The RAND Initiative for Middle Eastern Youth (IMEY) is a combined research and outreach effort geared towards the Middle East's next generation.
The United Nations defines "youth" as people between 15 and 24, and this group forms the core of our effort. But it depends on the specific issue. "Adolescence", defined by the UN as the age group between 10 and 19, will be the more relevant category for some topics, and it will sometimes make sense to include children below 10.
In all of its subsets, this population is critically important. Demographically, sheer numbers argue for its significance. In this strikingly "young" region, over 50% of a country's population can be below the age of 20, creating a "youth bulge" that will affect the region for years to come. This "youth bulge" affecting much of the Middle East is illustrated in Egypt's 2000 population pyramid (below) and the estimated 2025 demographic make up. As one expert observes, whenever we consider the impact of our policies on Middle Easterners, "we are in fact asking, what is the impact of our policies on young people?"
A similar situation can be seen in the census forecasts for Iraq, below.
The political, social and economic circumstances facing young people in the Middle East today contain multiple difficult challenges. At the same time, the Middle East is intellectually, culturally and politically far more vibrant than current perceptions tend to reflect. From the Iranian girls who have discovered the exhilarating thrill of competitive sports, to young Afghan cinematographers exploring their country's complicated past through the medium of film, from intellectuals risking their lives to demand an Islamic "Protestant Reformation", to the lyrics of Arab pop culture, this part of the world resonates with more than simpleminded extremist slogans. In particular, IMEY will forge stronger relationships with regional counterparts, enabling us to learn from and with them.
IMEY Research Agenda and Background
IMEY will undertake baseline studies to achieve a differentiated, fine-grain understanding of the setting, the problems, the goals and the perceptions of youth in the countries and regions that comprise the greater Middle East.
On the basis of this knowledge, we will be in a position to evaluate existing programs and make policy recommendations geared at improving them. We will also design and test new applications tailored to youths in the context of development and post-conflict social reconstruction.
IMEY is housed within RAND's Center for Middle East Public Policy (CMEPP) and cooperates closely with related centers of excellence at RAND such as the Institute for Civil Justice, International Policy and Security Group, Drug Policy Research Center, RAND Education, RAND Health, and the Child Policy Project. Among its many activities, IMEY:
- conducts research and evaluations analyzing the relevance of youth-related trends in the region and focusing both on overall phenomena and on the situation in specific countries;
- assesses existing and planned programs aimed at youth and suggests ways to improve them;
- designs and tests new approaches tailored to specific population subsets and countries;
- identifies partners and a talent pool, creating a resource base and a network of committed individuals and groups in the West and in the region who can move forward with constructive dialogue and cooperation.
Small, innovative pilot programs explore the feasibility of new approaches and give IMEY an "on the ground" feel for trends and attitudes.
A Baseline of Understanding
Successful and realistic policies regarding the Middle East's next generation require a differentiated understanding of the material circumstances, the ideological and cultural milieu and the needs of this population.
On many levels, youth in the Middle East face an uncertain and discouraging future. The political landscape is troubling, the economies are shaky, prospects for work are few, opportunities for expression are limited. Young people are manifesting significant and understandable discontent, which expresses itself in different ways in different places.
Radical and violent solutions seem to be more persuasive in some settings than in others - but what makes for this important distinction? Even more fundamentally: what motivates segments of youth to be attracted to an ideology that seemingly functions against their objective best interests? Why, for example, are female Kuwaiti university students disproportionately drawn to fundamentalism, which would stringently limit their rights in such areas as employment, political participation and family law? Conversely, why do some segments of this population develop a more resistant posture? Why are young Bosnian Muslim youths more moderate and pro-Western than many French or British Muslim youths, despite their horrific experience of persecution, war and ethnic cleansing?
One important task will be to explain these differences.