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Nearly half of Arab youth keen to embrace modernity

Significant jump in preference among region’s youth for modern values and beliefs from 17% in 2011 to 46% in 2014

UAE continues to be seen as a model nation, and favoured destination to live

Saudi Arabia seen as the region’s biggest ally

Young people across the Arab World are embracing modernity as digital technologies and media reshape behaviour, however it is the opinions and influences of family, friends and religion that still matter most to Arab Youth. These are the headline findings of the 6th Annual ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey released today.

When asked whether they agreed with the statement, “Traditional values are outdated and belong in the past; I am keen to embrace modern values and beliefs,” 46 per cent of young people in the region were in agreement. Although the modernists remain a slight minority, this is the closest results have come to parity in the survey’s history, up from just 17 per cent in 2011.

However family, friends, and religion remain the greatest influences on the lives of young Arab nationals – with two thirds of survey respondents citing their parents (67 per cent) as their first source for advice and counsel, followed by family (58 per cent), religion (56 per cent) and friends (46 per cent). In the region’s increasingly urbanised economies, the importance of family, and particularly parental ties, remains strong. However, external forces are increasing their sphere of influence, with community leaders rising from 33 per cent in 2013 to 38 per cent and social media and bloggers reaching 35 per cent.

The Arab Youth Survey is an annual initiative of ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller, the leading public relations consultancy in Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The survey was developed to provide reliable data and insights into the attitudes and aspirations of the region’s 200 million-strong youth population – where 60 per cent is below the age of 25 – with the aim of informing policy and decision-making of both government and the private sector.

ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller’s sister agency, international polling firm PSB, which officially established its Middle East offices in January of this year, completed the largest survey to date for the sixth annual edition. PSB conducted 3,500 face-to-face interviews with exclusively Arab national men and women aged 18-24 in the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries (UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain), Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Yemen and, for the first time in 2014, Palestine. Research was conducted between December 2013 and January 2014.

Optimism about the Arab Spring wanes, confidence in national governments high  

This year saw 2012 and 2013’s high levels of optimism in the outcomes from the Arab Spring wane, but confidence in national governments’ abilities to deal with a wide range of issues – including living standards, economic stability and unemployment – increase. Just over half (54 per cent) of respondents agree ‘a lot’ with the statement “Following the uprisings across the Arab world, I feel the Arab world is better off”, significantly down from 70 per cent in 2013 and 72 cent in 2012.

But the buoyancy and optimism of youth remains. Across the region, more than two thirds are either ‘very’ or ‘somewhat confident’ in their government’s ability to deal with the rising rates of unemployment (68 per cent) while similar numbers are optimistic about their ability to deal with war (67 per cent) and enhance living standards (66 per cent).

Though optimism is high across a broad spectrum of issues, youth are less confident long term. Over half of young people polled (58 per cent) are ‘not very’ or ‘not at all’ confident in their government’s ability to address wealth creation, while a similar number (57 per cent) are uncertain about the ability to tackle environmental issues.

Rising cost of living and unemployment of most concern to Arab Youth

This year the rising cost of living and unemployment were identified as the two biggest concerns for Arab youth. More than three in five (63 per cent) say they are ‘very concerned’ about rising living costs – constant with results over the previous three years’ survey findings and with almost identical levels of concern among youth in the more affluent GCC markets (63 per cent) as in the wider region (62 per cent).

With youth unemployment an issue across much of the globe including the Arab world it comes as little surprise that survey respondents cite the spectre of unemployment as their second most pressing concern. Across the region, half (49 per cent) are concerned about the issue, demonstrating a steady increase over the last four years, up from 44 per cent in 2013 and 2012 and 42 per cent in 2011, broadly in line with rising unemployment rates.

Concern about unemployment is strongest in the non-GCC countries, where governments are struggling to provide jobs for their growing populations with 55 per cent citing it as their biggest concern. Though still high at 39 per cent, youth in the Gulf are less concerned than their counterparts in the rest of the Arab world, with oil-rich governments providing some reassurance.

Entrepreneurial spirit is high across the Arab world

Two thirds (67 per cent) of young Arabs believe people of this generation are more likely to start a business than in previous generations, as access to higher education improves the skills of youth, and governments and banks provide much-needed funding to help set up private companies. The split is similar across the Arab world with 66 per cent agreeing with the statement in the Gulf and 66 per cent in non-GCC countries.

