Wednesday

22nd Feb 2017

Opinion

The young didn’t choose Trump or Brexit

  • Young people on the shores of the world's oceans find 2016 to be the year of barriers and disenfranchisement. (Photo: M. Martin Vicente)

2016 will be remembered for two watershed moments: the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union and the United States elected Donald Trump as its 45th President.

In both cases, many awoke to a result they didn’t expect.

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But much has already been said of why this has happened, no doubt much more will follow.

One simple truth stands out: it was the youth that lost in the vote.

In the UK 62 percent of the people under 44 years old voted in favour of remaining in the EU, while 58 percent of the older generation voted for Brexit.

In the United States, only 39 percent of the same group younger than 44 gave their vote for Trump, while he gained the support of 53 percent of those who are older.

The common feature of policy direction in both winning votes is isolationism, ultra-nationalism and othering.

For us who are part of the younger generation, the Berlin Wall is a distant memory, something that belongs in a museum. A symbol of what went wrong in the past.

We do not believe in walls, not in old ones and certainly not in new ones whether metaphorically in the case of Brexit or physically such as the Wall that Trump purportedly wants to build on the US-Mexican borders.

No man is an island

Building walls or raising the drawbridge is a manifestation of a false sense of security sold to their supporters.

The world in which this generation was born to was already multicultural.

In their schools, there were people with a different colour, faith or sexual preference. They grew up with diversity as a matter of fact, not a matter of fear.

They do not see the point of wanting to go back to a mythical, pure and quiet society. It’s a society they have never known and never could.

They prefer an open society, not a closed one.

Many of them have travelled, studied or even lived abroad. For them, foreigners are not aliens, but possible friends.

This doesn’t mean this young generation doesn’t take the imminent security threat of terrorism attacks seriously.

But, they think you don’t create security by building walls and profiling people. You also don’t create a safe country by cracking down on media, civil society and other freedoms.

That is at least the lesson we learned in Egypt.

A young world, beyond Europe

If you think Egypt is a safer place now, you need to think twice.

President Abdel fattah el-Sisi is shutting down media, forbidding protests, jailing activists and everyone who is critical and NGOs. Police brutality is increasing with rising cases of forced disappearance and torture deaths.

As if this not enough, the parliament is now passing a highly restrictive NGO law that would kill civil society. But while the world is thinking that Sisi is making Egypt stable again, the consistent rise in terror attacks show the opposite.

Our data at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East policy shows that the second quarter of 2016 saw 228 attacks, compared to 211 attacks in 2015 during the same period, with 195 attacks in North Sinai alone where Waliyat Sinai, an off shoot of ISIS has established itself.

Obviously, this younger generation wants security and wants ISIS to be defeated too. But othering, isolationism portraying every Muslim as a suspect of terrorism and every immigrant a threat will have the opposite effect.

Such polarising and alienation makes society less safe, not more.

Our generation doesn’t believe in false promises of security. We do not believe that more isolation will create safety, let alone jobs.

We are also convinced that supporting repressive regimes like Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad or Abdel fattah el-Sisi will not stop terrorism.

The one thing that is making our world more dangerous is precisely the retreat of inclusive governance and the failure to defend it worldwide.

True, the young generation lost a few important votes and is again ruled by people with barriers in their minds.

But there is hope.

Next time it’s the turn of the young generation. If it’s not too late.

Nancy Okail is Executive is director of Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, Washington DC, Koert Debeuf is director of Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, Europe

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