Over the last week, people around the world have been instantly struck by unbelievable scenes of turbulence in Egypt, as thousands have taken to the streets to protest against the current political regime. In recent days things have gotten even uglier, too: American journalists have been assaulted, Molotov cocktails have been launched, and rocks and furniture have been hurled at protesters. It’s not just the violence that’s the most surprising either – it’s the speed with which the political order in Egypt is being threatened.
But there is another significant part to the equation, and that is the alienation of the young people – primarily the young males – from the economic and political life of the country.
As we’ve seen for a while now, sex ratios are becoming skewed in much of the world thanks in part to a growing global imbalance of male-to-female ratios. It is estimated that by 2020 there will be approximately 300 million more men than women in the world. We’ve seen this demographic trend play out in China. In Vietnam. In South Korea. A surplus of frustrated, low-status males is bound to spell trouble for society. Some experts have argued that China might soon be bedeviled by an underclass group of malcontented single males who could stir up political instability or even armed revolts. Sound familiar? It isn’t much different from what we currently see happening in Egypt.
In Egypt, the unemployment among young males (aged 15 to 29 years) was 32% in 2009. In other words, one in three young men were out of a job….and, because of increased education, many more were affected by underemployment. Clearly, growing unemployment has led to insecurity over their future, which to many, seems bleak. But when you take a generation of young males who have no future, and have no outlet for their aggression (and testosterone), a range of potentially dangerous problems could occur.
Another primary reason for disillusionment among the youth is the perceived weakness of the state’s developmental role. Because they have no way to vent their discontent to the “ruling elite,” they become more alienated. And if the youth do not feel like services are extended to them – whether it’s a quality education or opportunity for employment – their connection and allegiance to the state and the regime will falter considerably. Add to this the fact that many of the youth fear that the only means for social mobility is through criminal or corrupt means, i.e. bribery, nepotism or by bypassing the law entirely.
So the question then becomes this: What do we do with the young males? As we’re seeing now, testosterone-fueled aggressiveness can disrupt or even tear apart societies that don’t find ways to channel those drives into activities that aren’t destructive to the communities. In a worst case scenario, it may be that countries afflicted by the imbalance could to go to war as a means of sending young men’s aggressiveness to where it can do no harm internally.
As we look at what is happening in Egypt politically, socially and economically, a combination of frustration with the existing system, a yearning for democracy, a desire to participate in decision-making and general dissatisfaction have all come together to create the current situation on the streets. An important lesson here, too, is the realization that if the interests of the young – especially the young males – are not taken care of, political stability in any country can be threatened. So this may be just the beginning.