x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Survey reveals cultural contrast

Young people in the Middle East are more religious, more optimistic and have more admiration for their political leaders than their western counterparts.

DUBAI // Young people in the Middle East are more religious, more optimistic and have more admiration for their political leaders than their western counterparts, a survey indicates. More than half of those surveyed in the UAE, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar said they thought their countries were going in the right direction. Two-thirds of those surveyed in the US, UK and Germany, however, thought their countries were headed the wrong way.

In the survey, conducted by the public relations firm Asda'a Burson-Marsteller throughout September, 1,800 people aged 18-24 were questioned on the internet about their spending habits, who they listened to for advice, their career aspirations and their views on the challenges facing the world. Asked how they defined success, 34 per cent of respondents in the Middle East said it involved making the world a better place. Five per cent said it was important to earn a lot of money.

Young people in the West were more materialistic, with 12 per cent saying it was important to earn a lot of money and 12 per cent saying they wanted to make the world a better place. Far fewer people in this region were concerned about the environment and global warming than their peers in Europe and the US, but they were more worried about the loss of traditional values and culture, and the effect of corruption in government and public life.

Despite those worries about corruption, 30 per cent said they looked up to their political leaders, compared with only nine per cent in the West. Young Arabs were also far more religious, with 31 per cent looking up to religious leaders compared with only five per cent in the West. Mark Penn, the global chief executive officer of Asda'a Burson-Marsteller's parent company and a political pollster, has advised the former US president Bill Clinton, and the former UK prime minister Tony Blair. He also helped run Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign for the US Democratic presidential nomination this year.

Mr Penn said the survey, to be repeated each year, appeared to show that both sets of young people were less rebellious and more focused on their futures than previous generations. "Only 30 per cent of youth in both areas were uncertain about their careers, which suggests that they have much greater certainty than in the past," he said. "I'm used to looking at youth data with a greater sense and indication of rebellion than I'm seeing here.

"I think we are seeing this generation, both in the West and in the Middle East, wanting change but not radical change. They are looking for fulfilment of opportunities. "One of the surprises in the survey was how optimistic Middle East youth really are about their future and the development of the region. "They are very education-oriented and these numbers are very good for the region and the development of youth. If you have young people who are highly identified with religion and education, and highly motivated to be successful, the results 20 years on are quite phenomenal."

Asked whether young people in the West were likely to become more optimistic after Barack Obama was elected in the US, Mr Penn said it would take time and a positive performance by the new president before that would start to change. "In the West people are concerned about the economy, and to a lesser extent the war, and obviously Obama's election is the first step towards turning that around," he said.

gmccleneghan@thenational.ae