To whom does the future belong? [Archives:2004/800/Opinion]

December 20 2004

“There was a time when all you could think about was what your future will be like, when all this studying is over and done with, wasn't there?” asked Marwan.
His older brother looked puzzled and tried to figure out an answer which he hoped would be in the context of his younger brother's question: “That is quite normal of all students at your age, as they are about to complete their high school and look forward to go to the university to learn a profession, and it was normal when I was a student 15 years ago and it was normal when our father was a strident?” He figured by going across a couple of generations he might hit at just what Marwan was trying to get at.
“Ali, nowadays, you just hope that you do not have to contemplate where you are going even after high school. When you finish high school, you know you are going to face the awesome challenge of getting a university degree. You know that you will have difficulty getting accepted, because you do not have the right connections in any of the universities that will push your application through. If you are convinced that a university education isn't going to get you anywhere, and you hope to learn a skilled vocation, the competition for technical or vocational institutes is also fierce and then the quality of the education is substandard. If you seek a scholarship overseas, you will find that the privilege has become confined to the offspring of middle level or higher level public servants or social dignitaries and rich merchants, who can afford to buy colleges overseas, with all the money they have accumulated from exploiting the Yemeni people all these years with the cheap products they import or 'manufacture'. So, where does a poor student like me expect to make a future for himself?” Marwan was really hopeless about his future.
Just then Ali's wife brought them some refreshments and cookies: “I am sure Marwan that your brother can help you find the right university to learn the profession that you like to enter. He does know a few people here and there”.
“Aziza, the bleak story does not end there. Even if you are lucky to get through the university education, you find that your degree will not get you the job that will sustain you, let alone pave the way for a prosperous future, in which you can raise a family and do all those normal things that people aspire to do with their lives. If you get any half way decent job, you find that you are not adequately educated or trained for it and you will find yourself competing with students who graduated from academic institutions overseas and are equipped with a foreign language or better scholastic qualifications than our inadequate universities are able to make of us. Thus, any chance of promotions are blocked right there, because employers don't invest in advancing the capabilities of their employees. They would even go through the expense of hiring expatriates to undertake the most minor jobs, rather than try to improve the skills of local labor.”
“Look Marwan, I am sure that things will improve by the time you finish the university and you will find the right job that will fulfill all your ambitions. Don't forget, I went through the same thoughts a decade ago and now you see that none of my pessimism was justified”. Ali was trying to reassure his brother that the future should not be all that bleak.
“Ali, you were lucky, because you were able to get a scholarship overseas and met some of our officials there, who you took around because of your excellent knowledge of French. They landed with a good job with a French company that was under contract with the Government and thus you were among the few that were able to enjoy some benefit from our oil resource. But for people like me, the hope of going overseas is now dimmer than ever, because the government says we do not need to send students overseas. Since none of my relatives know anyone in the government, there is no chance of getting access to a scholarship overseas.
“Marwan, there are some embassies that are sponsoring studies abroad in their home countries. You might try out for getting acceptance to any one of their scholarship programs.” His brother's wife pointed out an avenue of hope for Marwan.
“No, Aziza, it is not all that simple. By the time you get to the door of the embassies, you are already under suspicion of being a terrorist because of the long beard you might have grown, because you can't afford to buy shaving blades and shaving cream. Do you see how much security is around these foreign embassies?”
“Look, Marwan, maybe you can just write to these embassies and do not have to go to call upon them” said Ali.
“Write to them? Come on Marwan, you know I can't write any foreign languages and their application forms may sometimes cost a fortune to obtain, if you can find someone who will connect you. So, the first thing I need to do is borrow some money from you to get shaving blade and a suit to be able to reach the gate of any of these universities, without having to arouse any suspicion of being a security risk. Then, I need to find a contact inside the embassy to get the application forms etc. Then there is the processing with all the government agencies involved and so on. By the time you are finished and you get lucky and your application is accepted, you would have lost half your weight and half of your marbles.”
“What about the local universities?” asked Aziza.
Marwan was quick to answer: “So far the only university that has accepted me is a private university that was just set up two years ago. All they offer is political science and I simply have no desire to get enmeshed in any politics in this country. My only hope is just to keep this beard and simply find a nice corner in the Grande Mosque, where I can hopefully make some money reading the Quran for kindhearted illiterate suq merchants, who wish to thank the Lord for getting them out of the quagmire that people like us have to go to etch out their future”.