The single greatest priority for young people in the Middle East is living in a democratic country, according to the findings of the 2010 ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey, the largest study of its kind of the region’s largest demographic. The finding echoes the results of the 2009 survey, conducted well over a year before the start of recent regional unrest, which identified the yearning for greater political participation as the defining characteristic of Arab youth.
Conducted by leading international polling firm Penn Schoen Berland (PSB), the Third Annual ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey included 2,000 face-to-face interviews with Arab nationals and Arab expatriates between the ages of 18-24 in the six Gulf Cooperation Council nations (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates), as well as in Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.
Those interviews were conducted in December 2010 and January 2011 and in February and March of this year, in the wake of protests across the region, PSB conducted an additional poll of 500 young people in five countries, including Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.
The findings reveal that, while the importance of democracy is even more pronounced, it is balanced by a desire for stability. Support of the protests is high among this group and so is the belief in the positive impact of these movements. However, young people in these countries are markedly less confident that their own countries are moving in the right direction than they were just a few months earlier.
“During this period of seismic change across much of the Arab world, it is more important than ever that we understand the hopes, fears and aspirations of the region’s youth,” says Burson-Marsteller worldwide CEO Mark Penn. “As our 2009 survey showed, and as this year’s report further validates, the highest priority for young people in the region remains participation and representation in the political life of their country of residence.
“Recent events in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and elsewhere are the manifestation of this fundamental truth: Arab youth have a deep and enduring desire for democracy.”
Other key findings:
• The high cost of living is perceived as the most significant challenge, followed by unemployment; in both instances, the level of concern is much higher among youth in non-Gulf states than in Gulf states
• Arab youth are significantly more concerned about the gap between the rich and poor than they were in 2009, especially in Jordan, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia
• While 63 percent of GCC youth say they expect to pursue further education, just 14 percent of non-GCC youth believe the same
• Arab youth prefer to work in the private sector (47 percent), rather than the public sector (40 percent), although Saudi youth (79 percent) strongly prefer to work for government; more than half of all regional youth say that they intend to start their own business in the next five years
• 80 percent of Arab youth now say they use the Internet on a daily basis, up from 56 percent in 2009; social networking is also expanding dramatically
• Television remains by far both the most popular and most trusted source of news for youth across the region
• Arab youth say that traditional values are extremely important to them, especially youth in Iraq (94 percent) and Bahrain (91 percent)
• Young Arabs have increasingly favourable views of major global powers, although Gulf and non-Gulf youth have very different perceptions about the dominant powers in the East and West; youth across the region also say that the concept of global citizenship is increasingly important to them