Dubai: Young Arabs feel religion plays a very big a role in the Middle East and believe that it is time for religious institutions to be reformed, even as they have higher expectations from their governments and the educational institutions in their countries, the 11th annual ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey released in Dubai yesterday revealed.
The survey findings are based on 3,300 face-to-face interviews conducted by PSB between January 6 and 29, 2019, with young Arab nationals aged 18 to 24 in 15 states in the Middle East and North Africa, covering a 50:50 male female split.
The survey, the largest independent study of its kind into the region’s largest demographic, finds that two in three (66 per cent) young Arabs say religion plays too big a role in the region — an increase of 16 percentage points since 2015 — while even more (79 per cent) say the region needs to reform its religious institutions. This call for reform can likely be explained by the fact that half (50 per cent) say the Arab world’s religious values are holding the region back. At the same time, many say religion is losing its influence, particularly outside the GCC.
Regional conflicts and foreign relations
Considering several ongoing conflicts in the region, Arab youth view the geopolitical situation among the top obstacles facing the Middle East.
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict remains a real source of concern for many young Arabs (79 per cent), while 73 per cent say the civil war in Syria should end regardless of whether Bashar Al Assad stays in power or not.
The 2019 survey also explores how young Arabs perceive other countries in the region and outside the Middle East. More than nine in 10 (93 per cent) young Arabs say the UAE is an ally of their country. Nearly as many young Arabs view Egypt (84 per cent) and Saudi Arabia (80 per cent) as allies to their country.
Meanwhile, a strong majority say the United States is an adversary (59 per cent) rather than an ally (41 per cent). In fact, views on the US among Arab youth are nearly as polarising as the views on Iran (67 per cent adversary vs. 32 per cent ally). When asked whether US or Russia is a stronger ally of their country, young Arabs are just as likely to select Russia (37 per cent) as the US (38 per cent), with another 25 per cent saying that neither of the two global powers are an ally.
“Young Arabs who have grown up against a backdrop of extremism and geopolitical conflicts are tired of the region being defined by war and conflict,” Sunil John, president, ASDA’A BCW, said.
“They say they want their leaders to focus on the economy and providing better services such as quality education and health care, and respondents, particularly in North Africa and the Levant, expect their governments to do much more to address these core concerns,” he added.
When it comes to the educational systems in the region, three in four young Arabs are unhappy with the quality of education and more than half would chose to pursue higher education in the West.
As much as half also believe that their country’s education system does not prepare them for the jobs of the future. This perception is especially high in the Levant (73 per cent), and lower among young Arabs in the GCC (20 per cent).
The findings also showed that while 38 per cent of young Arabs in the GCC would prefer to pursue higher education in a Western country, 44 per cent would choose their own country and 18 per cent would chose an Arab country for university and post-graduate studies.
Young Arabs, particularly in the Levant and North Africa, say accessibility to drugs in their countries is on the rise.
More than half (57 per cent) believe drug use is on the rise and drugs are easy to obtain in their country.
The perceived rise of drug use among youth is particularly prevalent in the Levant (76 per cent) and North Africa (59 per cent), and lower in the GCC (36 per cent).
Encouragement to use drugs by friends at work or at school was perceived by 62 per cent of the Arab youth as the main reason behind this trend. Other reasons include using drugs for stress relief (45 per cent), as a result of boredom (43 per cent), easy accessibility (43 per cent), lack of entertainment options (41 per cent) and as a social activity (9 per cent).
When asked about ways to curb drug use in the region, 63 per cent of Arab youth suggested stricter laws, more efficient law enforcement (58 per cent), better education and awareness on the negative effects of drugs (54 per cent), and better rehabilitation and counselling services (50 per cent).
Seeking medical care for mental health issues such as anxiety and depression does not carry a positive connotation in most areas of the Arab World, with half of all young Arabs believing there is a stigma around seeking help.
When asked about mental health issues, a majority (54 per cent) say accessing quality medical care for mental health issues is scarce in their country. The figure increases in Levant countries, (81 per cent) and is the lowest in the GCC (28 per cent).
The survey reveals that mental health is not an issue on the margins, as nearly one in three (31 per cent) say they know someone suffering from mental health issues. Participants referred to personal relationships as their biggest source of stress, followed by academics, family issues, job-related stress, difficult financial situation and the lack of national safety and security, a factor that is especially high in the Levant.
E-commerce and media consumption
Over the past five years, social media has become the dominant source of news among 80 per cent of Arab youth, while online new portals are now on par with TV. The findings show that 60 per cent trust social media, while 55 per cent trust traditional media, including TV, newspapers and radio.
Nine in ten young Arabs use at least one of the major social media channels daily, with WhatsApp being the highest used platform in the GCC and Levant, and second highest in North Africa after Facebook.
The number of young Arabs shopping online has also significantly spiked over the past year from 53 per cent to 71 per cent. Clothing, food such as prepared meals, and electronics are the key drivers of e-commerce among young Arabs, the survey showed.