Reports
|Micro-level drivers

Micro approaches to the study of radicalisation and violent extremism in MENA and the Balkans

11 April 2024

The micro level reports on the context of violent extremism (VE) and radicalisation explore the perceptions of young people in the two regions on what are the drivers and the context of these two phenomena. The research is based on the survey data of more than 3,200 young people (400 people per country) in the MENA (Egypt, Jordan, Tunisa and Morocco) and the Balkans (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Kosovo and North Macedonia. While the sample size is not representative, the data does reveal the dynamics of the environment that young people inhabit and how they perceive. These dynamics are important because as our research at the macro and the meso level has shown, context matters. Therefore, having a closer look into how young people see their communities and their opportunities offers an important part of the puzzle of understanding the context of violent extremism and radicalization.

The survey included 52 questions developed by the project’s research teams which included issues that revealed aspects related to the seven drivers which form the pillar of the project, namely: religion, political grievances, economic deprivation, territorial inequalities, digitalization, transnational dynamics and culture and leisure opportunities. The questions of the survey were on indicators for the various drivers covering issues such as foreign influence(s), trust in institutions, use of the internet, leisure time, volunteering, safety in the local community, the level of religiosity, social mobility, etc.

Due to the methodology used there were no follow-up interviews with the participants, which provides some limitations into the reasoning behind their answers. Indeed, the answers of the respondents cannot be separated from context, even though they were anonymized, the response are potentially also characterized by be self-censorship particularly due to the sensitive nature of the research topic and the repressive environment in some of the countries. The findings at the micro level reveal that according to young people the drivers of VE and radicalization are political grievances, economic deprivation and religion for those living in the four Balkan countries, and economic deprivation for young people living in the four MENA countries. Indeed, as with our earlier levels of analysis, political grievances and economic deprivation shape the context and the lived experience of young people in both regions. Indeed, the political institutions such as the government and other political actors had generally very low levels of trust in both regions, showing a disengagement and dissatisfaction with the state of political affairs in these two regions. Religion, on the other hand, was identified as a driver in the Balkans, while in the MENA it was identified as a tool for the prevention of VE, which may imply its importance as a driver as well, but this could not be further explored due to the methodological limitations. The difference might also suggest the difference in the significance of religion for young people in both region and larger importance of religion in public life.

Across both regions, there were minor gender variations, however some notable aspects include the aspect of collective concern about radicalization which was more present among female respondents as identified in the Balkans report. Another aspect is that of socialization or leisure activities, namely in the MENA region the data show that girls and young women tend to spend more time at home (watching TV) while boys and young men spend more leisurely time outside the home (sports and going out with friends).

These responses indicate the need for further research centered around gendered roles and spaces and how they impact radicalization and violent extremism in turn. Lastly, the data also show that young people are very present in online spaces, which sheds more light into the new alternative spaces that young people inhabit that may not necessarily be physical spaces, having implications for policymakers and broadening the scope of intervention but also the scope of distrust and misunderstanding between state authorities and young people. Namely, the use of VPN was shown to be quite high, which might be cause for concern, but also indicates the lack of free and uncensored spaces. The data reveals that the use of VPN is often to access information or entertainment that may not be available to young people which may include movies or music. Thus, the wide use of the virtual tools and space is not a straightforward indicator and must be subject to further research in order not to encourage arbitrary limitations of online freedom. Instead, digital literacy is crucial for young people to be able to identify potential harmful, radical and misleading content.

As to their engagement in their communities, young people, particularly in the MENA show a high degree of engaging with volunteerism which can shape policies which would encourage possible solutions to the apathy and disenchantment that young people in both regions experience. 4 Micro Approaches to the Study of Radicalisation and Violent Extremism in Mena and the Balkans

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