rom different corners of the world, youth have been celebrating this year in an unexpected way. In the International Youth Day during the International Youth Year, I struggle to reflect on the dilemmas made by and for youth during this year.

Ironically, the International Youth Year started as a proposal from the Tunisian president, Zinealabidine Ben Ali, who was forced by the demands and actions of young people in his country to flee it. Being a twenty two year old Tunisian woman who has participated in several youth events inside and outside Tunisia, I thought that this year would reveal more seminars, meetings and conferences, and would offer the government a chance to brag about how much it is concerned with youth issues. I expected to hear more resolutions and promises, to witness more youth celebrations, and to remain optimistic as I have always been and as I have always been asked to be.

But this year, unlike the years before, I was surprised. Something different happened. Just when Tunisian youth were supposed to expect a year in which they will be expressing themselves in bureaucratic ways, to address their issues in controlled manners and to raise their voices in organized governmental events, people all over the world were impressed by a different, unexpected genuine expression. The demonstrations that propagated from the streets of Tunisia to different countries in the Arab region were much more powerful than all the high level youth meetings that have been organized so far, much more authentic than the International Youth Year or the International Youth Day and much more significant than international youth celebrations. After all the promises for change, the calls for youth empowerment, the speeches about dreams and brighter futures, change finally emerged when young people empowered themselves and realised their dreams on their own, after waiting so long for a promised change.

Living in Birmingham in England, where more young people are expressing anger and frustration (if in a different way), made me realize how universal youth issues are: unemployment, marginalization, poverty and lack of political participation. Yet, the world is still ruled by old people, with old ways of thinking, with old insights and old promises, while every day that passes reveals the story of more successful young people, of more fresh ideas, of more reasons to empower youth, instead of simply celebrate it.

To me, to all the young people in my country and my region, the International Youth Day simply means nothing; because during this year, we made every day a celebration of youth expression, power, and liberation. For older people, I hope this day will be for them an occasion to reflect on this “Youth Year” and confront the reality that in such a dynamic, changing, post-modern world, every year is an international youth year and every day is an international youth day.

Samar Samir Mezghanni

*You can read this blog on the World Bank Middle East page: See link