Arab Youth Survey finds religious faith key to youngsters' identity though most want institutional reforms

70% of young respondents in the GCC and 60% in North Africa say Sharia Islamic principles should be the basis of their legal systems


A Staff Reporter

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Published: Wed 21 Sep 2022, 11:20 AM

Last updated: Wed 21 Sep 2022, 10:11 PM

Saying that their faith is the cornerstone of their identity, Arab youth prioritise preserving religious and cultural traditions over creating a more globalised society, the latest Arab Youth Survey has found.

Nearly two-thirds say their legal structures should be based on Sharia law.

At the same time, many young Arab men and women say religion plays too big a role in the region and want religious institutions to reform. In contrast, 73 per cent of Arab youth overall (78 per cent in the GCC, 76 per cent in North Africa and 65 per cent in the Levant) say that religion plays too big a role in Middle Eastern life. More than three-quarters (77 per cent) say that religious institutions in the region require reform.

These divergent findings were some of the highlights of the 14th Annual ASDA'A BCW Arab Youth Survey, unveiled on Wednesday by communications consultancy ASDA'A BCW.

This year's study finds young Arab men and women at a crossroads. Having lived through the upheavals of the Arab Spring, the rise and fall of Daesh, and the Covid-19 pandemic, they want to hold on to their identity while simultaneously adopting change.

According to the findings, 41 per cent of Arab youth say their religion is most important to their identity, a seven per cent increase compared to 2021.

Their nationality follows this (18 per cent), their family or tribe (17 per cent) and cultural heritage (seven b per cent). Youth in the Levant, however, are less attached to religion compared with their peers in the GCC and North Africa, with only a quarter saying it was most important to their identity.

The Arabic language is deemed the most critical factor by just five per cent of the study sample. More than half (55 per cent) also say that the Arabic language is less important to the youth than their parents, though only 40 per cent of GCC youth share this view.

Nearly three-quarters of Arab youth (70 per cent) and a clear majority in the GCC, North Africa and the Levant have expressed concern about losing traditional values and culture.

Most youths in all three regions agree that preserving the region's religious and cultural identity is more important than creating a more globalised society (65 per cent say this overall). And 70 per cent of youth in the GCC and 60 per cent in North Africa say that Sharia Islamic principles should be the basis of their legal systems, though just over four in 10 in the Levant agree.

Sunil John, the president, 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 and the issues decision-makers must address if they are to make the most of their potential.

"The 2022 survey, regarding personal identity, throws up as many questions as answers. Some vast regional splits and contradictions can only be explained by the differing economies, lifestyles and cultures across the region."

"While unemployment is rife in some countries, reform has been the buzzword in 2022, and the influence of foreign cultures within the region is rising rapidly," John added. "This is impacting on the mindset of young Arabs today."


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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