When there is a lot more to it than meets the eye…

The world heaved a collective sigh of relief as exit polls revealed Emmanuel Macron’s decisive lead against Le Pen in the French presidential election. Post-Brexit, the right-wing populist tide in Europe seemed formidable and quite understandably, social media was quickly abuzz with congratulatory notes and hopes of an inclusive future. The closest such spectacle of global esprit de corps was probably Obama’s historic rise to the Presidency back in 2009. I vividly remember his first address in Cairo, dubbed A New Beginning which resonated in particular with youth from the Muslim world. Finally there was someone leading the free world who would bring people together and look beyond cultural divides towards a future the entire global community could believe in. Or were these lofty promises an extension of the President’s much-acclaimed word-smithery?

Merely two years after Obama’s oratory skills cast their magic in Cairo, Egypt underwent an uprising that dismantled its democracy and ousted President Hosni Mubarak. The US watched from the sidelines and saw General Sisi ascend to power, having wreaked havoc in Iraq to dismantle Saddam’s dictatorship a few years back. Conspiracy theories followed, some accusing the West of orchestrating Arab Spring demonstrations that shook the middle east in the following years.

Realpolitik is nasty. If one were to believe Bill Clinton’s words about the House of Cards season being ’99% real’, the mayhem we see in the world — refugee crises, corruption, wars, poverty et al all seem business as usual from the eyes of a politician. I have been a fan of President Obama long before his fan-following saw its post-Trump surge globally. Obama has a human side that is hard to ignore. “I was raised as an Indonesian child and a Hawaiian child and as a black child and as a white child. And so what I benefited from is a multiplicity of cultures that all fed me.” Obama recalled in an interview.

Despite the hiccups he faced in his two terms as President, Obama made his mark as a global leader and reaffirmed America’s place as leader of the global community. Spearheading thorny issues like climate change, minority rights, universal healthcare and prison reform earned him more enemies than friends. But this was a man who brought systemic racism to attention by simple gestures like calling the Texas ‘clock kid’ to the White House and by raising his voice on women rights and equal pay. Despite all these positives, history will also remember him as the leader under whose command the US covert drone strikes reached a staggering 563 over his two terms, ten times more than his predecessor.

Enter President Trump. Armed with ‘alternative facts’ and Brietbart news, his first 100 days put Obama’s two terms to shame. Cambridge Analytica, a UK-based firm specializing in data analytics for political micro-targeting, is widely credited with smart-tailoring Trump’s speeches to suit political leanings of his voters, particularly in swing states. A President whose ego determines most national security matters can be a blow to world peace. But that is old news.

We might never fully comprehend what happens behind closed doors in the corridors of power but we can leave it to history to single out the good, the bad and the ugly. Also depending on who is writing the history books of the epoch. In a decade from now, the world we millennials will find ourselves in would be different from what anyone on the planet has experienced before. Imagine a refugee crisis exacerbated by population displacement caused by unpredictable weather patterns. With the US considering withdrawing from the Paris Agreement and slashing EPA funds, teething problems like climate change, population explosion and sustainable growth would become survival issues of the future.

While ‘honest politicians’ remain oxymoronic, it is youth equipped with latest technology and unconditioned minds who can challenge and change the status quo that underpins decision-making on the global stage. By raising awareness and garnering support against forces of fascism, exclusion and regression, youth activism has the potential to snowball into a movement that pulls in the reigns of unquestioned excesses in the name of politics as usual. We saw it in Iceland when the prime minister had to resign over the outcry that followed Panama Leaks and we are seeing it today in Pakistan where the untouchables are finally buckling under pressure over charges of corruption. Our right to choose the next leader might come every few years but it is our duty to keep nudging our leaders to stay on course, lest we may fall victim to politics as usual, yet again.


The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of SDSN Youth.


Jalal Awan is a Lead Researcher on the Youth, Peace & Security team at SDSN Youth. Jalal is an engineer by profession and is currently employed by Engro Corporation, one of Pakistan's largest private conglomerates with a diversified portfolio including energy, chemicals and agri-based products. He is an IEEE-accredited electrical engineer and an ASQ certified Six Sigma Green Belt. Jalal also holds the US Green Building Council certification in Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) and is a founding member of USGBC-Pakistan chapter.

He holdsa bachelors in electrical engineering from Pakistan and finished his Masters in Energy Systems and Policy from the University of Southern California on the Fulbright exchange scholarship (2014-'15). Jalal takes a keen interest in international affairs and politics and is a regular freelance writer in various Pakistani and international publications.