Opportunity, opportunity, opportunity. It is the problem and the solution in the Middle East, the results of the 8th annual Arab Youth Survey have revealed.
A lack of opportunity is the greatest anxiety among 18-24-year-old Arabs and also, they believe, the top reason why thousands of young Muslims have abandoned their families to fight with the radical group ISIL.
We have seen the devastating impact dull prospects can have on an entire country: it was the removal of a 26-year-old street vendor’s ability to earn a small living in his hometown that was the catalyst for the Tunisian revolution. When Mohamed Bouazizi burnt himself alive on January 4, 2011, he inadvertently sparked revolutions that spread like wildfire among similarly disillusioned youth across the region.
In Syria, a record drought that destroyed the livelihoods of farmers and an increasing emphasis on free market policies that benefitted an already privileged minority, were both significant causes of the civil war that is still ongoing five years later.
At the same time, the wide range of work opportunities and the chance to make a decent living are key reasons why, for the past five years, Arab youth have voted the UAE the number-one country to live in and the nation they would like their own country to emulate.
The potential for yet more conflict is borne out by the fact that less than half — 44 percent — of Arab youth believe there are good job opportunities where they live.
The fact that the survey, after seven previous years of experience, narrowed in on the question of whether the respondent intended to start their own business within the next five years, is also indicative of the theme that runs so deep among Arab youth today.
One of the other pertinent messages is the desire for stability. The fact is, give youth the opportunity to make something of themselves, to achieve more than clocking in and out of a cushy office job, the ability to dream with a real prospect of following that dream, and stability will come about naturally.
The survey has also uncovered for the first time that half of Arab youth believe religion plays too big of a role in the region. Specifically, 47 percent believe Sunni-Shia relations have deteriorated in the past five years.
But more stark is the fact that 13 percent of Arab youth would support ISIL if it were not so violent. During presentations of the results, much has been made about the 78 percent who reject the group, but focusing on this figure ignores the potentially more dangerous fact: 455 young Arabs out of 3,500 surveyed would support ISIL’s ideology of an Islamic caliphate.
There is no guarantee that they would in fact act on that premise, but no government — Arab or otherwise — can take the risk that that they will not.
The most effective antidote to prevent a country’s young from disappearing into the terror of ISIL is to give them a reason to stay home; a realistic belief that they have a future exactly where they are.
Give them that and the entire Middle East — and the world — will profit.
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