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Arab Youth Doubt Democracy Will Be Delivered

Most of the Arab world’s young adults are uncertain as to whether democracy will ever work in the region. Only 36 percent of them believe it can eventually prevail over authoritarianism—that’s just one of the findings from the latest annual Arab Youth Survey.

That’s a stark contrast to recent years, writes Sunil John, the CEO of the company who commissioned the survey. “Ninety-two percent of the Arab youth polled in 2011 said “living in democracy” was their most important desire.”

That optimism is now all but gone, he added, “Arab youth are conflicted about whether democracy will ever work in the Middle East.”

In addition to doubting democracy, fears of ISIS and worries of unemployment are at the forefront of young minds in the region.


The report also highlighted concerns about falling energy prices amongst oil-producing Arab countries. Young people in Kuwait were the most worried about their country’s oil exports, with 90 percent of those surveyed saying they were concerned. Only 49 percent of participants in countries that don’t export oil said they were concerned. But most young Arabs throughout the region agree that low oil prices are not permanent.

The ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller public relations company in Dubai commissioned the survey, which collected data on the attitudes of men and women, aged 18 to 24. The results from the survey were released last week.

The questions were posed during 3,500 face-to-face interviews during January and February of this year. The countries included Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, Yemen and the Palestinian territories. Syria was excluded for obvious security reasons.

The sample’s gender split was 50:50 and there were 200 participants per country, excluding Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates with 300 participants each and Iraq and the Palestinian territories with just 150 each. The survey also attempted to gauge opinions with a geographic spread within countries, instead of relying on participants in capital cities.

Despite the region’s troubles young Arabs remain guardedly optimistic with three out of five agreeing that things in their counties are headed on the right path. For inspiration on that direction, most of the survey participants look within the region.

The United Arab Emirates seems to be a role model for other Arab countries. When asked, “Which country in the world, if any, would you most like your country to be like?” the most common answer was the U.A.E. at 22 percent, which was ahead of North American and European countries.

When looking for a friend, most participants also turned to other Arabs instead of further afield. When asked who they thought their country’s biggest ally was, the most common response at 30 percent was Saudi Arabia, however this was followed by the United States at 23 percent.

In all, the survey provides a degree of insight in a data-poor part of the world on the breadth and variation of youth opinion throughout the region.


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