Use social media as positive tool, youth told

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Use social media as positive tool, youth told

A young Dubai-based woman who participated in an online conversation with the former UN head Kofi Annan is urging youth in the region to be patient, educate themselves and use social media as a positive tool for change, in light of the Arab Spring.

By Sarah Young

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Published: Sun 21 Jul 2013, 1:45 AM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 6:19 PM

Danya Bashir Hobba, a campaigner for democracy and women’s rights in Libya who spends her time between Dubai and Libya, was one of nine youth leaders taking part in the online One Young World Kofi Annan Dialogues with former head of the United Nations last Thursday.

During the conversation, Hobba, who works with the Dubai School of Government, said she believed social media was a way for youth to move forward and create positive democratic change – as long as they were educated and informed.

Speaking earlier to Khaleej Times, the University of Sharjah graduate and two-time winner of the UAE’s Entrepreneurship Competition urged youth in the region to educate themselves, be patient and not expect change to happen immediately following the events of the Arab Spring.

“Before you ask what your government is doing, or judging if your government has failed or not, ask what you are doing to help your country … even if it’s your neighbours, donating blankets to your local hospital, or helping them with administration if you are a business major.

“Women in the US didn’t get the vote until the 1920s, but they were determined, waited and went about seeking change in a peaceful and productive way.”

Change would not happen overnight — “or in five years” — but would happen quicker if people were more productive and realistic about the situation, she said.

During the conversation, Annan said while many referred to the Arab Awakening as a social media revolution, this was not the case — social media was merely a tool, he said.

“Social media can take down 
a regime but it doesn’t create 

Revolutions required ideas, patience and direction — which had to be allowed to emerge, he added.

“If young people want to make a difference, you should have ideas, have patience and know what you want.

“You don’t have to create your own organisation … but you should have enough power with your influence with social media to put pressure on politicians to put (your) issues higher up the agenda.”

Speaking in relation to Egypt, Annan said it was important to create a pluralistic society, which recognised all interests, and that rules and laws were in place to protect all interests and human rights.

“We need to find a way of getting the various groups to reconcile and recognise they only have one Egypt, one country and they all stand to lose.

“(It has) to become a pluralistic society with room for everyone, and every faith … not exclusionary which leads to conflict and tensions.”

The dialogues were organised by charity One Young World and the Kofi Annan Foundation, focused on issues of democracy and elections, ahead of the annual One Young World Summit taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa this October.

Hobba said forums with prominent people were important for youth, to give them hope, experience, and a feeling of connection and motivation.

“We can’t have youth in the government without experience and knowledge …we need the mock UN (and) shadow governments to help prepare them … forums to have dialogue and debate. It doesn’t have to be with Kofi Annan … it could be a town meeting or anything.”

Speaking afterwards, she said the dialogue had been very inspiring. Annan had made clear reform was a solution, but also a problem, and it was important for youth to be organised, informed and educated to ensure they were perceived to have the legitimacy necessary to make change, she said.

Hobba, who has previously spoken at the UN General Assembly on fostering cross-cultural understanding, also works as Executive Director MENA @ Social Media for Change — a United States-based NGO which aims to help provide education for youth on various topics, ranging from what democracy is, to how to run a small business.

Living in the UAE had helped open her mind to what was possible for a country to achieve, and she believed both Libyan and UAE youth could learn from each other, Hobba said.

One Young World co-founder David Jones said young people played an important role in promoting peaceful democracy and guaranteeing elections were conducted with integrity and transparency.

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