Arab youth surveys are useful

Sunday 07/05/2017

Young Arabs see the cup of life according to where they are. In the six wealthy Gulf Cooperation Council countries, 85% of 18- to 24-year-old respondents say they are optimistic, even exuberant, about national prospects over the next five years. However, in the Levant and Yemen, the same percentage of young people is despondent about their countries’ direction.
What is interesting, however, is that in North Africa, a region that has its share of woes, the majority still say “their best days are ahead of them.”
This extraordinary portrait of Arabs united by their youth and geographically divided with respect to their hopes and dreams has emerged from a survey by Dubai-based public relations company ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller.
The region is overwhelmingly young — 60% of the population is under the age of 30 — so it is enormously important to under­stand the preoccupations and aspirations of Arab youth.
The survey’s findings help build a picture. Overall, it is a heartening one. Young Arabs care deeply about getting a good education and decent jobs. They are worried about the threat of terrorism, which they see as a problem that is as consequential as unemployment. They are savvy enough, however, to note that the Islamic State is weakening. They are angry and concerned about US President Donald Trump’s attitude towards Muslims.
Arab young people acknowledge that most of their news comes from Facebook. This highlights the pressing need for social media to be integrated into the region’s educational system. It is already shaping the way young people think and behave.
Young Arabs are above all focused on improving their own lives and issues that will affect them directly. They want to learn and to earn. They want their governments to provide them with the tools to achieve their goals.
How else to read young people’s emphasis on education, its quality and the extent to which it prepares them for the job market?
Barring the Gulf states, where 80% of those asked said they have an education that fits them for jobs of the future, young people across the region seem to feel the need to be better-skilled. This is a matter of concern. The region’s youth bulge, which is potentially an asset for growth, could all too easily become a liability.
The survey also revealed another key youthful concern. The overwhelming majority of respondents — 81% — said they want regional governments to better address youth needs. This suggests that rumours about the death of the state in the region are greatly exaggerated.
Young Arabs still look to their governments to provide the structure within which to live and work as high-functioning contributors to the public good but it remains to be seen how attentive Arab governments will be to the hopes and needs of the young. Youth surveys serve an important function in helping understand social trends.
Sometimes they set off alarms by identifying problems just in time for them to be addressed but they can also give hope, much beyond what the region’s newsmakers may have come
to expect.