Promoting stability more important than democracy for Arab youth: Survey

Two-thirds say they have more freedoms because of Arab Spring, but a clear majority in GCC, North Africa, Levant insist democracy in the region will never work



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A Staff Reporter

Published: Wed 21 Sep 2022, 11:10 AM

Last updated: Wed 21 Sep 2022, 3:32 PM

Bringing stability to Arab countries is a greater priority than promoting democracy, according to a survey of 3,500 young people across 17 countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

According to the 14th Annual ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey, eight in 10 young Arabs polled are charting a new course as they contemplate their future. This generation has lived through the Arab Spring, the rise and fall of Daesh, and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Most of the so-called Arab Spring generation, which entered adulthood after the momentous events of the early 2010s, have said they have more freedoms today because of the protests, that their voice matters to their leadership and that women have equal rights.

However, a majority in the GCC (57 per cent), North Africa (62 per cent), and the Levant (72 per cent) say that democracy in the region will never work.

More than eight in 10 (82 per cent) in all three regions believe it is essential to establish better policymaking to address persistent material concerns like jobs, education, and rising living costs are also high on their list of demands.

While 87 per cent of Arab youth in the GCC say their government has the right policies to tackle the issues most important to young people, less than six in 10 (59 per cent) in North Africa and barely a fifth (21 per cent) in the Levant say the same way.

Against this backdrop, more young people would prefer working for themselves or their families (28 per cent) than for the government or the private sector. Similar findings were also established in previous editions of the survey.

The key findings of the 2022 ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey were unveiled today in Dubai by ASDA’A BCW, a public relations consultancy in MENA. Now in its 14th year, the annual study of MENA’s largest demographic, its 200 million plus youth, is the largest survey of its kind and one of the few attitudinal studies to interview its subjects face to face.

Charting a new course

According to the 2009 ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey, 92 per cent of respondents said living in a democracy was their single most important priority. There has been a decisive shift since, with 82 per cent of youth arguing that promoting stability was more important than promoting democracy, even though a majority (60 per cent) say they are concerned about the increased role of government in their everyday lives.

Today’s youth nevertheless admit that their voice matters to their leadership, with 88 per cent saying so in the GCC and 67 per cent of youth in North Africa concurring.

However, youth in the Levant are more ambivalent, at 50 per cent. Arab youth in MENA also point to improved gender equality, with 59 per cent of women and 62 per cent of men saying men and women have equal rights. A third of women (32 per cent) believe they have more rights.

Sunil John, president of MENA, BCW and Founder of ASDA’A BCW, said the research presented valuable insights into the mindset of young Arab men and women across MENA. “These are issues decision-makers must consider addressing to make the most of their potential,” said John.

“At ASDA’A BCW, we believe that to understand the Arab world, we must first understand the hearts and minds of its most significant demographic, its youth. Once again, this year’s survey pinpoints critical themes in their outlook.

“The current generation of Arab youth are moving on from the upheavals of the past decade but have yet to decide the direction they will take. They want more freedom, but they prioritise stability. They seek reform but want to preserve their culture and traditions. They are optimistic and self-reliant, believing their best days lie ahead, but their expectations are high.”

The annual survey was conducted among Arab youth across 50 cities in 17 states in the MENA region from May 13 to June 16 this year, using face-to-face interviews conducted by professional interviewers.

The interviews were completed in Arabic and English with young Arab men and women, exclusively young nationals in each state. The sample split was 50:50 male/female.

Presented under six distinct themes – Identity, Livelihood, Politics, Global Citizenship, Lifestyle and Aspirations – the findings reveal a generation at a crossroads, confronted with the dilemma of preserving their traditional culture and values on the one hand and embracing modernisation and reform on the other.

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