By Courtney Trenwith
Annual poll reveals Arab youths increasingly adopting 'here and now' mentality, losing Arab Spring optimism
Arab youths are increasingly adopting a “here and now” mindset, replacing their optimism for the future with more imminent demands for jobs and high living standards, an annual survey across the Middle East has revealed.
Arabs aged 18-24 are significantly more concerned about rising living costs and unemployment than longer-term issues such as climate change, according to the sixth annual ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey, which interviewed 3500 youths from 16 Arab countries.
ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller CEO Sunil John said the results showed a changing mentality since the survey began in 2008, when the biggest desire was to live in a democratic country.
“It continued in that same trend, then came the Arab Spring in 2011 [and] immediately there was that upsurge of optimism,” John said.
“In 2013 our main finding was that better days are ahead, so it was still a sense of optimism. What we see in 2014 ... is that young people are now focusing on the here and now; they want jobs, they want homes, they want better healthcare, they want safe lives, they want to live in a safe neighbourhood and they want their national governments to do the job.”
Confidence in national governments rose this year, while optimism about the Arab Spring outcomes declined.
Burson Marseller worldwide chair and CEO Don Baer said despite the waning optimism since 2011, Arab youths were still confident the future would be better.
More than half agreed “a lot” or “somewhat” that the Arab world and themselves were better off following the uprisings.
“There is still a very high level of optimism in the sense that the Arab Spring created and unleashed a new era of possibility. But it’s also true that expectations are high and it has to be delivered on over time,” Baer told Arabian Business.
“The world economy is moving in a much better direction than it was several years ago, yet it’s not all together there and operating in a free-flowing way. So you look at that as a young person in this region and you think I’m feeling better and I’m feeling good about where my options will be for the future, but I also need to see it delivered today.”
Baer said governments appeared to have increasingly appeased citizens since the Arab Spring, leading to greater confidence in their ability to lead.
“Across the region there’s a sense that governments care and are focused and are trying to focus on these things that matter,” he said.
“All of this is a work in progress when it comes to how much they trust or continue to trust these governments. There are high expectations, which means governments need to live up to those expectations.”
The survey also revealed Arab youths are becoming more entrepreneurial and less reliant on government jobs.
Two-thirds believed this generation was more likely to start a business than in previous generations, while the percentage of respondents who would prefer to work in the private sector also grew to 31 percent across the Arab world, compared to 2013, when the level was between 24-28 percent depending on GCC and non-GCC states.
Jay Leveton, CEO of Penn Schoen Berland, which conducted the survey with ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller, said high unemployment was driving Arab youths to take control of their own earning prospects.
“I think what we’re seeing is, there’s certain things that they can control when it comes to the economy and there’s certain things that they can’t control and they can control their skills and the ability to learn certain skills in order to be successful in the marketplace,” he said.
“There’s a high level of confidence in being able to do that and they need to control what they can do because they can’t control who’s going to be able to offer them a job or are they going to be able to get the salary they want.
“There’s anxiety around whether jobs are going to be there or that they’re going to get the salary that they want.”
Arab youths also ranked the UAE as the most desired country to live in out of 20 global countries, including the UK, USA and Germany.
The annual survey has become a yearly insight into the attitudes and aspirations of the region’s 200 million youth, which account for 60 percent of the entire Arab population.