What we learned from the Arab Youth Survey

Author: Gillian Duncan | Date: 27 Apr 2016

Lack of jobs for young people and leaders doing more to improve personal freedoms are big concerns

Every year, thousands of young people living in more than a dozen Middle East and North African countries are interviewed for the Arab Youth Survey to ascertain their opinions on everything from their personal lives to the region’s politics.
The results of the 2016 Arab Youth Survey reveal important insights into the mindset of 200 million young people living in the region.
According to Faisal Al Yafai, chief columnist for the UAE’s national newspaper, The National, two of the most important insights are concerns about the lack of jobs and wanting leaders to do more to improve their personal freedoms and human rights.
Just 44 per cent of those polled across the region agree there are good job opportunities in the areas they live in. And that is a big problem for regional leaders because there will be a lot more people seeking work over the next decade – 39 million more, to be precise, according to the United Nations University.
“Creating jobs for young people over the next decade is going to be one of the most serious challenges that Arab countries have to tackle,” says Al Yafai. “If you look at the list of countries where the young people feel there are very few good job opportunities, those are quite big countries in many cases.” In Yemen, the second largest country in the Arabian peninsula, 82 per cent disagree with the statement that there are good job opportunities there.
“If you cannot make young people believe there is a future worth fighting for in their countries then they are going to leave, which is problematic from one side because there is a huge brain drain,” says Al Yafai. “And it is problematic from the other side because it is other Arab countries, other Middle Eastern countries and other European countries, which will benefit from their brains, their energy and their youth.”
More than two-thirds of respondents want their leaders to do more to improve the personal freedoms and human rights of women. World Bank figures show that three out of four women in the region remain outside the workforce.
In some countries the number is far higher: in Saudi Arabia, 90 per cent of women aren’t in the workforce, and in Yemen and Egypt the figure is 87 per cent and 80 per cent respectively. “These are countries where there are difficulties in the daily interaction between men and women. And yet even in those countries, the majority appear to believe that more needs to be done on women’s rights and freedom,” says Al Yafai.
He says these countries are being held back by a lack of gender equality. “Young people realise that if there are so many structural problems in the country – which there certainly are in countries like Yemen and Egypt – those problems cannot be resolved by only half of the society working. It is going to take gender equality for countries like Yemen and Egypt as prosperous as they can be.”
The UAE came out of the survey as the most favoured nation to live in and set up a business, as it is believed to be the most economically secure. “The youth are telling us the same thing again and again, whether that is about stability or job opportunities or being free from the strictures of the state,” says Al Yafai. “Young Arabs want the same thing all young people want – to live in peace.”