In This Review

The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation is Changing the Middle East
The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation is Changing the Middle East
By Juan Cole
Simon & Schuster, 2014, 368 pp.
Arab Social Media Report
Arab Social Media Report
By Dubai School of Government
Dubai School of Government, 2013, 35 pp.

Since the Arab uprisings of 2011, Cole, an academic historian and prolific blogger, has tracked the young generation he calls “the Arab millennials,” or “the Arab Gen Y,” or simply “the Arab New Left.” In this book, he focuses on Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia and argues that the millennials brought down those countries’ authoritarian regimes and that, any appearances to the contrary, the millennials will remain a force in one form or another and will find ways to hold to account the new regimes in all three countries. Cole’s chronicle is interesting, but he doesn’t provide enough quantitative data about the millennials’ basic characteristics, making it difficult to understand their agenda, assess their staying power, or grasp the political variety that surely exists within the demographic. For example, the leaders of the 2011 uprising in Egypt, such as the young people who formed the April 6 Youth Movement, are quite different from the youthful leaders of Tamarod (Mutiny), the group that provoked the downfall of Egypt’s first freely elected civilian president, Mohamed Morsi, two years later.

In contrast to Cole’s book, the periodic Arab Social Media Report (ASMR) offers a wealth of statistics but not much analysis. By conducting extensive polling throughout the Arab world and by monitoring Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn users, the ASMR offers a detailed picture of social media’s penetration of the region over time. In 2013, there were 54 million Arabic-speaking Facebook users, ten million of whom had joined in 2012–13 alone. Women represented only about a third of those users, a proportion that does not appear to be increasing over time. The percentage of users over the age of 30 has grown steadily and now reaches 51 percent. Saudi Arabia and some other Gulf states used to boast the highest levels of social media penetration, but those numbers have decreased recently; the ASMR cautiously speculates that regulation and censorship might be the cause.

The ASMR’s opinion survey finds a near-universal appreciation of social media as an educational tool, coupled with widespread dissatisfaction with all levels of the public education system. This presents Cole’s millennials with opportunities to promote their agendas by politicizing social media. The question is whether they will be able to do so in the face of determined repression and censorship.