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The Arab Youth Survey reveals the COVID-19 pandemic has further increased young Arabs’ desire to emigrate from Mena region, with one-third of the region’s youth more likely to want to leave their country. Photo for illustrative purpose only. Image Credit:

Dubai: Nearly half of 200 million young Arabs in the Mena region have considered leaving their country, “frustrated with struggling economies and widespread government corruption”, suggests the ‘12th Annual ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey’ released on Tuesday.

The survey also reveals that the COVID-19 pandemic has further increased young Arabs’ desire to emigrate, with one-third of the region’s youth more likely to want to leave their country. Across the region, 42 per cent of young Arabs have considered emigrating to another country. The desire to leave is most prevalent (63 per cent) among youth in Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Yemen and Palestinian Territories.

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Meanwhile, young people in the oil-rich Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states are least likely (13 per cent) to consider leaving. The primary drivers of potential emigration are economic reasons (24 per cent) and corruption (16 per cent), with educational opportunities, new experiences and safety and security also playing a significant role.

UAE’s exceptional record

However, the UAE stands out as an exception, with nearly half (46 per cent) of all young Arabs selecting the Emirates as their country of choice, now for the ninth straight year. The UAE also rises to the top (52 per cent) when Arab youth across the region are asked which country their nation should emulate. Meanwhile, 97 per cent of Emiratis polled say they have never considered leaving the UAE for migrating to another country.

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Arab Youth Survey Image Credit: Seyyed Llata

The findings of Mena’s “largest independent study” on youth — conducted for leading PR agency ASDA’A BCW by PSB, a global research and analytics consultancy — reveals the opinions of young Arabs on a range of subjects. These include the anti-government protests that raged through parts of the region during the past year, gender rights, personal identity, employment, personal debt, foreign relations and media consumption.

Who was asked?

The survey polled 4,000 young Arab nationals aged 18 to 24 from 17 Arab states in the Middle East and North Africa with a 50:50 male female split. The research was conducted in two phases, with the main survey polling between January 19 and March 3, before the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the region; and the second COVID-19 Pulse Survey between August 18 and 26, conducted in six Arab states.

“The findings of our Arab Youth Survey highlight the unique complexities — and opportunities — that must be addressed to meet the aspirations of young people in the Arab world,” said Donna Imperato, Global CEO, BCW (Burson Cohn & Wolfe). “These insights on the region — one of the most diverse in the world and where the under-30s make up two thirds of the population — form the basis of the communications counsel that we provide to our clients, including governments, civil society organisations and the private sector.”

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Generation at stake

Sunil John, President, Middle East, BCW and Founder of ASDA’A BCW, said: “As an independent study, the ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey has consistently delivered evidence-based insights on the hopes and frustrations of young people in the Arab world. Set against the backdrop of street protests and a sharp oil price decline that have led to acute government budget deficits, the study demonstrates the link between poor governance and lack of opportunities. The findings underpin the need for many parts of the MENA region to focus on and nurture its youth dividend or risk losing a generation of its brightest young people.”

Wave of protests

Following a wave of anti-government protests across the region over the last 12 months, the survey reveals that almost nine in 10 young Arabs in Algeria, Iraq, Sudan and Lebanon supported the protests in their own countries. A majority of the youth in these four countries are optimistic that the protests would lead to real positive change.

The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have added to the possibility of more unrest, particularly in Lebanon, where nearly three-quarters of respondents in the COVID-19 Pulse Survey said they believe the pandemic has made protests against the political status quo more likely.

“The link between the protests and corruption can also be inferred from the fact that tackling government corruption is seen as the single largest priority for achieving progress in the Arab world [36 per cent of all respondents], ahead of any other issue, including creating well-paying jobs [32 per cent], and defeating terrorist organisations or resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict,” John added.

Worried about jobs

With job creation identified as the second most important priority for regional progress, almost nine in 10 young people (87 per cent) are concerned about unemployment, but only half (49 per cent) say they have confidence in their governments’ ability to deal with unemployment. The ongoing economic woes appear to be further compounded by the impact of COVID-19, with 20 per cent saying someone in their family has lost their job due to the pandemic, 30 per cent reporting higher household debt, and 72 per cent saying the pandemic has made it more difficult to find a job.

