The concrete steps leading from Ahmed Muhammad Sayyid’s first-floor apartment sag in the middle, worn down over time, like Mr. Sayyid himself. Once, Mr. Sayyid had a decent job and a chance to marry. But his fiancée’s family canceled the engagement because after two years, he could not raise enough money to buy an apartment and furniture.
Mr. Sayyid spun into depression and lost nearly 40 pounds. For months, he sat at home and focused on one thing: reading the Koran. Now, at 28, with a diploma in tourism, he is living with his mother and working as a driver for less than $100 a month. With each of life’s disappointments and indignities, Mr. Sayyid has drawn religion closer.
Here in Egypt and across the Middle East, many young people are being forced to put off marriage, the gateway to independence, sexual activity and societal respect. Stymied by the government’s failure to provide adequate schooling and thwarted by an economy without jobs to match their abilities or aspirations, they are stuck in limbo between youth and adulthood.
“I can’t get a job, I have no money, I can’t get married, what can I say?” Mr. Sayyid said one day after becoming so overwhelmed that he refused to go to work, or to go home, and spent the day hiding at a friend’s apartment.
In their frustration, the young are turning to religion for solace and purpose, pulling their parents and their governments along with them.
With 60 percent of the region’s population under the age of 25, this youthful religious fervor has enormous implications for the Middle East. More than ever, Islam has become the cornerstone of identity, replacing other, failed ideologies: Arabism, socialism, nationalism.
The wave of religious identification has forced governments that are increasingly seen as corrupt or inept to seek their own public redemption through religion. In Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Morocco and Algeria, leaders who once headed secular states or played down religion have struggled to reposition themselves as the guardians of Islamic values. More and more parents are sending their children to religious schools, and some countries have infused more religious content into their state educational systems. [complete article]