ISIS, unemployment are biggest concerns for Arab youth

Arab youth are cautiously optimistic about the future

Nearly 40 percent of Arab youth in the Middle East feel democracy will never work in the region.

This, according to the latest findings of the 7th Annual ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey, which also found that only 15 percent of those polled feel that a lack of democracy is the biggest obstacle facing the region. This is a sharp contrast to previous years following the Arab Spring when it was considered by the youth as one of the top obstacles.

These findings are coupled with the fact that positive perceptions about the Arab Spring are on a steady decline in the region. Only 38 percent of those polled this year agreed with the statement that the Arab world was better off following the Arab Spring as compared to 72 percent in 2012.

This sentiment should be seen in the light of the fact that the young see the rise of ISIS as the biggest obstacle facing the region. Less than half of Arab youth are confident their national government can deal with the crisis according to the survey. Nearly 73 percent of the youth said they were “concerned” about the extremist group’s growing influence with almost two in five (37 percent) citing it as the biggest obstacle facing the region. At the same time, fewer than half (47 percent) are confident their national government can deal with this new threat.

“These overriding concerns probably suppressed the youth’s want for democracy in the region. But the aspiration could easily come back three or four years down the line,” said Jeremy Galbraith, CEO at Burson-Marsteller, Europe and MEA.

Along with the threat of ISIS, what worries Arab youth the most is the threat of terrorism and the prospect of unemployment.

Unemployment is among the top three perceived obstacles with four in five young Arabs concerned about it, finds the survey. A whopping 81 percent of those polled said they were “concerned” by it – 73 percent in the GCC and 84 percent in the non-GCC countries. A majority of those in the Gulf, however, are confident that their government can tackle this problem, as opposed to those in the wider Middle East who aren’t.

The problem of youth unemployment could have led to many in the region looking at entrepreneurship as a viable career option. The survey finds that nearly two in five young Arabs are looking to start a business within the next five years, with technology and retail being the top sectors of interest.

The survey, conducted through face-to-face interviews with 3,500 youth (between 18 and 24 years of age) in 16 countries, finds that despite all of the challenges mentioned, youth in the region were cautiously optimistic about the future with nearly 60 percent saying things have moved in the right direction in their country of residence in the last five years. There was, needless to say, great disparity in the sentiment of those in the GCC, North Africa and the Levant, with barely 29 percent of Levantines saying things were moving in the right direction.

Thinking about the future, however, almost three in four youth in both the GCC and North Africa believe their best days are ahead of them, while more than half of those in the Levant, are optimistic.

The survey has a number of other interesting findings on a variety of issues such as language and identity, brand perception, media consumption, energy prices etc. Interestingly, it finds that for the fourth consecutive year, Arab youth cite the UAE as their top choice ahead of 20 other countries, including the United States, Germany and Canada, as their preferred country to live in and emulate.