel Prizes are being awarded to scientists, experts and writers from Europe, the United States and South Africa, some of the biggest news out of the region is the trial of Moroccan teenagers, arrested after posting a photo of themselves kissing on Facebook . Although this is an individual case, it represents an enduring and pervasive mentality which is slowing down this region, and its progress internationally.
Look outside of Morocco and there are similar cases, often involving the rights of women. In Saudi Arabia, despite women members of the National Advisory Council petitioning a motion to discuss the right for women to drive, it was overturned . In Sudan and in Egypt, Female Genital Mutilation is still practiced on a large scale, and in Jordan “honor” crimes still taint that nation’s reputation. In Yemen, a recent child marriage led to an 8-year-old dying on her wedding night .
And in Lebanon, which has always prided itself on being a modern, liberal nation, women cannot pass their nationality onto their children, and nor can a man be charged with raping his wife. Of the latest 30-member Cabinet, there was not a single woman in place. And of the 128-member Parliament there are only three women – all relatives of prominent male politicians or leaders.
On a wider scale, violence and oppression – often state-sanctioned – proliferates. The bloodshed of Syria is on another level, but in Iraq and Yemen and Somalia too, car bombs and assassinations are commonplace. After similar crackdowns in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and Libya, protesters in Turkey and Sudan have recently been dealt with in a brutal way also.
Great sacrifices have been made, and continue to be made, to topple dictatorships across the region, and dislodge aged, autocratic leaders.
But while some democratic freedoms have been achieved, it is clear that there is still a way to go in terms of winning personal freedoms and liberties. Obviously, traditional mentalities do not simply disappear overnight.
However, if progress is to be made, the younger generations must be willing to keep fighting for these freedoms and for change. The journey will not be easy, and they are bound to make their own mistakes along the way.
But if this region, which is beset with high unemployment and illiteracy rates, is to move forward, to reach a position where its own scientists and writers are winning Nobel prizes, then it is essential for citizens to make their demands known, whether at the ballot box or on the streets. Because revolutions, which hundreds have fought and died for, which do not bring a brighter future, are meaningless.