By Michael Jabri-Pickett
Comment: The 2017 Arab Youth Survey is out and there are more issues that divide the MENA than unite it
The Middle East is a divided region. For people who live in the GCC this is an oxymoron. We know that there are economic, cultural and historical factors that separate the Middle East into three distinct areas: the GCC, the Levant and North Africa.
If you live in the Gulf, you know that what happens here is a world away from the Levant and North Africa. The turmoil in Iraq and Syria; the dysfunctional political wranglings in Lebanon; the 75 years of turmoil in the Palestinian Territories; the recent bombings in Egypt; the fighting in Libya. Those events do not put our safety at risk.
Then along comes the 2017 edition of the annual Arab Youth Survey with proof that attitudes have never been more different.
From the hot-button topics of the day (Trump and Daesh) to the issues that are essential for a country to reach its full potential (education and employment), the Arab Youth Survey takes the temperature of what 18 to 24 year olds are thinking.
Conducted from February 7 to March 7 (which means after Donald Trump assumed office; and after the travel restrictions for citizens from Muslim countries wanting to go to the US; but before the American president imposed the electronics ban on many Middle East airlines), the survey tells the world what Arab youths in the MENA believe.
A total of 3,500 face-to-face interviews were conducted by PSB Research. Only nationals participated, and an equal number of women and men were interviewed in Arabic and English.
On some issues, Arab youths across the region agree. For instance, after Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman met in the Oval Office with the 45th US president on March 14, he declared Trump to be “a true friend of Muslims”. The majority of Arab youths living in the Middle East, however, disagree. They believe that Trump is anti-Muslim. A total of 70 percent of respondents (from across the Middle East) believe this to be the case, with 78 percent of Emiratis agreeing, and 87 percent of Qataris.
On many issues, however, where you live tells how you feel about the future, and this is where the region’s divisiveness rears its head.
The optimism in the GCC, for instance, is not evident in the Levant nor in North Africa. Nationals were asked: “Thinking about the last five years, in general, do you think things in your country are going in the right direction or the wrong direction?” A total of 85 percent of respondents in the GCC answered “right direction”; while only 51 percent in North Africa said “right direction”; and only 14 percent in the Levant.
When it comes to education, the geographical divide is just as telling. When asked: “Thinking about education in your country, how satisfied are you with the preparation of students for jobs of the future?” In the GCC, 80 percent answered “satisfied”; while 33 percent answered “satisfied” in North Africa and 34 percent in the Levant.
What will surprise many is the power English holds. When asked: “How strongly do you agree or disagree with this statement – On a daily basis, I use English more than Arabic”. Nearly 70 percent of respondents in the GCC said “agree”.
Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there is now evidence that the Middle East is divided. North Africa has always had a different feel to the Levant, and the GCC has always been apart from North Africa and the Levant. But when opinions are proven by statistical evidence, we inevitably ask: What does it all mean?