“Hogra” and youth exclusion in the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa)
Hogra is a word used in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia to describe the anger, rage and humiliation experienced by individuals and communities that have been deprived of their basic human rights. Hogra is the feeling of exclusion one experiences when it becomes evident that you are not being treated equitably or fairly in the provision of public services or in the protection of your civil or human rights. It may manifest itself in an encounter with a public official who refuses, for no defensible reason, to provide a copy of one’s birth certificate, when one is denied health care because of their poverty or social background or when a police officer abuses his power during a public protest concerning the need for employment. Hogra describes a perceived loss of dignity.
Hogra is what Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor likely felt when he set himself on fire in response to the degrading confiscation of his wares at the hands of a municipal official on December, 17th, 2010. This tragic event became the catalyst of the Tunisian revolution and triggered other serious protests against the institutionalized humiliation that some other governments in the MENA region had also long practiced. Young protesters from Morocco to Yemen criticized a lack of job opportunities during 2010-2011 protests, as well as the difficult political circumstances fueled by the frequent abuse of the rule of law by local authorities in those nations.
Hogra is both a cause and a consequence of the parlous conditions youth face in the MENA nations. Boudarbat and Ajbilou (2007, 5) have defined exclusion in the context of Morocco as, “not just a condition, but rather a process which marginalizes certain individuals.” They have argued that youth exclusion from society is not solely economic, but also political, social and cultural and have emphasized that five main drivers work to marginalize young people: poor macroeconomic performance, rapid urbanization, persistent poverty, poorly performing labor markets and family dynamics. These realities explain how exclusion manifests itself in Morocco and in the MENA region more generally.
Social and economic marginalization sets young people from impoverished households apart from mainstream society and limits their opportunities to exercise agency and to participate in a wide range of activities. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD 2016), with unemployment levels exceeding 30% in most MENA countries and an even greater share of young men and women underemployed or out of the labor force, those nations are deprived of a key source of their future social and economic development. This does not necessarily imply that these youths are not seeking such possibilities. Overall, despite the challenges they face and the difficulties implicit in providing avenues for their productive engagement, MENA nation underprivileged youth represent key potential agents for efforts aimed at securing positive socio-economic change:
Young Arabs have a lot of momentum to contribute to their communities and become agents of positive change in their countries’ economies. In general, the tension that exists between human potential and utilization lies not in a lack of purpose, but instead in the perceived and real dearth of economic opportunities (Gallup 2009).
Avoiding Hogra: The imperative of youth inclusion in MENA nations
Indeed, youths represent tremendous social promise in the countries of the Middle
East and North Africa. They are vital to their societies for at least three reasons.
The first is that they constitute more than half the population of the MENA region. The United Nations Population Division (2011) estimated in 2010 that one in five people living in the MENA area belonged to the youth demographic category, that is, aged between 15 and 24. That group included nearly 90 million individuals in 2010. The number of people in this age cohort is expected to grow in most Middle East and North African countries by 2 percent each year for the next 10 years. In comparison, analysts expect worldwide population growth to rise 1.2 percent per year during the same period. This fast growing young people’s cadre in the MENA region has created what analysts refer to as “a youth bulge,” a baby boom of sorts. Yufu (2012) has defined the youth bulge as, “a stage of development where a country achieves success in reducing infant mortality, but mothers still have a high fertility rate.” This results in a relatively high portion of the overall population being comprised of children and young adults.
Understanding the importance of this demographic trend is essential if the region’s governments are to help manage the transition of these youths to adulthood effectively.
Not only is this group of young people very large, but they must also navigate many of life’s crucial transitions in a relatively short period as they become adults. The World Development Report on Development and the Next Generation (World Bank 2007) has identified five main possible major transitions that MENA youths may potentially undergo: learning, working, migrating, staying healthy and forming families. This list of milestones includes pursuing secondary and higher education and/or entering the job market, matching their interests and skills with education and opportunities available to them as well as considering migration to obtain better employment and living conditions. However, not all youths have the aim and/or the opportunity to undergo all of the transitions considered by the Report, such as migrating or forming families. In addition, the Report did not analyze explicitly the additional dynamics attending passage from adolescence to adulthood, which include the emotional transformations that accompany that process. Nonetheless, given the large demographic they represent and the pressure they are under individually and collectively to attain economic independence, youths are as important to their countries, as their nations are essential to them in helping manage their transitions to adult life. The mutual dependence between youths and their respective countries is important and significant.
A third reason young people are crucial to the MENA region arises because their success or failure is closely intertwined with the trajectories and fates of their countries. A democratic and economic transition of the MENA area cannot occur without ensuring youth employment opportunities and social inclusion. The “Arab Spring” is a perfect illustration. Young people took to the streets from Morocco to Yemen to protest their governments’ inability to govern transparently, secure economic prosperity and encourage job growth. The present scenario in many MENA nations ultimately deprives young people of their innate dignity as they finish even university level education and confront labor markets that simply cannot provide anything like all those who are qualified reasonable employment possibilities.
