Arab Youth Survey reveals drop in optimism in region increasingly divided between Gulf states and the rest

Findings from ninth annual ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey released

  • Young Arabs said unemployment and extremism are the biggest problems holding the Middle East back, with the region increasingly divided by access to opportunity
  • Trump’s election victory said to be the most consequential recent event for region over next five years, and a majority said the new U.S. President is anti-Muslim
  • Russia overtakes U.S. as region’s top international ally, and in many countries U.S. increasingly seen as an enemy

Dubai, UAE; May 3, 2017: Findings from the ninth annual ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey reveal optimism has dropped among young Arabs across much of the region, and indicates a widening divide over hopes for the future between those living in the wealthy GCC states and those living elsewhere. The survey highlights a growing polarisation of views, inspiring its main theme, “The Middle East ­– a region divided.”

Just over half of those surveyed (52 per cent) said their country is headed in the right direction – a substantial decrease from just one year ago, when almost two-thirds (64 per cent) said they thought their country was going in the right direction.

In the GCC member states, an overwhelming majority (85 per cent) of young people said their country has been heading in the right direction over the past five years, but in the Levant and Yemen, which face mounting social, political and economic challenges, the same number, 85 per cent, said their country is headed in the wrong direction –  bringing the division of views into the spotlight.

Looking at long-term optimism, three-quarters (78 per cent) of youth in the Arabian Gulf countries said their best days are still to come, while, conversely, two thirds (66 per cent) of young Arabs in the Levant and Yemen said their countries’ best days are behind them.

Most (81 per cent) young Arabs said that their government could do more to address their problems and issues, though 86 per cent of Gulf youth said their governments are putting policies in place that will benefit young people ­ – a response shared by just a quarter (24 per cent) of young people in the Levant and Yemen.

“The stark divide between the responses of youth in the GCC nations and those in the Levant and North Africa is clearly related to the huge differences in access to opportunity,” said Sunil John, Founder & CEO of ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller. “The findings from this year’s survey are profoundly troubling. In the nine years we have conducted this important research – the biggest study of its kind into the region’s most important demographic – we have always seen geographic differences, but never have they been so pronounced. Optimism should be the default attitude for youth, and the fact that so many young people, in so many nations, today said that their countries’ best days are behind them should be a real cause for concern for policymakers across the region.

“It would be easy to dismiss this divide as the result of the widening income gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ – those that have oil, and the prosperity that should come with it and those that don’t. But that’s too simplistic – Iraq and Libya, for example, are oil-rich states, but are among those countries in which youth are most concerned about unemployment, and least confident in their government’s ability to address that issue,” John continued.

Roy Haddad, Director, WPP MENA, said: “The Arab Youth Survey provides a voice to the voiceless, and allows young Arabs to be heard around the world. It allows us to hear what Arab youth said about their past, present and future. As such, it is an invaluable tool for businesses and governments, and civil society in general, who need accurate data and insights about this most important demographic.”

The threat posed by Daesh – viewed last year as the number-one issue facing the Middle East –   is seen as diminishing, this year tying with unemployment as a top concern for 35 per cent of the region’s youth. Most young Arabs (61 per cent) also said the terror group is getting weaker and, across the region, young people responded that education reform and well-paying jobs are just as important as military action in defeating terror and extremism.

When asked specifically about unemployment, one out of two young Arabs (51 per cent) said that they are ‘very concerned’ about the jobs situation, an increase of 9 percentage points over last year, with youth in Iraq (69 per cent), Algeria (64 per cent) and Bahrain (60 per cent) most concerned about unemployment.

Looking further afield, attitudes towards the election and presidency of Donald Trump are largely negative among Arab youth. Despite having been in office for just weeks before the survey was conducted (from February 7 to March 7, 2017), President Trump is viewed less favorably than Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Among the 3,500 young Arabs surveyed across the Middle East and North Africa, 83 per cent responded that they view President Trump unfavourably, compared to 77 per cent unfavourable for President George W. Bush and 52 per cent for President Barack Obama.

Seventy per cent of young Arabs said President Trump is anti-Muslim and 49 per cent said that if the travel ban President Trump has sought were imposed on Muslim-majority countries, it would make it easier for terrorist groups to radicalize and recruit young Muslims.

Young Arabs also said President Trump’s election is the development that will have the biggest impact on the Middle East over the next five years, eclipsing the recovery in crude oil prices, Daesh’s loss of territory in Iraq and Syria, Saudi Arabia breaking off diplomatic ties with Iran and the ongoing conflict in Yemen.  Two-thirds (64 per cent) said they are either “concerned”, “scared” or ”angry” about the Trump presidency, while one in five (19 per cent) said they are ”excited”, “optimistic” or ”hopeful” about the new U.S. president.

The survey also reveals that anti-American sentiments are on the rise, with 49 per cent of young Arabs saying America is somewhat of an enemy or a strong enemy (up from 32 per cent in 2016) versus 46 per cent who said the U.S. is an ally (down from 63 per cent in 2016). In 2017, a majority of youth in eight Arab nations said the U.S. is their enemy, up from four nations in 2016.

Meanwhile, Russia’s influence is on the rise across the region, taking the lead from the U.S. as the leading non-Arab ally among Arab youth. When asked who are their country’s top allies, 21 per cent of young Arabs said Russia (up from 9 per cent in 2016) and 17 per cent said the United States (down from 25 per cent last year).

Other key findings from the ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey 2017:

Many young Arabs say their education system falls short of preparing students for jobs of the future
The quality of education is a cause of concern for young Arabs, particularly in non-GCC nations. Nearly half the Arab youth said they are not satisfied with the current level of preparation of students for jobs of the future. Of the 51 per cent who said they are satisfied the current education system is preparing them for future roles, most are from the GCC nations (80 per cent) while those least satisfied hail from North Africa (33 per cent) and the Levant and Yemen (34 per cent).

The UAE sprints ahead of the pack as the country in which most young Arabs would like to live and want their countries to emulate
The United Arab Emirates cemented its position as the country most young Arabs said they would like to live in and would most like their own countries to take after. This year, one in three (35 per cent) young Arabs said they would most like to live in the UAE, a significant increase of 13 percentage points from last year. Asked which country they would like their own country to emulate, the UAE again comes on top, with more than a third of young Arabs (36 per cent) saying the UAE is their model country, compared with one in four last year.

Despite their pride in the Arabic language, most young Arabs said they are using English more than Arabic in their daily lives
Eighty per cent of young Arabs agree with the statement “Arabic is central to my national identity.” Yet, 60 per cent of young Arabs said that Arabic is losing value and, for the first time, more than half of young Arabs (54 per cent) said they are using English more than Arabic in their daily lives (up from 46 per cent in 2016).

Among young Arabs, Facebook is the number one medium for daily news
More than a third (35 per cent) of young people in the Arab world said they get their news on Facebook daily, compared with 31 per cent for other online news sources, 30 per cent for TV news channels and just 9 per cent read newspapers daily. Two-thirds (64 per cent) of young Arabs said they use Facebook to share news stories, up from 52 per cent in 2016 and 41 per cent in 2015.