An Enduring Aspiration

When asked about a ‘model nation’, the UAE finding fits with the response to where one would choose to live

By Afshin Molavi

Published: Thu 2 Dec 2021, 12:00 AM

What makes a nation great? Political scientists, philosphers, pundits, and populist leaders regularly debate this question. Economic power, say some. Military might, cry others. Prosperity and freedom, others declaim. A combination of all three, still others suggest.

Let the debate rage on, but two questions that should always be considered are these: how do other people view your nation? And: If borders were free, how many would flock to live in your country? On both of those scores, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) ranks far ahead of the region in the minds of Arab youth.

The ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey has regularly asked young Arabs the following question: If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live? For 10th year in a row, the answer was the same this year: the UAE.

In fact, the UAE has widened its lead in this category over the number two most sought-after destination to live, the United States (47 per cent vs 19 per cent). Coming in third, fourth, and fifth respectively are Canada (15 per cent), France (13 per cent), and Germany (11 per cent). The UAE’s lead is all the more striking given that not a single other Arab country made the top five of aspirational places to live.

The AYS also asked Arab youth across the region another straightforward question: which country in the world, if any, would you like your country to be like? Once again, the answer has been the same for the past decade: the UAE. Some 46% of Arab youth chose the UAE as their model nation, while 28 per cent chose the United States, followed by Canada (12 per cent), Germany (12 per cent), and France (11 per cent).


If you compared most global polling to the Arab Youth Survey, you would see striking similarities in outlooks, aspirations, hopes, and fears. Young people around the world want better governance, less corruption, opportunities for education and employment, and secure and healthy environments.

While it’s hard to gauge the relative ‘nationalism’ of this generation of youth, one thing is clear: there are few traces of exclusivist, blood-and-soil nationalism.

When asked about a ‘model nation’, the UAE finding fits consistently with the response to where one would choose to live. The reality, however, is that it’s difficult for any nation to choose another as ‘a model’.

There are aspects of the UAE experience that could benefit Egypt or Sudan (two countries where youth overwhelmingly favour the UAE as their preferred living destination), but socio-economic and population and historic differences far outweigh simple models.

Rather than look for models, however, the world needs lodestars, and the UAE has emerged as one.

Afshin Molavi is a Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington DC

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