‘And the young shall lead’

We are at the beginning of a process of peace by the people, for the people.

Moroccan women holding Facebook signs at protest 311 (R) (photo credit: Reuters)
Moroccan women holding Facebook signs at protest 311 (R)
(photo credit: Reuters)
The underlying causes of the revolutionary winds sweeping through the Middle East are the opposition to dictatorship, poverty and corruption prevalent in most Arab countries. Yet what made the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt actually happen are two driving forces – the young generation and technology.
In the Arab world, approximately 65 percent of the population is under 30; 56% of Arabs use the Internet daily.
The generation we witnessed demonstrating in Cairo’s Tahrir Square is to be admired. They showed a powerful outcry for freedom and justice. Most expressed themselves in “Internet English” in a compelling way. They were triumphant because their protest was peaceful, and brought one of the most powerful armies in the region to their side. They impressed us with their unity of purpose, ideological zeal and pragmatic tactics.
For this young generation – and not only in Egypt but probably the world over – the Internet is a new culture, forming new joint identities, a sense of global belonging, modern values, pragmatism and, maybe most importantly, a new language – the language of Facebook and Twitter, which is factual and unpretentious.
Technology in this case has been used for social change and good. The full ramifications of the Internet revolution are not yet defined, but Cairo and Tunis proved that powerful change can happen through social media – change that affects social intercommunication and activities.
Facebook has become a new superpower, with more than 600 million users. We may conclude that the “Zuckerberg revolution” has been no less significant than the Gutenberg revolution was.
AS SOMEONE who has been engaged in Arab-Israeli peacemaking, I must ask myself how these developments affect war and peace in the Middle East. I draw several conclusions, some analytical and some practical: From the day president Hosni Mubarak resigned, every Arab leader, democratically elected or not, will have to listen to his people – mainly the younger generation – when making important decisions for his country, especially when it comes to war and peace. Young people will not go to war unless they are convinced of the cause.
We are therefore at the beginning of a process of peace by the people, for the people.
For Israel, it means we will not be making peace merely with Arab leaders, but with the Arab people. This needs to be taken into consideration also by the US.
The growing importance of Arab public opinion means that the Palestinian issue will become even more important, as most Arabs identify with their Palestinian brethren who, to a large degree, still live under occupation.
The more operational conclusions from these transformations are an urgent path toward Palestinian/Israeli reconciliation – through a two-state solution guaranteeing freedom to Palestinians and security for Israel, thus putting an end to both Israeli occupation and Arab rejection.
A regional peace process must be undertaken, because with the less-dominant role of Egypt in the Arab world, the role of Syria will probably be strengthened. The Arab Peace Initiative could serve as a basis for such a process.
And of course, any regional process will have to deliver socioeconomic peace dividends, as societies everywhere are most affected by bread, butter and employment issues.
We have to create a link between the young generation in Israel and the Arab world, starting with the Palestinians. The Internet could serve as a bridge.
I have recently begun to create Internet platforms for the two sides to work together – a kind of peace-net, that will create communicate on a variety of issues between thousands of Israelis and Palestinians on Facebook. Already, 15,000 Israelis and Palestinians communicate on Facebook every day.
If we want to create mutual deterrence in our region, it is time to transform our strategic thinking, which has so far been based on physical deterrence – the threat to inflict harm on each other.
In the age of modern technology, each side – strong or weak – now has the ability to inflict harm on the other by merely using key strokes. Therefore, we have to achieve a new balance of motivation – the motivation to coexist in peace.
For that, we must work in favor of Arab- Israeli cooperation. Technology provides us with the new tools for doing so in professional fields, be it in medicine, water, ecology, art, and so on.
THE LEADERS of the revolution in Tunisia and Egypt were predominantly young. This generational change must be adopted throughout the region, independent of the nature of the regime. Our ‘children’ will lead us to peace.
The forces that brought about sociopolitical revolution in the Middle East must be put to work for a peace revolution in our region.
The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace.