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Tue 12 Apr 2016 11:01 AM

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Religion plays too big a role in Middle East, say young Arabs

Latest Asdaa Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey shows region’s youth prefer stability to democracy

Religion plays too big a role in Middle East, say young Arabs

Five years after the outbreak of the Arab Spring and with several countries still in turmoil, the region’s young people have said they prefer stability to democracy, and that religion plays too big a role in the Middle East, according to the results of new research.

The annual Asdaa Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey, which was published on Tuesday, showed that only 36 percent of young Arabs feel the region is better off as a result of the uprisings, down from 72 percent in 2012, at the height of the unrest.

Over half (52 percent) of the young people questioned in the survey said that religion played too big a role in the Middle East, with that figure rising to 61 percent in the Gulf.

More than half of those surveyed (53 percent) said that promoting stability in the region is more important than promoting democracy (28 percent). This figure is even higher in the Gulf, where 62 percent felt that stability was more important than democracy (28 percent).

The survey also showed that Arab youth had overwhelmingly rejected the influence of ISIL/Daesh, with 77 percent expressing concern over the rise of the militant group. Seventy-eight percent of respondents said they rejected the group outright even if it were to employ less violent tactics, and 76 percent said they did not believe the group would succeed in its aim of establishing an Islamic state.

However, the research also showed that young people believed a lack of jobs in the region was the primary reason why many were attracted to ISIL, with 24 percent citing this as the primary factor. Another 25 percent said they did not know why anyone would be attracted to the militant group.

“If there has been one constant over the near decade we have been compiling this report, it has been employment, or rather the lack of it,” said Sunil John, the CEO of Asdaa Burson-Marsteller. “This year’s Survey adds a dangerous dimension; young people today see a lack of job opportunities as the single biggest factor driving a minority of their brethren into the arms of Daesh and other extremist groups.

“The stark reality is that fewer than half of all Arab youth believe they have decent prospects in the jobs market. The International Labour Organisation believes up to 75 million young people alone are jobless in the Arab world. This depressing statistic, and the corresponding pessimism felt by so many responders to our Survey, is a damning indictment of the governments that have failed to address this key issue.”

Nearly half of those surveyed (47 percent) said they believed the relations between the Sunni and Shi’a sects had worsened in the last five years, while 72 percent said they thought the widening divide has had a significant negative impact on ongoing unrest in the region.

The Arab Youth Survey conducted face to face interviews with 3,500 young people between the ages of 18 and 24 in 16 countries around the region.