‘Happy,’ the infectiously gleeful song by rapper Pharrell, is a bonafide global sensation. Youth across the United States, Australia and Europe have performed their own versions of Pharrell’s upbeat music video, showing that ‘Happy’ has become a universal trend.

Nevermind the pervasive conflicts that continue to erode the region; youth in the Middle East want in on the fun. And they’re set on showing the world that, despite living in a region steeped in political and religious upheaval, they can be ‘happy’ too!


‘Happy’ in Syrian Refugee Camps

Syria’s deadly and ongoing civil war has taken a considerable toll on the nation’s largely young population. Estimates paint a grim picture: more than 140,000 have perished in the three-year-long civil unrest, an estimated 14,000 of whom are children.

Consequential of the bloodshed, an estimated 9 million Syrians have fled their homes. 6.5 million have become internally displaced while an additional 2.5 million have fled to neighboring Arab states, such as Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey.

The reality of Assad’s Syria is unbearably bleak, revealing humanity at its most morally depraved, disconnected and, in the case of refugees, desperate.

But while the situation escalates in Syria, neighboring countries, particularly Jordan and Lebanon, have been praised for their efforts in aiding the refugees of their Arab neighbor. World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, on a visit to the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, which has become the home of 150,000 refugees, was astounded by the country’s immediate embrace of Syria’s displaced.

So, how are the children of the Zaatari camp doing…?

Well… according to their cheerful faces and joyful dance moves, they seem to be feeling okay… ‘happy’ even!

Though these children have witnessed their neighbors slaughtered, seen their country being destroyed and been forced to flee their homes in terror, their tenacity has not been compromised. They have refused the demoralizing effects of war.


Syria’s displaced children appear grateful to their Jordanian hosts and determined to not let the events of war stop them from being children.


‘Happy’ in an Authoritarian Tehran

Despite the nation’s election of a progressive new president and his recent denouncement of Internet censorship, a group of Iranian youngsters were imprisoned for their take on the ‘Happy’ video.

The video features what would be seen as a rather ordinary event in the eyes of Western viewers – young men and women goofily dancing to a hit song. Between their flirtatious dance moves and hip, bohemian clothing, one could easily mistake the video as having been filmed in sunny California.

However, the video takes place in an Islamic republic – one where women dancing in public and stepping out without wearing a mandated chador are forbidden and, as it seems, punishable by jail sentences.

Though the dancing subjects of the video were imprisoned for a short time and though the video’s director remains behind bars for breaking ‘Islamic codes,’ one cannot help but feel inspired – even motivated – by their bravery.

Even with an authoritative regime that sees them as mere pieces in achieving the goals of a theocratic state, these young Iranians have retained their inherent dignity, their individuality and their desire to express themselves.


‘Happy’ in Yemen

In another astonishing video, Yemen, one of the poorest nations in the Middle East and a country battling one of the most dangerous sects of al-Qaeda, has taken part in the ‘Happy’ phenomenon.

The video features the men, children and women of Yemen dancing to the hit U.S. song against Yemen’s most picturesque urban and bucolic landscapes. Also notable is the incredible diversity of the video. Women, veiled and unveiled, are featured alongside Yemenis of different colors and origins.

While media frequently focuses on the dark underbelly of this tumultuous Arab state, the participants in this cheery video utilize the platform to showcase their country’s vibrant bazaars, architecture and people.

The sunny video concludes with a bold proclamation – “Despite the difficulties, our happiness will never cease.”

Through these 3 ‘Happy’ videos, the region’s youth, from the Levant and Arabia to Persia in the far east, proudly display their tenacity and fortitude.

Despite decades of colonialism, revolution and violence, a powerful optimism brews. The millennials of the Middle East are diverse, empowered and, most importantly, ‘happy.’


Thomas Freeman is Texas-transplant and aspiring journalist trying (but often failing) to navigate New York City. A current NYU student, Thomas also writes articles and manages media content for 20to30.

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