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January 2011

Students and Youth in the Egyptian Revolution

Egyptian Youth in Revolt

The Middle East and North Africa are currently in the midst of a surge in youth population: a baby boom started in the late '70s through the 1980s means that a huge proportion of these countries' populations are under the age of 30. As we saw in Iran in 2005, in Egypt in 2008 (the April 6 general strike) and across the North African nations this past month, youth are a destabilizing influence on the sclerotic and brittle institutions of authoritarian political and economic rule. Almost two-thirds of the Egyptian population are under the age of 30.

Beyond their numerical presence, other factors in the region have been threatening to light this powder keg for years. Youth unemployment across Arab nations is much higher than in other regions; even in the relatively calm economic waters of 2005, average unemployment among youth was 26%. Unemployment among 18-29 year-olds in Egypt right now stands at 25%.

As the population grows, so do those attending higher education in Egypt. While there are expensive private institutions, public universities in Egypt are largely free, save for registration fees. Egypt's largest universities are truly staggering in size: Alexandria University boasts 175,000 undergrads; Cairo University has 200,000; and Mansoura University in Mansoura City has over 300,000 students.

This combination of a well-educated and economically disadvantaged population means trouble for autocrats everywhere.

Unfortunately, English-language sources of information of what's going on at the Egyptian universities are very hard to come across. One article that stands out is a report from a professor at the American University in Cairo, via Al Jazeera: