It is said that the Arab revolutions are the revolutions of the young. Statistically at least, this is true.
The first martyr in Syria, Mahmud Qteish al-Jawabra, was a teenager, and the symbol of the revolution, Hamza al-Khatib, was a 13-year old tortured to death. According to this database, 70 percent of the revolution’s martyrs are under the age of 30.
Whether it be citizen journalism phenomena, or tansiqiyat protest-organizing committees, or massive online campaigns, these were all made by young people.
What al-Jawabra and al-Khatib stand for is not only the revolution itself, but also for the demographic that made it happen. So why is it that when it comes to political leadership of the revolution, it is left to middle-aged men in bad suits?
The median age of a member of the SNC executive committee is 56, more than quarter of a century shy of the median age of the fighters and activists who are carrying out the revolution on the ground.
While the term “Arab Spring” denotes something new and fresh, revolutionary leadership in Syria has seen the return of many of the old faces: Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, assorted Salafists and ex-Communists and a sprinkling of balding generals.
Perhaps this is to be expected in a paternalistic society where young people are expected to remain reverential, and where matters of importance are decided by a family’s older members.
Given the level of physical and moral sacrifice made by the young, however, this is no time to submit to tradition.
Revolution is about challenging hierarchies of power, wealth and authority. It’s not just about writing slogans and posting YouTube videos. Setting up a human rights abuse documentation center or helping out in the relief effort does not equate to a political program.
Too often, Syria’s youth have mistaken day-to-day activism for revolutionary politics. This has led to an atomized movement that lacks clear intellectual direction.
In order for Syria’s youth to take back ownership of the “their” revolution, they need to change the way they view themselves.
More energy should be focused on promoting “demographic consciousness,” an understanding of Syrian politics that regards the 18-35 age bracket as a distinct political constituency that is above sect, ethnicity and class.
While the politicians are busy jockeying for position, there is now an opportunity for the youth to formulate an agenda of their own – one that puts their interests above all others.
Young martyrs have talked about the pent-up frustrations that led so many of Syria’s young people to take a stand against the existing regime.
Why then are the sources of these frustrations not being addressed? Where is the guaranteed funding pledge for education? Where is the commitment to investment in the IT and new media industries, at which younger Syrians excel?
Why are there no demands for a minimum wage for young workers face exploitation? Why has no one addressed the problem of military conscription? And why is there no talk of a guaranteed quota for young people in a future parliament?
The lack of young political leaders to give voice is worrying.
The focus should be on the future, and what it will look like depends much on the youth who will set to inherit political power in the decades to come.
They will have an opportunity to shape their country in their own image rather than that of their parents, but for that to happen they should begin to entertain collective political ambition.