Activists in Office: Digital Natives as Future Politicians in the Middle East

In the past few weeks, we’ve written about Digital Natives as scholars, journalists, and novelists; customers and critics; even videographers. Though the oldest Digital Natives right now are still under 30 (those born after 1980, as delineated in Born Digital), they comprise a segment of the adult population that will only continue to expand. This means that they will become not only scholars, critics, and videographers, but politicians as well.

To kick off this week’s series of posts on Digital Natives as activists, I wanted to take a look at the future of Digital Natives as politicians beyond the U.S. Though we normally think of “activists” as individuals working outside government structures, it seems that governments still provide useful avenues for action. As such, those who work against the system occasionally accept the charge to work to change it from within. With the call for “Change” still reverberating through the blogosphere and collective imagination of the U.S. in the wake of the recent election, the possibility for internal activism seems particularly pertinent at the moment.

But how might this work in other countries—and in a future where digital fluency for policymakers is the norm, and not the exception? Global Voices recently excerpted one forecast by Mona Eltahawy, imagining the impact that the Middle East’s “Generation Facebook” might have on politics in the year 2033.

In Eltahawy’s essay, published by the World Policy Journal,

It’s October 2033 and Shahinaz Abdel-Salam, 55, has just been appointed Egypt’s first female interior minister. She’s about to address the nation by live holofeed to explain why she’s accepted a post that as a young woman she’d always dreamed would be abolished because, in the Egypt where she grew up, interior minister was synonymous with “chief torturer.”

As the excerpt on Global Voices continues, Shahinaz’s father

stopped speaking to Shahi for a few years after she started blogging in 2005. At the time, she would tell any journalists who would listen that she’d started to blog so that she could call the then-Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak a dictator…Shahi had tried to explain to her father that she belonged to a generation that would change Egypt, but to his death her father remained skeptical. He never told her that he’d read her blog secretly and was especially proud of the role model she had become for other young people when she started blogging…But Shahi’s father couldn’t imagine how a bunch of kids could change the country using their computers.

In the 2033 of Eltahawy’s world, Shahi’s father’s sentiment sounds hopelessly outdated. And perhaps it is a sign of our own times that it already sounds misguided. “A bunch of kids” have already begun to change their countries using their computers; and as their countries change, the world changes too.

Eltahawy closes her essay about the future by grounding it in the present.

Generation Facebook is the godchild of two important developments that took off in tandem over the past three years in Egypt—an increasingly bold blogging movement and street activism. Both are among the few reasons for optimism in a country where most are pessimistic about the future.

… The recent Internet-inspired activism has flipped the script—the needs of the masses have sparked a wave of unprecedented activism among young Egyptians. Bloggers have been instrumental in the conviction of police officers for torture and in getting neglected stories into the headlines.

Young Egyptians activists today, as Eltahawy’s essay illuminates, may well become the political leaders of the future. They will bring into office the concerns and causes that have occupied them for their whole lives. It seems increasingly probable that these preoccupations will arise from the swirl of information and activism that pervades the Internet. The future of politics in the Middle East (and the rest of the world) will fall to a generation of dual citizens: Digital Natives who have grown up in a liminal zone, shuttling between being online and off.