Since 2015, the Middle East and North Africa – MENA – has been the least peaceful region in the world.

Youth in the region were once the vanguard of the ‘Arab Spring’. Six years later, they are increasingly disillusioned by the realisation that politically they are no better off and their material situation has worsened.

Collectively, MENA has supplied most of the fighters to the conflict in Syria and Iraq and experiences terrorist attacks on a frequent basis. The defeat of Daesh has brought with it waves of local recruitment in key locations across the region.

The British Council is working to strengthen the resilience of young people and communities against violent extremist narratives via the ‘Strengthening Resilience II’ programme, which will run until 2021. This builds on a successful pilot, implemented between 2015 and 2017. The aim is to reduce the appeal of violent extremist groups in five countries in MENA under the EU-funded Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace.

So what do we mean by resilience and why is it necessary in this context? Resilience can be defined as a set of capabilities that equip people to survive and thrive in the face of hazards, and can be developed through practice. Resilient individuals are ‘self-starters’ who take advantage of and create opportunities for themselves and others.

Evidence on the ‘drivers’ of extremism is complex, however, they increasingly reveal low levels of resilience in susceptible areas. This suggests that young people are not so much as radicalised, rather recruited into organisations that provide income, community and direction. It also makes clear how the attraction of the extremist offer is increased by the absence of alternatives.

As well as providing clarity around approaches that deliver resilience, the programme is expected to increase the resilience of young people in susceptible communities and increase the number of positive social, political and economic pathways. It will also provide:

  • a better understanding of susceptibility to violent extremism
  • effective communication strategies that provide an alternative to violent extremism
  • transformative impact through dissemination and influencing of governments, think tanks and multilateral institutions.

This programme was funded by the European Union. For more information, contact programme lead Michael Bush.