In a region with the world’s highest youth unemployment (over 26 per cent according to the International Labour Organisation), a rising number of young Arabs are looking beyond the government or the private sector to provide employment, instead preferring to work for themselves or their families (23 per cent vs 16 per cent in 2019). Two in five are also considering setting up their own business within the next five years — with youth in the GCC showing the greatest entrepreneurial spirit (55 per cent).

Debunking stereotypes

The survey also debunks stereotypical notions of the region, particularly on gender rights. A strong majority of young Arab women (75 per cent) say they have the same or more rights as men in their country. Young Arab women (76 per cent) and men (70 per cent) agree that a woman can benefit her family more by working than staying at home. UAE, Saudi Arabia seen as rising powers

Voicing their view on the changing dynamics of foreign affairs, Arab youth see Saudi Arabia and the UAE as the two rising Arab powers that have most influence on the geopolitical environment of the region (39 per cent and 34 per cent, respectively). Among non-Arab states, the US is seen having increased its influence in the region the most over the past five years. This year, the US is also seen more favourably (56 per cent) by Arab youth than in 2019 (41 per cent) or any point since 2016.

With two-thirds of the Arab population under the age of 30, the survey presents evidence-based insights into the attitudes of Arab youth, providing public and private sector organisations with data and analysis to inform their decision-making and policy creation. Download for free, the full findings and a White Paper on this year’s ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey at arabyouthsurvey.com

Top 10 findings

1. Migration

Nearly half of young Arabs have considered leaving their country; one-third are more likely to emigrate due to COVID-19.

However, for the ninth consecutive year, the UAE continues to prevail as the preferred nation for young Arabs to live in (46 per cent) and for their own nation to emulate (52 per cent). Meanwhile, 97 per cent of Emirati youth have never considered or tried to emigrate elsewhere.

2. Protests

Hopeful for change, young Arabs in strife-hit nations support anti-government protests and COVID-19 could lead to more political unrest. Almost nine in 10 young Arabs in Algeria, Iraq, Sudan and Lebanon supported the protests in their own countries.

3. Corruption

Tackling government corruption is a top priority for Arab youth; majority (76 per cent) say corruption still present despite the pandemic.

In the UAE, only one per cent said they believed there was corruption in government.

4. Personal debt

The percentage of young Arabs in personal debt is rising (35 per cent this year compared to 21 per cent last year). It is highest in Syria (73 per cent) and lowest in Kuwait (four per cent).

In the UAE, the figure is 14 per cent, one of the lowest ratios reported. Overall, student loans (26 per cent) and car loans (20 per cent) are the main reasons for going into debt.

5. Jobs

Unemployment is a top issue (87 per cent are concerned) and young Arabs are looking beyond traditional jobs. COVID-19 has made finding a job more difficult — 41 per cent of youth in the UAE say this is true compared to the overall 72 per cent figure.

6. Identity

Religion is central to the personal identity of young Arabs (40 per cent), more so than family or nationality. However, in the UAE only eight per cent selected ‘My religion’ as “most important to your personal identity” — the lowest rate among the 17 states covered. Algeria was highest at 72 per cent.

7. Gender rights

Most young Arab women (64 per cent) say they have the same rights as men. However, their work and family responsibilities are increasing since the pandemic — 67 per cent agree with this statement.

8. Model nations

For the ninth year running, the UAE remains the top country to live in, 42 per cent say, as well as emulate as a model nation, say 52 per cent of Arab youth. The US is the second most popular in both categories, with 33 per cent and 30 per cent in favour, respectively.

9. Foreign relations

Saudi Arabia (39 per cent), UAE (34 per cent) and the US (46 per cent in terms of non-Arab states) are seen as the three rising powers in the region. The UAE is viewed by 89 per cent of Arab youth as an ally of their country, followed by Egypt at 80 per cent, and Saudi Arabia at 78 per cent.

10. Digital generation

Young Arabs are increasingly embracing the digital revolution; use of online platforms has surged since the pandemic. Most (79 per cent) use social media to get their news; the least (21 per cent) get it from newspapers. Also, 80 per cent of them shop online, compared to just 53 per cent two years ago.