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Fri 12 Apr 2013 11:31 AM

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Our best days are ahead - Special Report Arab Youth Survey 2013

The results of the latest Arab Youth Survey suggest that the region’s youth have an overwhelmingly positive outlook on the future

Our best days are ahead - Special Report Arab Youth Survey 2013
Optimism among Arab youth is highest in the UAE at 88 percent

When the youth of the Arab world speak, it is time to listen. And so for the fifth year in succession, the ASDA'A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey is out, and once again it was worth reading closely.

So what are the youth saying this time? Three quarters of Arab youth have said their best days are ahead of them. In each of the fifteen countries surveyed, a clear majority are optimistic about the future, with a nearly equal percentage of youth in the Gulf and non-Gulf states (76 percent and 72 percent, respectively) saying “our best days are ahead of us”. Likewise, more than half (58 percent) believe their country is “heading in the right direction” considering the last twelve months, while 55 percent say their national economy is also heading in the right direction.

In the wake of the Arab Spring, regional youth are prouder than ever of their national identity — and they increasingly embrace modern values and beliefs. Nearly nine out of ten young Arabs (87 percent) feel “more proud to be an Arab” following the uprisings. For the second consecutive year, “being paid a fair wage” is the highest priority of Middle East youth, cited by 82 percent of all those surveyed. The importance of fair pay is followed by home ownership, with 66 percent of Arab youth describing “owning their own home” as “very important”.

Meanwhile, the UAE continues to be regarded as a model nation. Asked to name the country, anywhere in the world, where they would most like to live, Arab youth, as they did in 2012, cite the UAE as their preference. France is the country outside MENA regarded most favourably by Arab youth, followed by Germany and China.  As the memory of the Arab Spring starts to fade, the overall percentage of young people updating themselves on news and current affairs daily appears to have fallen, from its 2012 peak of 52 percent to 46 percent this year. Representing a significant shift in media consumption patterns, television is now the primary source of news for 72 percent of regional youth (up from 62 percent in 2012), while 59 percent of all Arab youth rely on online news sources, an eight percent  increase from 2012. Newspaper readership among Arab youth continues to plummet, from 62 percent in 2011, to 32 percent in 2012 and 24 percent this year. Magazines have experienced a slight gain from last year, but only eight percent of Arab youth say they get their news from magazines. By comparison, social media is cited as the primary source of news of 28 percent of all Arab youth, up from 20 percent last year.

Television continues to be the most-trusted news source, cited by 40 percent of respondents, but trust in TV has dropped, from 49 percent in 2012 and 60 percent in 2011.

1. Best days ahead

74%
of those surveyed across fifteen countries in the MENA region believe their best days are ahead of them, even though there are concerns regarding inflation, unemployment, unrest and a lack of democracy.

Young people in Kuwait were the most upbeat with 82 percent of them agreeing the best of their future was ahead of them followed by 78 percent in Morocco and 77 percent in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Ten years on after the US-led invasion of their country, about 71 percent of Iraqis said they're optimistic about the future.

Optimism is highest in the UAE at 88 percent, followed by Oman (80 percent) and Saudi Arabia (77 percent), while 49 percent of those surveyed in countries outside the Gulf also believe their country of residence is heading in the direction, a slight increase compared with the year before.

About 43 percent of young Libyans polled believe their country is heading in the right direction, compared to 70 percent in 2012.  Lebanon's troubled past, plus the current revolt over the border in Syria, has resulted in just 37 percent of young Lebanese believing their country is heading in the right direction.

Only 42 percent of young Tunisians agree that their state is heading in the right direction, while in Egypt, 35 percent say that they “feel anxious about what the future will bring.” Only 58 percent of Egyptian youth agree their country is heading in the right direction compared with 74 percent in 2012.

About 55 percent of all Arab youth believe their country is heading in the right direction. About 45 percent believe their government is more transparent and representative, while 59 percent believe recent changes in their country will have a positive impact on them. The Arab world in general is "better off" since the uprisings according to 70 percent of those surveyed, marginally less than 72 percent in 2012.

2. Arab identity

The overwhelming majority of Arab youth expressed a greater sense of national pride and Arab identity following the protests that swept across the region in the past two years and led to the toppling of leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and the change of leadership in Yemen.

87%

of those polled said they were “more proud to be an Arab,” after the so-called Arab Spring.

Of those surveyed across fifteen countries in the MENA region, Qataris expressed the greatest sense of pride with 66 percent saying they felt favourably about their Arab identity.

In Yemen, 65 percent of the people said they were more proud about their identity.

While in Tunisia, where the death of Mohamed Bouazizi set in motion the Arab Spring and the end of the 23-year rule of Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali, 65 percent of the people also take pride in their Arab identity.