Meanwhile, favourability towards the private sector is also steadily rising across the Gulf with 31 per cent of respondents saying they would like to work in the private sector, up from 24 per cent in 2013 and 19 per cent in 2012. In contrast, the preference towards the private sector in non-GCC countries is declining at 31 per cent in 2014, up from 28 per cent in 2013 and 36 per cent in 2012.

UAE first choice to live globally, a model nation for the region

When asked to name a country, anywhere in the world, where they would like to live, for the third successive year, Arab youth cite the UAE as their top choice ahead of 20 other countries, including the UK, USA and Germany. Among all respondents across the 16 countries polled, two in every five (39 per cent) young people would like to live in the UAE, up from three in ten (31 per cent) in 2013.

Looking at model systems of governance, when asked which country they would most like their home nation to emulate, the same percentage of respondents (39 per cent) name the UAE. The Arab Youth Survey 2014 findings are consistent with the 2013 World Happiness Report, commissioned by the United Nations which indicated that the UAE was the happiest Arab country and the 17th happiest nation globally.

UAE nationals were also the most optimistic among all those polled about the future of their country, with seven in ten (69 per cent) agreeing with the statement “I feel optimistic about what the future holds for my country” compared to just more than half (55 per cent) of respondents overall. Young Emiratis are also the most confident about their future prospects with half (50 per cent) believing they have more opportunities now than they did a year ago, compared to two in five (40 per cent) overall.

Saudi Arabia is seen as their country’s biggest ally

When asked to think about their country’s biggest ally, Arab youth are choosing their GCC neighbours over traditional western countries as Gulf governments’ political weight grows in prominence. Arab youth cite four of the Gulf’s six member states in their country’s top five allies with more than a third (36 per cent) saying Saudi Arabia is their country’s biggest supporter, followed by the UAE (33 per cent), Qatar (25 per cent) and Kuwait (25 per cent). The United States is the only western country to feature in the top five allies at 22 per cent.

Commenting on the survey findings, Don Baer, Worldwide Chair and CEO of Burson-Marsteller and CEO of PSB, said: “This annual snapshot of the thoughts and concerns of Arab Youth is a reference point not just for the region’s policy makers and decision makers, but also for anyone with an interest in our shared future. This survey has the power to challenge stereotypes about an often misunderstood region and demographic.  In volatile times, the power of data should not be underestimated.”

Joseph Ghossoub, Chairman and CEO of the MENACOM Group, the regional parent company of ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller, said: “Recent years have been testing times for the region – from the impact of the global recession to the Arab Spring, and now, its aftermath, our region has been through tumultuous change and social, political and economic challenges. What inspires me most is that despite this uncertainly, our young people show resilience, optimism and a sense of pride that fill me with hope for our futures despite the continued uncertainties that face our wider region.”

Sunil John, Chief Executive Officer of ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller, said: “Today’s young people cannot and should not be viewed simply as ‘tomorrow’s leaders and consumers’. Increasingly they are today’s leaders and society shapers, creating their own spheres of influence not just among their immediate peers but also across the wider region through social media platforms. Understanding the needs, wants and aspirations of this group, the region’s largest demographic, is hugely important – for governments, for businesses, for brands, for communities. As a business that was born in the region, I feel it’s an important contribution for us to make, and to share these important research findings with Arab governments and with business and industry.”

The findings of the ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey 2014 were unveiled to media today. This evening, a high-profile panel discussion led by regional and international influencers from public and private sectors also takes place in Dubai. Speakers and panellists include Don Baer, Worldwide Chair and CEO of Burson-Marsteller and Chairman of PSB; Fadi Ghandour, Executive Chairman of Wamda Capital and Founder of Aramex; Noura Al Kaabi, CEO of Media Zone Authority-Abu Dhabi (twofour54); Khaled Al Maeena, Saudi media and political analyst; and Jawad Nabulsi, Founder and CEO of the Nebny Foundation. Moderating the session is Andrew Neil, presenter of the BBC’s Daily Politics show, Chairman of The Spectator and ITP Publishing Group.

In-depth results from the 6th annual ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey, including survey highlights and a white paper in both Arabic and English, as well as findings from all previous five editions of the survey are freely available on www.arabyouthsurvey.com.

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