Political strategies

Fragmentation, divergent strategies and the impossibility of inclusion – Arab Reform Initiative


by Sarah Anne Rennick

What are the different consequences on the life trajectory of a young person when he reaches adulthood in a context of conflict? What happens to anticipated future plans – education, marriage, first job – when they are profoundly disrupted by the eruption of conflict, and what kinds of coping mechanisms and strategies are adopted by young people in the face of such disturbances? And how the transition to adulthood in a fluid normative context – where violence can be abundant, traditional gender roles can be disrupted and trauma widespread – shapes individual political values ​​and beliefs as well as social relations with society. community and within the family?

By exploring how young people navigate their own lives and construct themselves when the transition to adulthood occurs in the context of conflict, evidence shows that conflict acts as both an opportunity and a constraint for young people in in terms of livelihood opportunities, pathways to well-being, political experiences, inclusion, and feelings of empowerment and powerlessness. At the same time, however, the trajectories of young people in conflict contexts are neither linear nor strictly dependent on the structure of available opportunities. Indeed, the way young people make decisions about their own lives and the factors that influence their decision-making demonstrate complex processes involving specific contextual factors, the configuration of social relations and position in conflict dynamics, among others. . In this sense, the trajectories of young people in conflict contexts are both very diverse and often unexpected, but also, and above all, can change repeatedly. Unpacking this complexity, however, is of crucial importance if we are to grasp the multiple, even contradictory ways in which conflict affects the trajectories of young adults. It is also essential to understand the wider implications at the societal level in terms of future patterns of political participation, beliefs and attitudes as well as social and gender relations within and between communities and generations.

From 2020 to 2021, the Arab Reform Initiative undertook an extensive research program to investigate the personal trajectories of young people in conflict, focusing on those who have come of age since 2011 in Libya, Iraq and Syria. This research, based on 75 semi-structured qualitative interviews in each country and, where possible, focus group discussions, explored young people’s perceptions and decision-making processes and the wider-term implications in political, economic, social and cultural terms. personal. Specifically, this research investigated youth trajectories and broader social and political implications through an analysis at three distinct levels. At the micro level, the research investigated young people’s personal narratives and how they perceive the impact of conflict in terms of personal self-construction. This included investigating their decision-making matrices and aspirations, the coping strategies they found, as well as how they felt empowered/powerless in the context of the conflict. At the meso level, the research explored contextual factors influencing young people’s decision-making and their spaces for manoeuvre, including war and peacebuilding economies, existing programming and external assistance for young people, Changing power structures and social hierarchies, and normative fluctuations, conducting intersectional studies analyzes to understand how different social positions (ethnicity, religion, gender, class, etc.) shape different narratives and strategies. Finally, at the meta level, the research sought to assess diverse political and peacebuilding content with respect to youth values, agency and forms of engagement, focusing in particular on meaningful political participation. young people, everyday practices of peacebuilding and building gender equality if and where it happened.

The study presented here relays the results of research conducted with Iraqi youth, where field interviews took place in 2020 in the cities of Mosul and Basra, sites where different types of conflicts have occurred, ranging from violent conflict with ISIS to the social conflict transformation of the Tishreen protest movement. By taking stock of these in-depth and highly personal interviews, this study provides new insights and insights into how the transition to adulthood in times of conflict has impacted the acquisition of experiences and skills, on the needs and aspirations, and on the changing perceptions and perspectives of Iraqi youth. . The research presented here thus explores how young people recount their personal trajectories and the impact of events on their own lives, but also how they apprehend the political evolution of the country and the nature of the conflict itself. The study explores what factors (moral, ideological, political, social, economic, personal or other) motivate or guide their decisions, how they perceive the opportunities and constraints of their own journeys, and how they find or create opportunities for them. themselves. The study also examines how gender norms and performative gender roles have been transformed as a result of conflict and the impact of these changes on their own social relations and aspirations for the future. Finally, the study sheds light on the personal attitudes of young Iraqis towards violence and non-violence, what concepts such as peace, justice and reconciliation really mean to them and what they look alike in practice, and the extent to which young people perceive agency in their own lives and the roles they seek to play in renewing the political order and social contract in Iraq.

By exploring these diverse themes, this study also has crucial policy relevance. Young people face particular forms of precariousness that place them among the most vulnerable population groups in the post-conflict transition and reconstruction phase, but at the same time they constitute a key demographic group for maintaining stability and peace and for the conduct of broader conflict transformation processes. Despite this, young people as a particular subset of the population are often understudied and underserved by policymakers and external stakeholders implementing conflict relief and post-conflict recovery programs. Much attention is given to children (i.e. adolescents or younger), given the rights-based approaches that have been adopted on the global stage and the existence of broad-based policy frameworks scale and organizations that look after them, such as UNICEF. At the same time, the transition process in post-conflict contexts is often dominated by adult gatekeepers (such as regional elites, village elders, etc.) who limit youth participation, especially in political processes. . As a result, young people can find themselves doubly excluded. Equally important, discursive notions of youth in conflict contexts are often understood within ideological frameworks and definitions that point to certain lines of programming that can be detached from their actual lived experiences, needs and understandings. The dominant discourses surrounding young people in conflict contexts tend to focus on young people as development investments, or as security threats, or as agents of change. These discourses largely guide the types of interventions by external actors seeking to mitigate conflict or promote peacebuilding. Yet these interventions and vocabularies can be tinged with paternalistic attitudes and the imposition of social and cultural norms and expectations that are disconnected from how young people themselves see their lives, their interpretations of their context and their ambitions for themselves and their communities.

By publishing this study, the Arab Reform Initiative brings new insights into Iraqi youth in the context of the post-ISIS conflict and the current Tishreen uprising, taking as a starting point how young people themselves narrate and navigate in their trajectories, their choices, their aspirations and interpretations and the heterogeneity of the experience lived by young people. In turn, this basic evidence-based research can be used to adapt policies, programs and responses designed for, with and by young people to ensure they take into account the diverse realities of Iraqi youth. today and to ensure that they are not left behind in the post-conflict period.

The views represented in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arab Reform Initiative, its staff or its board of directors.