As Fuller (2004) has explained, a large youth cohort intensifies and exacerbates many existing social problems. For example, it places major new strains on educational facilities, social services, housing and employment needs, which, when unmet, may lead to social instability, volatility and radicalization. This is in no way to imply that the youth bulge is per se negative. However, affected governments in the MENA region must cope with the reality that without appropriate opportunities to channel young peoples’ energy, skills and potential, radicalism, delinquency and marginalization may find fertile ground.
When thinking about this region-wide challenge, it is important first to emphasize that youth issues are cross-sectoral; that is, young people make demands on and also help to shape many social concerns including, education, health, governance and employment patterns, as well as unemployment. Taking into consideration how important these matters are in society, youth roles deserve sustained policy-maker attention. Ministries directly addressing young people’s concerns should seek to coordinate their work with other concerned ministries as well as civil society entities so that youth needs can be met in an integrated way.
Second, national strategies for youth inclusion should be planned and implemented with young people’s participation because, without their vigorous involvement, such policies are likely to reflect their needs poorly and therefore, are as likely to fail. Third, as highlighted above, government officials should not view youths as a threat, but instead as sources of tremendous potential for MENA countries. This orientation suggests in turn that all steps aimed at supporting them should be guided by a belief in their potential and not by fear that they represent a ticking bomb. Viewing young people as a threat rather than a partner for development and well-being is likely to undermine the “bulge” cohort’s belief in the legitimacy of the government officials with whom they are dealing and perhaps, the credibility of the regime those individuals represent as well. Meanwhile, too, state authorities should not turn a blind eye to the seriousness of a growing sense of Hogra among the area’s youths as the growth of the phenomenon represents a social malaise that undermines young people’s trust in their country’s political institutions.
Last, but not least, social inclusion and participation is paramount to unleashing the enormous capabilities of the young people of the region. Their possibility is not fulfilled solely through education and employment, but also enabled through volunteering and the work of civil society organizations. Needless to say that engagement is not inherently positive, but it represents a potential to be a significant force for civic stability and deepening democratization.
The term Hogra is difficult to translate because it embodies feelings attached to the violation of human dignity. Pertaining to young people, Hogra depicts a reality in the MENA region that helps to underscore the imperative need to ensure effective youth social and economic inclusion in MENA countries. The fast-growing cadre of young people in the MENA nations represent tremendous potential, but unless the area’s governments address the root causes of Hogra successfully, that possibility may never be realized.
 The MENA region, as defined here, includes Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
Boudarbat, B. & Ajbilou, A. (September 2007). Youth Exclusion in Morocco: Context, Consequences, and Policies. Middle East Youth Initiative Working Paper No. 5
Fuller, Graham E. (2004). The Youth Crisis in Middle Eastern Society. Clinton Township, Michigan: Institute for Social Policy and Understanding
Gallup, Inc. (2009). The Silatech Index: Voices of Young Arabs
Lin, Yifu J. (May, 1st 2012). Youth Bulge: A Demographic Dividend or a Demographic Bomb in Developing Countries? Accessed November 5th, 2016, from: http://blogs.worldbank.org/developmenttalk/youth-bulge-a-demographic-dividend-or-a-demographic-bomb-in-developing-countries
OECD. (2016). Youth in the MENA region: How to bring them in. Accessed November 5th, 2016: http://www.oecd.org/mena/governance/youth-in-the-mena-region.pdf
United Nations Population Division. (2011). Youth Population and Employment in the Middle East and North Africa: Opportunity or Challenge?. Accessed November 5th 2016:
World Bank. (2007). Youth-An undervalued asset: Towards a new agenda in the Middle East and North Africa – Progress, Challenges and Way Forward. Washington, DC: World Bank. Accessed November 4th, 2016 from: http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/2007/09/9382551/youth-undervalued-asset-towards-new-agenda-middle-east-north-africa-progress-challenges-way-forward
World Bank. (2007). The World Development Report 2007 on Development and the Next Generation. Accessed on November 6th, 2016 from: http://www-wds.worldbank.org/external/default/WDSContentServer/IW3P/IB/2006/09/13/000112742_20060913111024/Rendered/PDF/359990WDR0complete.pdf
Nada Berrada is an ASPECT (Alliance for Social Political, Ethical and Cultural Thought) Ph.D. student. She previously earned an M.A. in Public and International Affairs at Virginia Tech and a B.A in Political Science and Economics from Ecole de Gouvernance et d’Economie de Rabat (EGE) in Morocco. At Virginia Tech, she teaches for the Political Science Department.
Nada acquired interdisciplinary experience working at The Coca-Cola Company HQ, German Marshall Fund, UNDP and Foundation Orient Occident. This summer, she served as a Teaching Assistant for the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth at Princeton University. Nada also served as a Moroccan UN Youth Delegate during the 70th UN General Assembly.
Her research interests are centered on youth in the MENA region, particularly Morocco, and their prospects for employment, education and civic engagement. Her research is guided by the firm belief in the power of young people in shaping the destiny of the MENA countries.