The ‘Arab Spring’ and Malaysian Youth: Knowledge, Perceptions and Influences

Mohd Irwan Syazli Saidin

Abstract


This paper examines the attitude of Malaysian youth towards the ‘Arab Spring’ events in the Middle East and North Africa. In particular, it explores the knowledge and perceptions of selected young generation in Malaysia towards the ‘Arab Spring’ as well as considering how the events impacts and influences their attitudes towards regime change, democracy and political stability. The massive involvement of Malaysian youth in a series of mass protests, popularly known in Malaysia as “Bersih movement” against the ruling government were perceived by numerous local and foreign journalists as an attempt to create a “Malaysian Spring”. However, there have been strong opinions voiced by the Malaysian authorities and various local scholars suggesting that there was no basis for presuming an ‘Arab Spring’ impact in the context of the Malaysian experience. This raises the question of relationship between the ‘Arab Spring’ and the Malaysian youth. Nevertheless, the central concern that needs to be highlighted is the extent to which the youth in Malaysia grasp the ‘Arab Spring’ before jumping to any conclusion about the polemics of the “Malaysian Spring”. In so doing, both quantitative and qualitative methods were applied through a questionnaire based-survey which conducted in Malaysia towards 607 respondents primarily Malaysian youth between the ages of 18 and 30 as well as 10 in-depth interviews with selected Malaysian youth leaders ranging from opposition political parties and NGOs. The outcome of this research shows that majority of respondents have an outstanding knowledge on the ‘Arab Spring’ which mostly obtained via new social media such as Facebook and Twitter, along with mix perceptions toward the events. Furthermore, they also came to an understanding that the uncertainties in the Arab world will eventually lead to another wave of uprisings in the long run. Speaking of the global impact of the Arab Spring events, some elements of political repression, coupled with corruptions and power abuses which claimed to be practised by the Malaysia’s regime led to a number of youth who believe that they were used to be inspire by the acts of massive street protest during the ‘Arab Spring’. This inspiration came when they witnessed the ousted of several long service autocratic Arab rulers in their respective states. However, the fear of insecurity and political instability which currently take place in the post-Arab Spring in Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen led to a greater number of respondents to favour political stability instead of regime change. Most of the respondents are fairly sceptical on the polemics of “Malaysian Spring” as most of them neither disagree nor agree that the series of political rally by the Bersih movement were an indirect effort to topple the ruling government which ‘accused’ by several pro-government media, politicians and authorities in Malaysia. Overall, this empirical research found that majority of Malaysian youth are supporting a free and  democratic election as a relevant medium for political change rather than to overthrow the current regime via civil disobedience.

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