The sense of pride among the Arab youth is reflected in their confidence in their economic outlook. Four out of ten Arabs believe their “traditional values are outdated” and it’s time to “embrace modern values and beliefs,” according to the survey.

3. Employment

Getting paid a “fair wage” is a top priority for 82 percent of those polled similar to results a year earlier.

In Jordan, 87 percent of respondents said the importance of fair pay was a priority. Lebanon follows Jordan with 86 percent of those polled prioritising wages. The rate is marginally less at 84 percent in Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE. However, unemployment was a concern for 41 percent of those polled in the Gulf and for 46 percent of those outside the region.

Interest in working for the government and taking on public service jobs that have traditionally been sought after in the region, fell by about ten percent to 46 percent, according to the survey.

More than half of those polled in Algeria, Qatar and the UAE expressed an interest in securing employment in the public sector.

In contrast, young people appear to be less interested in private-sector jobs with 26 percent of those polled expressing an interest in securing employment in a non-public sector. Respondents in Egypt, Lebanon and Bahrain expressed an increased desire to work for private entities.

Nearly half of all those surveyed said they would like to work in the Gulf states, with about 25 percent saying Europe would be a desirable choice followed by 10 percent who chose the US, 5 percent who picked North Africa and less than 4 percent who would opt for Canada.

The Arab world has the lowest employment-to-population ratio of 52.6 percent, below the world average of 65.8 percent, according to the United Nations.

4. Home Ownership

Owning one’s home is the second most important concern among the youth of the Arab world, preceding the desire to “live in a democracy” or living without a fear of terrorism, according to the survey. Of those surveyed across the MENA region 66 percent said home ownership was of paramount concern.

25%

of Arab youth expect to purchase homes in their 30s and 40s in line with purchasing trends globally, according to the survey.

About 21 percent of Egyptians and 26 percent of Iraqis believe they will be unable to buy a home until they are well into their 40s while about fifteen percent have concerns about being unable to purchase a home at all.

Price is the underlying factor when considering making a purchase in the property market. About 40 percent of Jordanians list price as the dominant element in their decision making process when considering buying a home, followed by 38 percent in Qatar.

Of those surveyed 59 percent expressed a desire to buy a home.

5. Rising cost of living

Inflation is the greatest concern for the overwhelming majority of Arab youth with

62%

of those polled saying they were “very concerned” about the rising cost of living. That was in line with last year’s findings where 63 percent of respondents in twelve countries said they were very concerned about living costs, up from 57 percent in ten Arab nations in 2011.

70%

of youth in Lebanon are concerned about the rise of living costs — the highest in any country. This is followed by Iraq with 68 percent and surprisingly, the UAE with 66 percent.

The anxiety of Emirati youth may be a response to rising property and commodity prices, though inflation in the country has levelled off considerably since before the downturn.

Youth in Saudi Arabia and Qatar appear to be the least concerned about rising living costs, but 58 percent of respondents in both countries still say they are “very concerned” about the issue.

In Qatar and Oman consumer prices are expected to rise by about three percent, and by two percent in Bahrain, 1.7 percent in the UAE, and one percent in Libya.

56%

of all Arab youth surveyed said the rising cost of living was the “biggest challenge” facing the Middle East today. That is up from 54 percent in 2012 and 46 percent in 2011, and seen as a “bigger challenge” than “corruption in government and public life”, “the economy”, “unemployment” and “human rights”.

57%

of youth in the wealthier Gulf states find rising costs as a bigger challenge than those polled outside the region. Outside region the figure is 55 percent.

Again, inflation-related anxieties in the Middle East reflect concern globally about rising prices, particularly rising food prices and sustained high energy costs.

6. Unrest and lack of democracy

The future of the Arab world is tied to civil unrest and lack of democracy, according to nearly half of those surveyed.

44%

believed civil unrest has an impact on the future of the region while 43 percent saw the lack of democracy as a defining element to progressing.

49%

of all the young people surveyed in Yemen nearly half (49 percent) said civil unrest and 33 percent believed lack of democracy were impediments. In Egypt, which still experiences sporadic outbursts of violence, 49 percent of young people say the lack of democracy is a fundamental concern while the rate in Bahrain is 48 percent.

Other salient issues viewed as hurdles include the lack of unity among Arabs, the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “lack of political direction,” and absence of “strong leadership.” Egyptians - who are still coming to grips with the ascent of the Muslim Brotherhood after two years of street protests toppled Hosni Mubarak -  are the most politically disillusioned, with 32 percent of respondents identifying a lack of political direction as a key obstacle in the region. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain follow, with 30 percent.

In Yemen, which has suffered from an insurgency in the north of the country and infighting in the wake of the Arab Spring, a “lack of Arab unity” was a concern for 35 percent of those surveyed.

