More than a third (36 per cent) of the youth surveyed said Saudi Arabia is their country’s biggest supporter followed by the by the UAE (33 per cent), Qatar (25 per cent) and Kuwait (25 per cent). The United States is the only Western country to feature in the top five allies at 22 per cent.
The findings reflect the increasing trust of the region’s youth in GCC governments over traditional Western countries, with respondents from both GCC and non-GCC countries citing Saudi Arabia as their biggest ally. Regional issues such as the Arab Spring, which stemmed from internal factors rather than external influences, coupled with Western allies’ decisions not to intervene in issues such as the Syrian civil war, is signaling an end of the traditional model of foreign relations with a prominent western nexus.
Joseph Ghossoub, Chairman and CEO of the MENACOM Group, the regional parent company of ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller, said: “Almost a trillion-dollar economy, Saudi Arabia has long been a regional powerhouse led by its strong oil reserves and production capacity. What the survey findings highlight is the trust of the region’s largest demographic in the role of the Kingdom as a strong political player. The Kingdom’s firm stand on regional and international issues has inspired their confidence in Saudi Arabia to steer dialogue and action.”
Sunil John, CEO of ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller, added: “Saudi Arabia is increasingly becoming the key architect of the Arab world’s foreign policy, having outlined bold and clear directives that Western allies are expected to honour. The findings mark a significant shift in the foreign policy outlook of youth in the Arab world and also underline the growing prominence of the GCC governments.”
In addition to its prominence as a regional ally, Saudi Arabia’s domestic growth policies are also endorsed by majority of its youth with 57 per cent stating that they are optimistic of the country’s future. With billions of dollars being invested in driving the growth of the Saudi economy, particularly to create jobs and homes for its youth, the survey reveals that a majority of the Saudi youth (70 per cent) feel the Kingdom is headed in the right direction of growth compared to 65 per cent last year. Nearly 76 per cent of the youth observe that Saudi Arabia’s economy has been headed in the right direction in the past five years, taking into consideration the events of the Arab Spring.
In other key findings, young Saudis also expressed their growing confidence in their government’s ability to address key concerns such as living standards (66 per cent), economic stability (63 per cent) and unemployment (68 per cent). Some two thirds (65 per cent) of Saudi youth also feel that people in this generation are more likely to start a business than in previous generations, highlighting a growing entrepreneurial spirit.
Three quarters (75 per cent) of Saudi youth feel that energy, electricity and transport fuel such as petrol and diesel must be subsidised by the government.
While nearly three in five (59 per cent) Saudi respondents rate the quality of healthcare as excellent or good, there is growing worry among them about lifestyle diseases such as obesity (26 per cent), diabetes (17 per cent) and cancer (14 per cent). A third of Saudi youth (33 per cent) say the quality of healthcare in the Kingdom has improved over the last year while around half (53 per cent) feel it has remained the same. The numbers who say they are ‘unconcerned’ about health issues also fell from 28 per cent in 2013 to 20 per cent in 2014.
The biggest challenge for the Middle East, according to more than half (52 per cent) of Saudi youth, is the rising cost of living. Corruption in government and public life (40 per cent), national economy issues (39 per cent), pan-Arab economy (33 per cent), unemployment (28 per cent), Israel-Palestinian conflict (27 per cent), loss of values and culture (25 per cent) and personal debt (23 per cent) are other pressing challenges faced by the region according to respondents. They see climate change and environmental issues (6 per cent) and lack of press freedom (7 per cent) as the least pressing issues.
The 2014 Arab Youth Survey, commissioned by ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller and conducted by the international polling firm PSB, involved 3,500 face-to-face interviews with Arab national men and women aged 18-24, covering 16 countries – and is the largest polling since the annual study began in 2008. The countries included are the six Gulf Cooperation Council states (UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain), Algeria, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen – with Palestine added for the first time this year.