Young Arabs are almost three times as concerned about the rising cost of living as they are about the region's conflicts, a survey shows. The second annual Asda'a Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey, which questioned 2,000 Arabs between the ages of 18 and 24 in the GCC, Egypt and the Levant last October, found that 67 per cent of the respondents were "very concerned" about the rising cost of living, while only 26 per cent were as concerned about Middle East conflicts.
But the most important priority for young people in the region was political - living in a democratic country - followed by good infrastructure and access to the best universities. "What you are finding, by young people saying they want to live in a democratic country, is that they want to have a voice and want to participate," said Karen Hughes, the global vice chairwoman of Burson-Marsteller. "And clearly, there are some findings in the survey that show they feel they are doing that."
Last year's survey focused on the differences between Arab and western youth and found that young Arab people were vastly more optimistic than their western peers, with 52 per cent of the Arabs surveyed saying their country was going in the right direction, compared with just 34 per cent of westerners. This year's survey focused exclusively on Arabs and found that, despite being conducted in the middle of a global economic downturn, the optimism had only increased.
"The sense of optimism is very powerful and does shine through this year's survey, perhaps even more brightly than last year, with two thirds of Arab youth saying they feel their country is headed in the right direction," Ms Hughes said. "In some countries, like Saudi Arabia, it's over 90 per cent, with the exceptions being Lebanon and Egypt, with less than one in four saying their country is headed in the right direction."
The UAE was nearly as optimistic as Saudi Arabia, with 81 per cent of respondents saying the country was moving in the right direction. Ms Hughes reconciled the optimism with the desire for democracy in the region by pointing to the democratic reforms that have spread in recent years, and to the power of media and technology. "The survey shows that young people feel connected to the global community," she said. "They feel they have an opportunity to express themselves through technology, and the fact that they say their countries are moving in the right direction would indicate that they must feel they have more opportunities to speak out in their communities."
A third of the respondents said they used social networking sites daily, and of these three quarters used them to connect with friends and family. Egypt and Bahrain reported the highest use of such sites, at 92 per cent and 90 per cent, respectively. But television held its position as by far the most popular activity and news source for young people in the region, with 66 per cent saying spending time in front of the TV was their favourite form of leisure, compared with 35 per cent preferring to surf the internet, and 21 per cent reading. The survey also showed 78 per cent received their news mainly from TV, and 68 per cent from newspapers. "If you are trying to reach young people, they are getting most of their information from television," Ms Hughes said. firstname.lastname@example.org