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Arab youth prefer stability over democracy — survey

ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey
(Photos: ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey)
AMMAN — A majority of young men and women, who endured regional and global turmoil in the last decade, such as the Arab Spring and most recently the COVID-19 pandemic, said they believed stability was more significant than democracy.اضافة اعلان

The 14th ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey said that more than eight in 10, or 82 percent, of those surveyed in the GCC and MENA region said that “promoting stability is more important than promoting democracy.”

But the survey noted that a majority, or 60 percent of those polled, said they “are concerned about the increased role of government in their everyday lives”.

“Today’s youth nevertheless admit that their voice matters to their leadership, with 88 percent saying so in the GCC, and 67 percent of youth in North Africa concurring,” it said. “Youth in the Levant are more ambivalent, however, at 50 percent.”

“Arab youth in MENA also point to improved gender equality, with 59 percent of women overall and 62 percent of men saying men and women have equal rights, according to the survey.

“Young Arab men and women in MENA, a cohort that has lived through the Arab Spring, the rise and fall of Daesh, and the COVID-19 pandemic, are charting a new course as they contemplate their future and now priorities stability over democracy,” the survey said.

The statement said ASDA’A BCW commissioned IDS Research & Consultancy to conduct face-to-face interviews with 3,400 Arab citizens aged 18 to 24 years old in their home nations from May 13 to June 16. It did not disclose a margin of error.

It said interviews with an equal sample of men and women took place in 50 cities across a total of 17 Arab states. The survey covered Yemen and five Gulf Cooperation Council states, namely Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, North Africa’s Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan and Tunisia, and the Levant’s Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria.



Presented under six distinct themes — Identity, Livelihood, Politics, Global Citizenship, Lifestyle and Aspirations — the findings “reveal a generation at a crossroads, confronted with the dilemma of preserving their traditional culture and values on the one hand, and embracing modernization and reform on the other”, the statement said.

 It said most of the so-called Arab Spring generation, which entered adulthood after the momentous events of the early 2010s, said they “have more freedoms today because of the protests, that their voice matters to their leadership and that women have equal rights”.

But 57 percent in the GCC, 62 percent in North Africa, and 72 percent in the Levant “argued that democracy in the region will never work”.

In addition to promoting stability, 82 percent in all three regions had better policymaking to address persistent material concerns like jobs, education, and rising living costs high on their list of demands.

While 87 percent of Arab youth in the GCC said their government has the right policies to tackle the issues most important to young people, less than six in 10 in North Africa, and barely a fifth, or 21 percent in the Levant said the same.

“Against this backdrop, more young people would prefer to work for themselves or with their family, 28 percent, than for the government or the private sector,” according to the survey.

The key findings of the 2022 ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey were unveiled Wednesday in Dubai, UAE, by  ASDA’A BCW, the leading communications consultancy in MENA.

Now in its 14th year, “the annual study of MENA’s largest demographic, its 200 million plus youth, is the largest survey-of-its-kind, and one of the few attitudinal studies to interview its subjects face to face”, according to a statement by ASDA’A.



According to the 2009 ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey, 92 percent of respondents said “living in a democracy was their single most important priority.”

“There has been a decisive shift since, with 82 percent of youth overall saying that promoting stability was more important than promoting democracy, even though a majority, or 60 percent said they are concerned about the increased role of government in their everyday lives,” according to the statement.

The rising living costs and unemployment were the biggest obstacles facing the region, according to the respondents. “These have been their top two concerns in every year of the survey except 2016 and 2017, when youth cited the rise of Daesh and the threat of terrorism as their biggest worries”, the statement said.

“More than a third, or 41 percent, said they are struggling to meet their basic expenses (this rises to 63 percent in the Levant), and more than half, or 53 percent, receive financial support from their family,” the statement said.

Education quality remains a persistent concern. At least 83 percent said they were “very or somewhat concerned”, though anxiety has eased slightly in the wake of the pandemic, “while pessimism about job prospects is particularly intense in the Levant and North Africa (overall 49 percent) in MENA said it would be difficult to find a job in their country)”, according to the survey.



While many are now prepared to work for themselves to make a living, “39 percent, still want to work for the government, though the proportion saying so has shrunk 10 percent since 2019,” the survey showed.

“The percentage preferring to work in the private sector has also dropped over the past three years, from more than a quarter, or 28 percent to just a fifth,” it said. 

Bleak employment opportunities are encouraging Arab youth to emigrate, with nearly 45 percent saying they are either actively trying to emigrate or have considered emigrating, up from 42 percent in 2020, and 33 percent last year.

