Focus: Democracy doesn't work, say young Arabs

Annual ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey found 73% of respondents are concerned about the growth of extremism across the Middle East, with only half convinced their national gov'ts can deal with the threat
Focus: Democracy doesn't work, say young Arabs
By Sarah Townsend
Tue 21 Apr 2015 12:01 PM

The Middle East may never become fully democratic, the results of a survey of young Arabs revealed on Tuesday.

The seventh annual ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey found that Arab youth are unconvinced democracy will ever work in the Middle East.

According to the survey, 39 percent of Arab youth agreed with the statement “democracy will never work in the region”, 36 percent said it “could work” while the remaining 25 percent said they were unsure.

There is a conflict here, however, the survey said, as just 15 percent cited “lack of democracy” as the biggest obstacle facing the region, down from 38 percent in 2014 and 43 percent in 2013.

In 2011, “living in a democracy” was the most important desire for 92 percent of Arab youth polled.

There is also a striking lack of confidence among Arab youth that the legacy of the Arab Spring will bring about positive change. They see the rise of ISIL as the biggest obstacle facing the region, with 73 percent of respondents concerned about the growth of extremism across the Middle East but fewer than half (47 percent) saying they are confident their national governments can deal with the threat.


Many, too, are worried about unemployment – 81 percent of respondents said they were “concerned” by the lack of local job opportunities. More than a third (39 percent) of young Arabs said they are looking to start their own business within the next five years, with technology and retail cited as the most popular sectors.

The survey also found that while 73 percent of youth view the Arabic language as central to their national identity, almost half (47 percent) believe it is losing its value to English. Crucially, 36 percent of young Arabs use English more than Arabic on a daily basis and this is particularly prevalent in the GCC, where 56 percent said they use English more than Arabic, versus 24 percent in non-GCC countries.

Middle East communications agency ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller, with international polling firm Penn Schoen Berland, conducted face-to-face interviews with 3,500 Arab national men and women aged 18-24 years old in the GCC, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Palestine, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and Yemen.

The MENA market is known for its youthful demographic, with 60 percent of its population below the age of 25, noted Jeremy Galbraith, chief executive of Burson-Marsteller Europe, Middle East and Africa.

This year’s 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,” he added.

For the fourth consecutive year, the survey found that the United Arab Emirates remains the country in which most Arab youth would like to live, as well as the country they would most like their own nation to emulate. They placed the UAE ahead of 20 other countries including the United States, Germany and Canada. However, the UAE is the only Arab country in the top five choices identified by Arab youth. And when asked to name their country’s biggest ally, Saudi Arabia was cited also for the fourth year running.


The popularity of the UAE is a reflection of the country’s strong economic outlook and status as a safe haven amid regional turmoil, the survey suggested.

Sunil John, chief executive of ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller, said: “Across the region, the UAE is seen as a place where young Arabs are encouraged to learn, grow, and reach their full potential. 

“Last year, the UAE announced that 2015 is the Year of Innovation, and have implemented a plan to further enhance the country’s ability to create, nourish and cultivate new ideas and leaders across a broad spectrum of sectors, from technology start-ups to the arts and finance.

“The UAE is a beacon of hope for the region’s youth who have been living through a period of political turmoil in some parts of the region.”



For all the latest business news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Subscribe to Arabian Business' newsletter to receive the latest breaking news and business stories in Dubai,the UAE and the GCC straight to your inbox.