With the legacy of the Arab Spring waning, Arab youth are uncertain whether democracy could ever work in the Middle East
 
Confidence among Arab youth that the Arab Spring would bring positive change across the region is declining and as a result they are uncertain whether democracy could ever work in the Middle East. This is the headline finding of the 7th Annual ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey released today. 

When asked whether they agree or disagree with the statement “Democracy will never work in the region,” 39 per cent of Arab youth agree it will never work, 36 per cent think it could work while the remaining 25 per cent are unsure. Conflicting views on democracy are further highlighted when youth are asked to name the biggest obstacles facing the region with just 15 per cent citing “lack of democracy,” down from 38 per cent in 2014, 43 per cent in 2013 and 41 per cent in 2012. In 2011, “living in a democracy” was the most important desire for 92 per cent of Arab youth polled. 

Similarly, confidence among youth that the Arab Spring would bring positive change across the region is declining. In 2015, just 38 per cent agree that the Arab world is better off following the Arab Spring, compared to 54 per cent in 2014, 70 per cent in 2013, and 72 per cent in 2012. 

International polling firm Penn Schoen Berland (PSB) conducted 3,500 face-to-face interviews with exclusively Arab national men and women aged 18-24 in the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain; Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Palestine, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and Yemen. The interviews were conducted from January 20th to February 12th, 2015. 

“The Arab Youth Survey is an annual initiative of ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller, the Middle East’s leading Public Relations consultancy. The seventh edition of the Survey was developed to provide reliable data and insights into the attitudes and aspirations of the region’s 200 million-strong youth population with the aim of informing policy and decision-making of both government and the private sector. The MENA market is known for its young demographic with 60 per cent of its population below the age of 25,” said Jeremy Galbraith, CEO of Burson-Marsteller Europe, Middle East and Africa. 

Commenting on the survey, Jay Leveton, CEO of PSB, said:  “We understand the value of evidence-based insights, in a region where research is often limited. The findings of our Survey provide public and private sector organisations with data and analysis to help them make more informed decision-making and public policy formation.”  

Sunil John, CEO of ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller, said: “The ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey serves as a barometer not only of the ever-evolving aspirations of Arab youth but also of the overarching social, political and economic trends that define the Arab world. Our approach to understand the Arab world’s unique dynamics through the eyes of its youth has also made the Survey’s results relevant - and often the only authoritative referral source in the region. 

“We hope that the findings of the Survey, which we share in the public domain as part of our social responsibility, will further add to the constructive dialogue about the hopes and aspirations of Arab youth,” John concluded. 

Below are some of the key findings: 

The rise of ISIS is seen as the biggest obstacle facing the region and fewer than half of Arab youth are confident their national government can deal with it.  The rise of ISIS - also known as Daesh, the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and Levant - is a major concern for Arab youth with nearly three in four (73 per cent) concerned with the extremist group’s growing influence and almost two in five (37 per cent) citing it as the biggest obstacle facing the region. At the same time, fewer than half (47 per cent) are confident their national government can deal with this new threat. 

As unemployment remains a major concern in the region, many young Arabs are keen to start their own business. When asked to comment on how concerned they are about unemployment, the majority (81 per cent) say they are “concerned”. Regional governments, concerned about unemployment rates, are encouraging more citizens to enter the private sector or establish their own businesses. The survey sees positive trends in this area. Nearly two in five (39 per cent) young Arabs are looking to start a business within the next five years, with technology and retail being the most popular sectors. 

When asked to suggest what national governments should do to further encourage entrepreneurship, one third (32 per cent) say they should encourage affordable lending. They cite improving available training and education (26 per cent) as the second most pressing measure followed by reducing regulation and red tape (19 per cent). 

While youth view the Arabic language as central to their national identity, many believe it is losing its value and converse more in English. Three in four (73 per cent) agree that the Arabic language is central to their identity meanwhile almost half (47 per cent) believe it is losing its value and one in three (34 per cent) disagree. Significantly, 36 per cent of young Arabs use English more than Arabic on a daily basis.  The phenomenon is particularly prevalent in the GCC where 56 per cent say they use English more than Arabic, versus 24 per cent in non-GCC countries. 

The UAE remains the country that most Arab youth would like to live in and is seen as a model for their country to emulate for the fourth year running. When asked to name a country anywhere in the world where they would like to live, Arab youth cite the UAE as their top choice for the fourth year running ahead of 20 other countries, including the United States, Germany and Canada.

Likewise, when asked to think about which country they would most like their home country to emulate, almost a quarter (22 per cent) consider the UAE as a model nation, followed by the United States (15 per cent) and Germany (11 per cent), Canada and France also feature in the top five (8 per cent each). The UAE is the only Arab country in the top five choices identified by Arab youth.

Saudi Arabia is seen as the top ally in the region, followed by the United States and the United Arab Emirates
. When asked to think about their country’s biggest ally, Arab youth cite Saudi Arabia for the fourth year running. The US and the UAE are close second and third choices at 23 and 22 per cent, respectively. 

In-depth results from the 7th Annual ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey, including survey highlights and a white paper in Arabic and English, are available on arabyouthsurvey.com