Three of the most popular destinations are namely Canada, 22 percent, Germany 19 percent, and the US 17 percent. The UAE is ranked fourth at 14 percent.

The uncertainty of young Arab men and women today is arguably most conspicuous in their attitudes towards religion.

Overall, 41 percent said their religion is most important to their identity, a 7 percent increase over 2021, followed by their nationality at 18 percent, their family or tribe at 17 percent, and cultural heritage at 7 percent, though the attachment to religion was less in the Levant at 24 percent, the statement said.

Overall, three-quarters, or 70 percent, and a clear majority in all three regions expressed concern about the loss of traditional values and culture.

Most youth in all three regions also agreed that preserving the region’s religious and cultural identity is more important than creating a more globalized society (66 percent said this overall). At least 70 percent of youth in the GCC, and 60 percent in the North Africa said that Sharia Islamic law should be the basis of their legal systems, rather than civil or common law, although just over 4 in 10 in the Levant agree.

In contrast, 73 percent of Arab youth overall (78 percent in the GCC, 76 percent in North Africa and 65 percent in the Levant) said that religion “plays too big a role in Middle Eastern life, and more than three-quarters, or 77 percent, said that religious institutions in the region require reform”, according to the survey.

At least 55 percent also said that the Arabic language is less important to them than their parents, although only 40 percent of GCC youth shared this view.



Like their peers in other countries, young Arabs struggle to disconnect from social media, with three-quarters, or 76 percent, either strongly agreeing or somewhat agreeing that they find it difficult to disconnect. The figure jumps to 83 percent in the GCC.

Social media habits are changing, with half of Arab youth now saying they use TikTok daily, more than double the number, or 21 percent, who said they used the platform in 2020.

Meanwhile, the use of Facebook and Twitter has declined over the same period. WhatsApp is the most popular app overall.

Arab youth increasingly rely on social media for news (social media consumption for news rose 4 percent to 65 percent in 2022), followed by TV, online news sources, and printed newspapers in distant fourth place.

But television is the most trusted news source, as 84 percent of the respondents said. Two-thirds, or 66 percent described social media as trustworthy, compared with 71 percent who trust printed newspapers and online news sources.

Online shopping has also grown markedly in recent years, with 89 percent of the sample in this year’s study admitting they either shop via a social media app, or a website a few times a month, compared with 50 percent in 2018.

“An impressive 98 percent of GCC youth admit to shopping online monthly,” according to the statement.

A quarter, or 24 percent of Arab youth said they were in debt, with student loans, car loans and medical bills being three of the main causes. More than a tenth of GCC youth, or 13 percent attributed their debt to “excessive shopping”, after car loans and credit card payments.

With COVID-19 restrictions easing and the economy rebounding in some Middle East nations, young Arabs are the most optimistic they have been for five years, with 64 percent saying their best days lie ahead (87 percent in the GCC, 61 percent in North Africa, and 45 percent in the Levant).

More than half, or 54 percent, said they will have a better life than their parents, although just over a third of Levant youth think their lives will be better. “The impact of the Ukraine conflict and global economic headwinds may yet test the resilience of Arab youth,” the statement noted.

BCW’s Global CEO Donna Imperato said the findings of the 14th ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey “open a window onto the shifting dynamics of the Arab world”.

“Once again, the ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey provides rich data for policymakers, businesses and communicators who want to better understand the hopes, attitudes, and aspirations of the MENA’s region’s largest demographic,” the CEO said.

“While this year’s study arguably paints the most enigmatic picture of Arab youth in its 14-year history, some characteristics of the so-called Arab Spring Generation are clear to see. They are united by their faith, their roots, their resourcefulness, and their demand for a fair chance to succeed,” Imperato added.

BCW’s MENA President and ASDA’A BCW Founder Sunil John said the research presented further valuable insights into the mindset of young Arab men and women across MENA, and the issues decision makers must address if they are to make the most of their potential.

“At ASDA’A BCW, we believe that to understand the Arab world, we must understand the hearts and minds of its largest demographic, its youth. Once again, this year’s survey pinpoints critical themes in their outlook,” John said.

“The current generation of Arab youth are moving on from the divisions of the early 2010s but have yet to decide the direction they will take. They want more freedoms, but they prioritize stability,” John said. “They seek reform but want to preserve their culture and traditions. They are optimistic and self-reliant, believing their best days lie ahead, but their expectations are high.”

ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey can be found on arabyouthsurvey.com


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