Earning a fair wage and owning a home are now the two highest priorities for young people in the Middle East, displacing "living in a democracy" as the greatest aspiration of regional youth, according to the findings of the latest ASDA'A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey, the largest study of its kind of the region's largest demographic group.
The survey, which polled 2,500 Arabs aged 18 to 24 in 12 Middle Eastern states one year after the start of the Arab Spring, highlighted how larger political concerns have been superseded by more personal, economic anxieties.
Being paid a fair wage was not only the highest collective priority among those surveyed – with 82 per cent of all those surveyed citing it as "very important" – but was also the highest individual priority in each of the 12 countries covered.
Asked "What do you believe is the biggest obstacle facing the Middle East?" very few respondents in almost all surveyed countries, apart from Saudi Arabia, said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the biggest obstacle. The number was lowest in Egypt, with only 10% saying the conflict was the region’s biggest obstacle. The number was also low in most of the Gulf emirates. However, in Saudi Arabia 53% said the conflict was a major obstacle in the region.
The poll showed that civil unrest and lack of democracy far outstripped the Israel-Palestinian conflict as a concern in most Arab countries. While not overly optimistic that the Arab Spring would spread to further Arab countries, many respondents said that if it did, it would spread to Jordan.
The survey also found that the number of respondents who felt that living in a democratic country was "very important" to them had declined from 68% in the 2011 survey to 58% this year.
These findings and others were unveiled Wednesday in Dubai at the launch of the 2012 survey. The survey involved face-to-face interviews, conducted by international polling firm Penn Schoen Berland, with some 2,500 Arabs between the ages of 18 and 24 in the six Gulf Cooperation Council nations (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE), as well as in Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and, for the first time, Libya and Tunisia. The interviews, which were conducted exclusively with nationals of each of the surveyed countries, took place in December 2011 and January 2012.
"Eighteen months after the start of the Arab Spring, we all know that Middle East youth are committed to forging an even brighter future," said Joseph Ghossoub, chairman and CEO of the MENACOM Group, regional parent of ASDA'A Burson-Marsteller. "While these young people have shared their profound concerns about the cost of living and the price of home ownership, to cite just two examples, they remain firmly optimistic. It is so heartening that when Arab youth look forward, they also continue to look up."
"You can see the great promise of Arab youth throughout this survey: in the level of engagement in current affairs, in the sophisticated use of technology, and in the tempered expectations for the post-Arab Spring era," said Jeremy Galbraith, CEO of Burson-Marsteller, Europe, Middle East and Africa. "By charting the opinions of young Arab women and men from the modern cities of the oil-rich Gulf to rural areas in the Levant and North Africa, the ASDA'A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey provides evidence-based insights of great value to everyone with a stake in the future of this young and rapidly evolving region."
Key findings of the 2012 survey include:
• The rising cost of living is the greatest concern among young Arabs -- 63% now say that they are "very concerned" about the cost of living, up from 57% last year, when this was also their greatest concern;
• 41% say that the lack of democracy is the biggest obstacle facing the Middle East; an equal percentage identify civil unrest as the biggest obstacle;
• 72% agree that the region is better off today, following the events of the Arab Spring; 68% say they are also personally better off now than they were a year ago;
• Nearly three-quarters believe their government has become more trustworthy and transparent since the events of the Arab Spring – at the same time that concerns about corruption have skyrocketed;
• A majority in every state agrees that traditional values are paramount; however, the percentage who say that such values are outdated and need to be replaced continues to increase;
• When Arab youth look across the region and the world, they see the United Arab Emirates as the country where they would most like to live, and as the country they would most like their own nation to emulate;
• France is the country viewed most favorably among all foreign nations, with 46% of respondents saying they are "very favorable" towards that nation; positive views of China and India have also increased;
• Arab youth are following the news far more keenly than ever before, with 52% saying they update themselves on news and current affairs every day, up from just 18% in 2011;
• Television remains the most important source of news for Arab youth, with 62% of respondents saying their turn on the TV to get their news – but this number has declined from 79% in 2011;
• Reading or writing blogs is the top online activity among young people in the region, with 61% saying they engage with blogs, up from only 29% in 2011.