Young Arabs call for religious reform, expect governments to deliver on economy

50% said the Arab world’s religious values are holding the region back and 79% said the region needs to reform religious institutions.
Thursday 02/05/2019
Arab Youth Survey 2019 announcement of findings. Photo supplied
Arab Youth Survey 2019 announcement of findings. Photo supplied.

BEIRUT - Young Arabs told pollsters that religion plays too big a role in the Middle East and called for reforming religious institutions, findings of the 11th annual ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey indicated.

The survey findings, released April 30, were based on 3,300 face-to-face interviews conducted January 6-29 by PSB, a research consultancy, with nationals aged 18-24 in 15 countries in the Middle East and North Africa, with a 50/50 male-female split.

It is the largest independent study into the region’s biggest demographic bloc. The data indicated finding that 66% of those asked said religion played too big a role in the region, an increase of 16 percentage points since 2015, and 79% said the region needed to reform religious institutions.

“This year’s findings show that youth are looking at their governments to reshuffle their priorities, especially when it comes to the role played by religion and seemingly endless conflicts and they want to see change,” said Sunil John, president of ASDA’A BCW.

The call for reform can likely be explained by the fact that 50% of respondents said the Arab world’s religious values are holding the region back.

The 2019 survey revealed that young people across the Arab world want to see an end to regional conflicts, such as the Syrian civil war with 73% of those asked saying the conflict should end whether President Bashar Assad stays in power or not.

The survey data suggest that young Arabs want governments to focus more on economic issues, including jobs and the cost of living, two issues seen as the largest challenges facing the region.

Young Arabs have high expectations for governments to deliver on economic matters, as 78% of respondents said it is the government’s responsibility to provide jobs to all citizens; 78% said they expect energy subsidies; 60% said the government must provide housing to all; and 33% said it is the government’s duty to provide financial debt repayment to all citizens.

In the eyes of many young Arabs, governments are falling short of meeting their expectations while 65% of those asked saying their country was not doing enough to help young families (83% in the Levant, 74% in North Africa and 39% in Gulf Cooperation Council countries).

The 2019 survey explored how young Arabs perceive other countries. For the eighth consecutive year, the United Arab Emirates was seen as the top country to live in and for other countries to emulate. A total of 93% of survey participants said they consider the United Arab Emirates as an ally of their country.

Nearly as many young Arabs said they view Egypt (84%) and Saudi Arabia (80%) as allies.

A clear majority (67%) of those asked said Iran was an adversary and 32% said Tehran was a possible ally. A majority (59%) said the United States is an adversary.

When asked whether the United States or Russia was a stronger ally of their country, young Arabs were just as likely to select Russia (37%) as the United States (38%), with 25% of participants saying that neither global power was an ally.

For the first time, Arab youth’s attitudes towards drug usage and mental health were explored. More than half (57%) of those asked said drug usage among young people in their country was on the rise. The same percentage said drugs are easy to obtain in their country. The perceived rise of drug use among youth was particularly prevalent in the Levant (76%) and North Africa (59%).

When asked about mental health issues, 54% of respondents said accessing quality medical care for mental health issues was difficult in their country. Half of survey participants said there is a stigma attached to seeking medical care for mental health issues such as anxiety or depression.

The survey revealed that mental health was not an issue on the margins. Nearly one-third (31%) of those asked said they know someone suffering from mental health issues.

Another key finding was that three-in-four young Arabs asked said they are concerned about the quality of education in their country and two-in-three said they would prefer to pursue higher education outside their country.

Arab youth also stated the view that Saudi Arabia and the United States are the two nations increasing their influence in the region more than any other countries.

Young Arabs are driving the region’s e-commerce boom and are beginning to prefer paying by card rather than cash when shopping online. Survey participants also said social media are more popular and considered more trustworthy than traditional media.