x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Panel debates positives from regional crises

A forum this week at the Dubai School of government attracted 100 people to talk Youth, Social Media and Political Activism in light of unrest in the Arab world.

DUBAI // A heated discussion at the Dubai School of Government this week addressed the positives that can be drawn from the recent uprisings in the Arab world.

"I hope all Arab governments, including those in the Gulf, respond favourably to the demands of their citizens for more openness and participation," said Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, a Dubai School of Government (DSG) fellow and political commentator who writes for The National.

He was speaking on Wednesday night as a member of the Youth, Social Media and Political Activism in the Arab World panel, which was broadcast live over the internet and attended by 100 people.

"We learnt from Egypt and Tunisia that all Arabs deeply feel for each other - these events have brought Arabs closer," he said.

Many of the activists in attendance were showing signs of exhaustion after weeks of relying on websites, mobile phones, chat systems, blogs, Twitter and Facebook to watch and participate in the regional uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya. The experts argued that these platforms are proving to be the catalysts needed for far-reaching social and political reforms.

"Social media allowed Arabs who were not physically present in these countries to offer their repressed brothers and sisters moral support," Mr al Qassemi said.

Others speakers included Nasreddine Ben Hdid, an independent journalist and commentator joining the event by webcast from Tunisia, and Dr Abdul Khaleq Abdullah, a professor of political science at UAE University. He took a stronger stance, emphasising the need for "change".

"I have been calling for a full parliamentary democracy since the UAE's independence," Dr Abdullah said.

A recently published DSG report found that the number of Facebook users in the Arab world increased by 78 per cent last year, from 11.9 million in January to 21.3 million by December.

The report also showed that Tunisia witnessed a sudden eight per cent surge in Facebook users during the first two weeks of January 2011, coupled with a shift in reasons for usage from social to political purposes.