CAIRO: “Your future . Who decides it? is a question on the minds of many Arab youths. While it is troublesome for youngsters, it is also an intriguing question for the older generation, who find it difficult to come up with an informative or satisfactory answer.
BBC Arabic will try its hand at providing an answer to the question or providing insight into the issue by giving some Arab youths an opportunity to express their views and debate the key issues affecting their future.
Under the title of “Your future . Who decides it? BBC is organizing an interactive road show of events. Launched on BBC Arabic radio and online services yesterday, the program includes five panels in Cairo, Jordan, Khartoum, the West Bank and Syria. Along with booths and conversation-promoting material, the road show aims at encouraging youth to speak up and gives them a chance to be heard.
“We are trying to present the topics that we [think] they want to talk about, says Hosam El Sokkari, head of the BBC Arabic service. Drawing from research, youth feel they are not properly represented, he added.
“The main objectives of the panel are that the youth express their views and people hear them, says Mohamed Yehia, the online and interactive editor at the BBC Arabic Service.
While it is up to the young participants to conclude whatever they desire from the panel – or not take anything at all from it – the panel does guarantee that millions will listen. Many of them are regional and influential figures according to Sokkari. He added that it is up for states and ministries to turn the information provided by such panels into action.
The first of the panel discussions, to be held in Cairo University, will be broadcast live on BBC radio and online services on Feb. 20. Moderated by Akram Awad, BBC producer and presenter, it will feature three specialists on the topic; the panel is expected to give its young participants a chance to debate “Traditional marriage, obstacles and alternatives.
According to Sokkari, the uniqueness of this event, which discusses an “exhausted topic as one journalist described it, stems from the lack of mediation between youth and those who listen to them. “We always hear about youth but not usually from youth, El Sokkari explains. It is not an article or a film about youth, but rather a venue where they speak up and can immediately be heard.
Participation will not be limited to the attending youth; a number of interactive booths were set up in different spots in Egyptian universities, including Cairo University, several coffee shops, shopping malls and gyms. Beside the input collected from these booths, opinions emailed to the BBC website will also be read during the event.
Participation will not be limited to the residents of the countries in which the panels will be held in an effort to widen the realm of discussion around the Arab world.
In the Jordan University panel, to be held on Feb. 27, “The job market and unemployment will be under discussion. On March 6, Khartoum University will host another panel discussing the “Sudanese youth and the search for identity. Seven days later, Birzeit University in the West Bank will give the floor to youth to debate opinions about “Life between borders and crossing points. On March 20, “Openness to the world through economic and technological means will conclude the series in Damascus University. Nouran Sallam, Safaa Faisal, Aliaa Gad and Nur Zorgui will be moderating the panels respectively.
Yet, BBC’s choice of these certain topics was under discussion. “We want a balance between direct political content and the content that is concerned to some extent with youth, says Sokkari. The choice of marriage over other problems troubling Egyptian youth, as unemployment, was also material for debate. Sokkari explains that marriage relates to these problems. He also explains that there will always be other issues to discuss and journalists are always faced with the challenge of choices.
This is not the first effort by the BBC to reach out to an Arabic-speaking audience. The BBC Arabic radio service that has been running for about 65 years and bbcarabic.com, founded in 1999, have been offering news services and providing venues for debate amongst Arab audiences.
Last year, BBC announced it will launch an Arabic-speaking TV station. Slated for a 2007 start, the channel aims at expanding its reach, getting through to those who rely on the visual medium for news.
“[Arabic] is one of the most important languages in the world, says Jerry Timmins, head of the BBC Africa and Middle East Region of the BBC World Service. “It covers a huge and very important part of the world . We tend to invest in languages that enable us to cover very significant parts of the world. BBC broadcasts its services in 33 languages throughout the world.