The MENA region consist as we all know of countries of predominately Arab at 70%, Iranian and Turkic at approximately 14% each, populations. A study of these ‘Arab World’ populations’ youth titled “The Middle East: A region divided” 2017 Report is based on surveys undertaken by ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller, a Public Relation firm established in Dubai, UAE and lead by Sunil John, founder shareholder and Chief Executive Officer.
We took the initiative with compliments to this gentleman, to borrow few excerpts so as to hopefully launch a debate on this report. This started with the premise that :
“The 22 Arab nations spread across two continents, Asia and Africa, have to pull together in a historic movement to declare a shared manifesto that focuses on a unified destiny.
The solution for the region’s problems, as the Arab Youth Survey sees it, must come from within this region, and not from the US, Russia, Europe or even the United Nations.“
Elaborating, ASDA’A BursonMarsteller stated that its 9th Annual Arab Youth Survey 2017 was conducted by international polling firm PSB Research to explore attitudes among Arab youth in 16 countries in the Middle East and North Africa. PSB conducted 3,500 face-to-face interviews from February 7 to March 7, 2017 with Arab men and women aged 18 to 24. The interviews were conducted in Arabic and English.
The aim of this annual survey is to present evidence-based insights into the attitudes of Arab youth, providing public and private sector organisations with data and analysis. It is the largest of its kind of the region’s ‘largest demographic’, and covers the six Gulf Cooperation Council states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE), North Africa (Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia) the Levant (Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestinian Territories) and Yemen. The survey did not include Syria due to the civil unrest in the country.
The key theme running through this Youth Survey 2017 is a sobering one: we live in a region where young people straddle a fault line between hope and despair. A vast, important demographic that is united by religion, language and culture is increasingly separated by access to opportunity. Even today, given the conflicts, security issues and unemployment which sadly mark much of the region, the overall finding looks surprisingly positive: just over half of young Arabs as a whole still believe their nation is on the right track.
Looking at the Survey on a region-by-region, or country-by-country level, however, we see a stark divide between youth in the Gulf states, who are brimming with optimism, and those in the Levant – Lebanon, Jordan, Palestinian Territories, Iraq – and Yemen, who are anxious and disillusioned about the future. The real tragedy of this year’s key findings is that young Arabs are becoming more pessimistic.
“Our best days are behind us” is not a phrase any government should hear from anyone, least of all the very demographic that will be living with the legacy of their rule.
It would be easy to dismiss this divide as the result of the widening income gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ – those that have oil, and the prosperity that should come with it and those that don’t.
Young Arabs realise that while their elders played the victim game and sought intervention and protection from foreign allies, that strategy no longer cuts ice. The world is becoming increasingly inward-looking and globalisation is being challenged:
According to this year’s Survey, young Arabs do not see the US, Russia or other international powers as their biggest allies, but Saudi Arabia and the UAE. And they increasingly see the UAE as a model country – one that they would not only choose to live in over any other, but also want their own countries to emulate.
This suggests a solution: that good governance could be the UAE’s newest export. The soft power of the UAE is one of the Middle East’s greatest assets – and one that doesn’t just enrich the UAE but the whole region, through the promotion of stability and prosperity.
National and international complexities mean that a one-size-fits-all model would be unrealistic. But some aspects of the UAE model are universal: empowering youth, and focusing on enabling positivity, happiness and tolerance – increasingly in short supply across the region – would be a strong start.
The Arab Spring of 2011 is behind us, and last year’s Survey showed us youth were increasingly disillusioned with its legacy. But revolutions can take a long time for their full effects to become apparent. For better and for worse, the region is very different today than it was six years ago. It’s easy to concentrate on the ‘worse’ – the conflicts in Yemen, Syria and Libya, the refugee crisis and continued instability in Iraq, to name just a few. For better, though, we see that nations are waking up to the new reality and finally preparing their economies for the future. In Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar we see younger generations taking more prominent roles in government; in Egypt we are seeing the return of a measure of economic and political stability; in Iraq and Syria we see Daesh in retreat; in North Africa, outside of Libya, we see relative stability; and across the region we see young people increasingly rejecting the message of extremism.
Twelve years ago, long before the Arab Spring provided a wake-up call to autocratic regimes, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, sent a clear message to Arab governments: “You must change, or you will be changed.”
So what is the solution?
The 28th Arab League Summit, held in Jordan in March this year, pontificated for the nth time on the same issues, and came out with no solution. While it may sound utopian, the only real solution that has the chance to offer a candle in the sea of darkness is one led by the spirit of youth and the courage to be positive.
We in MENA-Forum accept all the report’s findings as a true picture of the current situation. For a start we would join in applauding such initiative to try and cover such a diversely endowed region by nature and millenary culture. We would nevertheless have to note that misunderstanding is however still prevailing sadly in most of its hot spots where it would certainly be difficult to extricate a happy opening for each and every side to be happy with.