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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

Arab Youth Survey 2018: Gloomy times for young people in the Levant - and the outlook isn't any brighter

Research reveals a deep sense of pessimism among the youth of Lebanon and Jordan

Abeer Knio, 24, from Beirut. David Enders for The National
Abeer Knio, 24, from Beirut. David Enders for The National

Young people across the region have a deep conviction that their countries have moved in the wrong direction over the past decade – and nowhere is this more the case than the Levant.

An overwhelming sense of pessimism about the future emerges in countries like Lebanon and Jordan.

Asked if they felt their country was going in the right direction, nearly nine out of 10 questioned in the Levant said they believed the opposite.

This compares with 91 per cent in the GCC who are happy with the ways things are going, a view shared by slightly over half in North African countries, which include Libya and Egypt.

The National
The National

Only one in a hundred in the Levant sample thought things were moving in a positive direction.

One of those was Sergio Eid, a 20-year-old music student in Beirut whose optimism was a result of the long postponed parliamentary election.

Sergio Eid, 20, from Sarba. For Arab Youth Survey. David Enders for The National
Sergio Eid, 20, from Sarba. David Enders for The National

"This is the first time in nine years that people have voted," he said. "Before we had two years without a president. Now we have one."

More typical was the reaction of Abeer Knio, 24, a clinical dietician who recently returned to Lebanon after living most of her life in the UAE.

Part of the problem was that her generation felt obliged to support the same political leaders as their parents, she said.

As a Lebanese Sunni, she said she had voted for Saad Hariri. "I'm supporting him because his father changed many things," Abeer said, referring to former prime minister Rafik Hariri.

"We hope things will change," she said. "Look at the trash in the streets. We want change."

"There are no jobs."

Jalal Khary, 23, a second year media student said. "I believe that when I graduate I won't have a job."

Dana Traboulsi. A 24-year-old software developer added: "People don't have hope - we don't think anything will change because of the way things have been going."

Dana Traboulsi, 24, from Beirut. May 6, 2018. For Arab Youth Survey. David Enders for The National
Dana Traboulsi, 24, from Beirut. David Enders for The National

The negative outlook has deepened sharply over the past two years, which have seen a growing refugee crisis caused by the civil war in Syria. Both Lebanon and Jordan have absorbed millions of Syrian refugees.

In 2016, a majority of young people in the Levant – 51 per cent – expressed optimism about the future. In the 12 months that followed, this dropped to 14 per cent, and just 13 per cent in the latest survey.

The same is true of the choice young people made when asked the question: “Our best days are …” Only 26 per cent picked the answer “Ahead of us.” Nearly three quarters opted for “behind us.”

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More on Arab Youth Survey 2018:

Washington's downfall in the Arab world is matched by Moscow's rise in influence

Overwhelming majority of young Saudis support more women's rights

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Sunil John, chief executive of Asda'a Burson-Marsteller, which compiles the youth survey, said it was, "shocking ... to see the amount of bleakness and the lack of enthusiasm" in this part of the region.

"There are a lot of things that bring people together – language, culture, religion, food, but there is so much that divides us as well. And this is a problem that governments need to look at squarely in the eye," he said.

Tala Turk, 24, from Beirut. May 6, 2018. For Arab Youth Survey. David Enders for The National
Tala Turk, 24, from Beirut. David Enders for The National

Back in Beirut, Tala Turk, 24, described her fellow Lebanese as "hopeless".

"They have the power to change things, but they don't believe it," she said.

But she was hopeful that at least in the long term, some of the new faces standing in the latest elections might make a difference in the future. "Even if it's a 10 per cent change, it's a start," she said.