NORTH AFRICAN YOUTH: STRUGGLE AND OPPORTUNITY
For decades North Africa’s young people have pushed against social, economic and religious restrictions. A Moroccan Christian shares their struggles and the new paths some are finding as they turn to Christ.
Ever since they shook off European rule or “mandates” between 1951 and 1962, the five countries forming Northwest Africa (known collectively as the “Maghreb”) have not served their young people well. The new governments in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania and Libya all brought various shades of dictatorship.
A Communist dictatorship emerged in Algeria, a dictatorial civilian regime in Tunisia, a monarchical regime and then a dictatorial military in Libya, a hybrid Bedouin regime in Mauritania, and a monarchy in Morocco under Hassan ll which introduced a multi-party system but controlled it with a strong hand. These regimes marginalised young people and their role in society, and often suppressed them harshly when they rose up in protest.
In Morocco, limited horizons have prompted young people over the decades to join various political and civil resistance movements. Hundreds of dissidents were killed and thousands arrested in the 1960s to 1980, a period that was dubbed “the Years of Lead”.
SIGNS OF CHANGE
The 1990s saw a reduction of confrontation and repression, and Morocco’s King Hassan II began to increase the role of parliament. The present king, Mohammed Vl, who succeeded him in 1999, has introduced reforms to human rights. One example is in giving women increased rights in negotiating marriage contracts and raising the minimum age for marriage to 18.
The stirring of the so-called “Arab Spring” in 2011 raised strong hopes. Tens of thousands took to the streets in 50 towns and cities to call for greater democracy. Some 40 political and civil rights groups united to create the February 20thmovement and press for change. All this happened without violence from demonstrators or the state, but how much real change it has delivered is a moot point. Morocco now has an elected parliament but true power remains in the control of the king and his inner circle.
Meanwhile, Moroccan young people continue to face huge challenges. Youth unemployment is in crisis. Official figures quote a rate of 10% although experience suggests it is higher. UNESCO reported that illiteracy rates overall in the country declined from 43% in 2004 to 28% in 2012, yet one in two women are still unable to read or write. Even those who complete their education struggle to find opportunities when government investment in areas like education health and services is low compared to the attention given to security and interior ministries.
A SPIRITUAL BREAK
As to spirituality, Morocco’s young people are in a constant disinclination from Islam, the official state religion. This is especially happening now because of the many expressions of terrorism carried out by jihadist groups in the name of this faith.
The young people making this break with inherited beliefs fall into two categories: the first are those who, from research and conviction, are being renewed by believing in Christ. The second category are those who have become and are continuing as atheists – a growing number whether in Morocco or in the region as a whole.
FROM DOUBT TO FAITH
My conviction is that for many, this period of atheism will be a transitional and intermediate one before they believe in Christ. This is the road I myself have travelled.
In contrast to Morocco’s economic and political malaise, I believe that God’s work among the young people of my country – and its neighbours – is fantastic and unique. It is a time of spiritual renaissance in the region. Here I remember the words of the Lord Jesus Christ:
Then He said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send forth out workers into his harvest field. (Matt 9:37-38)