Tenth Arab Youth Survey unfolds a decade of hopes and fears

Defeating terrorism is the top priority for GCC youth.
Sunday 20/05/2018
A young Emirati man walks through national flags on diplay in Dubai. (AP)
Topping the list. A young Emirati man walks through national flags on diplay in Dubai. (AP)

DUBAI - A majority of young Arabs, especially in the Levant, believe the region has moved in the wrong direction over the past decade, which was marked by the “Arab spring” upheaval and the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS).

Those two events most negatively impacted the Middle East and caused it to drift off course, according to youth surveyed in the tenth ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey. This year’s survey, conducted by PSB Research, was based on 3,500 face-to-face interviews with men and women aged 18-24 in 16 Arab states from January 21-February 20.

“We have been accurately tracking the hopes, aspirations and fears of Arab youth for a decade now,” said Sunil John, founder of ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller. “While our first survey in 2008 was received with a mix of curiosity and suspicion, it laid the groundwork for subsequent surveys and, more importantly, caught the interest of governments, business and media the world over.”

The surveys “provide evidence-based insights, offering governments, the private sector and civil society institutions critical information and analysis to inform their decision-making and policies,” according to ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller’s website.

“Ultimately, we are gaining a better understanding of the region and we are building bridges between the Middle East and international communities, businesses and NGOs who want to know what the region’s youth really think and how they want to shape their future,” said John.

“The 200 million Arab youth – comprising 65 percent of the population – are the region’s best hope for a bright future.”

The survey’s second finding shows that the youth’s top priorities for moving the region in the right direction include defeating terrorism, creating well-paying jobs, reforming education and fighting government corruption. Defeating terrorism is the top priority for GCC youth, while young Arabs in North Africa are more likely to consider fighting government corruption a bigger priority.

Young Arabs also expressed a high level of confidence in Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz and his plans for reform and overwhelmingly support the kingdom’s anti-corruption campaign; 64% of Arab youth surveyed considered Crown Prince Mohammed to be a strong leader, while 97% of Saudi youth hold that view.

Arab youth across gender and geographic lines also overwhelmingly welcome Saudi Arabia’s move to allow women to drive. However, the vast majority of young Arabs (80%), and particularly in Saudi Arabia (90%), want their governments to do more to improve the personal freedoms and rights of women.

The survey also found that young Arabs are convinced that ISIS and its ideology will be completely defeated. They increasingly say ISIS is getting weaker while expressing a growing sense of confidence in the government’s ability to deal with the terrorist organisation. The majority, especially in the Gulf Cooperation Council (66%) are convinced that ISIS and, more importantly, its ideology will be wiped out in the region. In North Africa, 55% hold this view, while in the Levant only 50% think that ISIS will be fully defeated.

Another finding this year was that “youth across the Middle East increasingly view the US as an adversary, while Russia cements its position as the top non-Arab ally.” The US falls to number 11, finding itself out of the top five allies of the Arabs for the first time. Over the past two years, there has been a dramatic shift in Arab youth’s perceptions of the United States, with a solid majority now saying America is an adversary of their country.

The UAE remains the top country Arab youth want to live in and want their own countries to emulate. This is the seventh year running that young Arabs have ranked the UAE as the top role model for their own nations and as the country in which they would most like to live. Youth cite safety, security and career opportunities as the attributes they most associate with the UAE.

Another finding was that compared with those in North Africa and the Gulf States, youth in the Levant have an increasingly “bleak outlook.” The latter were significantly more pessimistic than youth elsewhere in the region, with almost nine out of ten saying their country is moving in the wrong direction. Young people in the GCC are markedly more optimistic, with more than eight in ten saying their best days are ahead of them.

Reflecting social and technological changes, more young Arabs said they got their news on social media than TV for the first time in the survey’s history, with nearly half saying they get their news on Facebook every day. Some 60% of young Arabs view the digital revolution positively and as an important development that has shaped the region over the past decade, with technology seen as the top sector among potential young Arab entrepreneurs.