Mohd Irwan Syazli Saidin


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 a selected young generation in Malaysia towards the ‘Arab Spring’ as well as considering how the events impact and influence their attitudes towards regime change, democracy and political stability. The major involvement of Malaysian youth in a series of mass protests, popularly known in Malaysia as the “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 the relationship between the ‘Arab Spring’ and Malaysian youth. Nevertheless, the central concern that needs to be highlighted is the extent to which youth in Malaysia grasp the significance of 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 was conducted in Malaysia involving 607 respondents, primarily Malaysian youth between the ages of 18 and 35, as well as 10 in-depth interviews with selected Malaysian youth leaders ranging from those in opposition political parties to those in non-government organisations (NGOs). The outcome of this research shows that the majority of respondents have an outstanding knowledge on the ‘Arab Spring’ which was mostly obtained via new social media such as Facebook and Twitter, along with mixed perceptions toward the events. Furthermore, they also reached an understanding that the uncertainties in the Arab world would eventually lead to another wave of uprisings in the long term. The global impact of the Arab Spring events, some elements of political repression, coupled with corruption and power abuses (which some claimed to be practised by the Malaysian regime), led to a number of youth believing that they were inspired by the acts of mass street protests during the ‘Arab Spring’. This inspiration came when they witnessed the ousting of several long-serving autocratic Arab rulers in their respective states. However, the fear of insecurity and political instability which is currently evident in the post-Arab Spring in Egypt, Libya, Syria and the Yemen led to some respondents favouring political stability rather than regime change. Most of the respondents were fairly sceptical about the polemics of the “Malaysian Spring” as most of them neither disagreed nor agreed that the series of political rallies by the Bersih movement were an indirect effort to topple the ruling government which was ‘accused’ by several pro-government media, politicians and authorities in Malaysia. Overall, this empirical research found that the majority of Malaysian youth are supportive of a free and democratic election as a relevant medium for political change, rather than overthrowing the current regime via civil disobedience.

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