Democracy, political direction and unity among Arabs was more of a concern among non-Gulf Arabs than those in the GCC, with 29 percent of respondents viewing the Palestinian impasse with Israel as the region’s largest impediment, according to the survey. Nearly half of those polled are concerned about the prospect of terrorism and about 41 percent are worried about the conflicts in the region.

The rising tide of Islamist movements in the region in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt has about 40 percent of those polled “very concerned,” while 21 percent feel domestic instability is the region’s biggest challenge at the moment.

7. UAE most appealing

The United Arab Emirates is the number one choice of about 31 percent of the Arab youth surveyed, followed by 18 percent who find France appealing.  The US and Turkey had 16 percent and Saudi Arabia had 14 percent.

Saudis prefer to live in the UAE the most out of all those polled, with about 36 percent picking the emirates, followed by 35 percent of Egyptians. The average annual percentage change in the population of the UAE was 12.26 percent from 2005 to 2010 according to United Nations data. The country’s total population has more than doubled from 4 million people in 2005.

31%

of all those surveyed said they would like their country to be like the UAE, while 17 percent picked France and 16 percent opted for the US and Turkey.

Nearly half of those polled (47 percent) believe the Gulf is the best place to be employed over anywhere else. Europe follows in second place accounting for 24 percent of the votes and the US in third place with ten percent.

88%

The vast majority of Emirati youth view their country’s development as being on track, according to the survey.

The economies of the UAE and Dubai, in particular, continue to expand on the back of services, trade and tourism, and a rebound in the property market which crashed about five years ago, with GDP growth forecast at about four percent this year for the emirates.

Emerging markets and developing economies are projected to grow about 5.6 percent this year, up from 5.3 percent last year, while Europe contracted 0.4 percent last year, and the US economy increased 2.2 percent, according to IMF estimates.

About 54 percent of the Arab youth believe their country can compete globally.

8. First choice

44%

For the second year in a row, around 44 percent of the Arab youth view France as the most favourable country outside the MENA region. About 49 percent of Saudis have positive views regarding the European country, followed by 38 percent of Emirati youth. The number of Libyans who look favourably on the country has declined to 40 percent from 63 percent while 55 percent of Egyptians and 49 percent of Qataris have positive views of the country.

39%

of those surveyed have positive views of Germany and China while 29 percent have favourable impressions of India. About 32 percent view the UK positively while the standing of the US continues to slide, dropping eleven percent to 30 percent.

Egyptians are the biggest fans of the UK with 44 percent of those surveyed having a positive attitude towards the country, followed by 40 percent of Omanis, 38 percent of Yemenis, and 37 percent of Bahrainis. The US is looked at positively by 42 percent of Omanis, 41 percent of Tunisians but only 27 percent of Egyptians, 24 percent of Saudis, 23 percent of Libyans and 20 percent of Lebanese.

9. News consumption

News consumption, which peaked with the protests that swept the Arab world, is on the decline, according to the survey. Compared with 52 percent of Arab youth who followed the news in 2012 and eighteen percent in 2011, the number of those surveyed who continue to do so has dropped to 46 percent in early 2013. Television continues to be the dominant medium through which news followers get their information, increasing to 72 percent from 62 percent in 2012.

The internet continues to attract more users who derive their news digitally attracting 59 percent of Arab youth, up from 51 percent in 2012. Newspaper popularity continues to slide in tandem with trends elsewhere globally, with only 25 percent of those surveyed deriving their news from print. That compares with a high of 65 percent in 2010, then 62 percent in 2011 and 32 percent in 2012.

Only 8%

retrieve news from magazines, which is a marginal increase from six percent in 2012, however considerably lower than 25 percent in 2010 and seventeen percent in 2011. The decline in newspapers and magazines is also taking place in those who listen to the radio for news, plunging from a high of 41 percent in 2010 to six percent in early 2013.

10. Social media

The popularity of social media, which was instrumental in galvanising protests and dissent across the Arab world during the last two years of unrest, continues its uptake with the number of Arab youth who use it exceeding those who turn to newspapers.

With an increased interest in current affairs, the internet and the sense of empowerment that social media provides Arab youth, about 28 percent of all those polled say they turn to social media outlets for their news, up from 20 percent in 2012. Some 64 percent of those polled say they have a Facebook account and 40 percent maintain they are active on the world’s largest blogging site Twitter. The Middle East is one of the fastest-growing markets for Twitter.

81%

An overwhelming majority (81 percent) of Arab young people say they are active users of the internet with blogging and listening to music being the primary interest. About 57 percent of those polled in the Gulf and 60 percent of non-Gulf Arabs say they listen to music over the internet.

In Algeria, a resounding 92 percent of the youth say they actively read blogs. That far exceeds the 46 percent average of the rest of the region. About 38 percent are active on blogging websites while eighteen percent have their own sites. Bahrainis are the most likely to blog, according to the survey.