x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Young Arabs want democracy, survey finds

A new study of Arab young people across the Middle East finds that they are interested in creating more democracy in the region

Iraqis, Jordanians and Egyptians showed the strongest interest in democracy, according to the survey. Above, protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square during anti-Mubarak protests in January.
Iraqis, Jordanians and Egyptians showed the strongest interest in democracy, according to the survey. Above, protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square during anti-Mubarak protests in January.

DUBAI // A survey of young Arabs has found living in a democracy is more important than finding a job for most young people in the region.

The survey of 2,000 Arabs aged between 18 and 24 focused on the attitudes of Arab nationals and expatriates in 10 Middle Eastern countries.

The Arab Youth Survey was the third of its kind to be conducted by ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller, a Dubai public relations consultancy firm. It delved into the concerns, priorities and future outlook of young Arab adults in Middle Eastern countries.

Participants were based in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as well as Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and, for the first time, Iraq.

The fieldwork was conducted by the leading international polling firm Penn Schoen Berland between December 2010 and January this year. Sixty per cent of respondents were male

According to the study’s findings, the desire by young Arabs to live in a democracy ranked as highly as other concerns such as the cost of living, the gap between rich and poor, the recession and a preference for working in the private sector over the public sector.

In 2008, the highest priority for young Arabs was finding a job, according to a previous version of the study.

“To understand the future of the Arab world, we need to understand the aspirations, opinions and hopes of our young people,” said Sunil John, the chief executive of ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller. “Recent youth uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya have shown just how important those hopes and aspirations are, and how dangerous it is to ignore them.”

Following the unrest in the Middle East in January, an additional 500 interviews were undertaken among Arab youth in the capital cities of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Bahrain and Iraq. Those interviews were compared to the earlier results from respondents in those countries.

The importance of democracy in the later survey increased, with 92 per cent of respondents in those five countries saying that it was of vital importance, up from 77 per cent in January. Living without the fear of terrorism had also increased in importance, from 58 per cent to 77 per cent. Domestic stability – measured only in the later survey – was said to be important by 89 per cent.

Nicholas Nesson, the director of finance at ASDA’A, said participants were interviewed from across socioeconomic levels, and they all showed a similar interest in democracy.

“We did not just speak to the wealthy and elite, nor to those most disenfranchised,” said Mr Nesson. “Our top finding of the survey – living in a democratic country, is extremely important. Other things were important too, but that desire for democracy, that enduring desire among young people for their voices to be heard, is reflected.”

Joseph Ghossoub, the chairman and chief executive of Menacom Group, the regional parent of ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller, agreed.

“In a region where two thirds of the population is under the age of 30, we need to understand the priorities of our young people,” he said.

Sixty one per cent of all respondents in the survey said that being able to find a job was important to them. In the GCC, 65 per cent indicated that being able to find a job was key, while a lower percentage of those living in non-GCC countries said that it was an issue, at 55 per cent.

Young adults across the 10 countries were given a list of options, and were asked how important each was to them. Sixty-five per cent said living in a democratic country was most important, followed by 64 per cent who said they wanted to live in a safe neighbourhood. Sixty-four per cent also said they wanted to maintain a close relationship with family.

In the GCC, 60 per cent said living in a democratic country was important to them, compared to 80 per cent of respondents who live in non-GCC countries. However, for those living in the GCC, living in a safe neighbourhood (66 per cent) and maintaining close relationships with family (72 per cent) ranked the highest.

According to the survey, Iraqis were the most concerned about democracy, with 91 per cent of young people (nine in 10) saying that living in a democracy was important to them. Young Qataris were the least concerned, at 33 per cent. A strong interest in democracy was also apparent in Jordan (85 per cent) and Egypt (78 per cent). Democracy was a concern for 75 per cent of respondents in Kuwait and the UAE.

“If we take into consideration that the region has to provide over 50 million job opportunities, we have to give youth the ability to compete more vigorously in the next 10 or 20 years,” Mr Ghossoub said.

balqabbani@thenational.ae