The unsurprising priorities of the Arab world

Employment ranks as the top priority for most of those asked in the eight Arab countries surveyed.
Sunday 16/12/2018
A Tunisian unemployed graduate from the city of Kasserine reads a newspaper as he takes part in a sit-in protest in Tunis. (Reuters)
A Tunisian unemployed graduate from the city of Kasserine reads a newspaper as he takes part in a sit-in protest in Tunis. (Reuters)

The newly released Zogby opinion poll throws light on significant trends in the Arab world and the Middle East.

Eight Arab countries were polled for the survey: Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. It might seem surprising — and can be misleading — at first sight that democracy is not listed at the top of the Arab public’s priorities. In seven of the eight Arab countries, it is listed among the bottom three priorities of the public.

This might give the false impression Arab citizenry has no interest in the attainment of political freedom or in the pursuit of sound governance but that is not the case. The same poll indicates that Arab respondents place a premium on “political and government reform” as well as on fighting corruption and nepotism.

The failure to prioritise democracy seems related to two concomitant public opinion traits reflected in the survey: waning confidence in public institutions and the feeling that the respondent’s own country is “on the wrong track.”

The most notable exception in the Arab region seems to be Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. “Respondents in Saudi Arabia and the UAE have the highest levels of confidence in their institutions, with at least eight-in-ten respondents expressing confidence in every institution,” the survey points out.

Distrust of politicians and public institutions goes hand in hand with unhappiness about deteriorating living conditions and the inability of institutions to deliver required services. It is significant that none of the publics polled, except for Emiratis, say they are “better off” than five years ago.

The top priority for Arab respondents is jobs. Employment ranks as the top priority for most of those asked in the eight Arab countries surveyed. As logic dictates, employment is coupled with another top-tier priority: education.

Employment and education encapsulate the ambitions as well as the pent-up frustrations of large segments of Arab populations. Not enough jobs are created to accommodate young people’s yearning for a better life. The shortcomings of education and employment policies can only build up the reservoir of discontent in the MENA region; by the same token, they discredit policymakers.

6