Jean R. AbiNader
May 8, 2019
The Arab Youth Survey, now in its 11th year, measures attitudes among Arab youth in 10 categories: religion, role of government, education, foreign relations, conflicts, nations perceived as models, drug use, mental health, e-commerce, and media consumption. In 2019, the survey, conducted this past January, involved face-to-face interviews with 3,300 young people, ages 18-24 in 15 countries. In Morocco, 200 young men and women, equally divided, were interviewed with 25% each in Rabat, Casablanca, Fez, and Marrakech. The reported margin of error is ±1.65%, a very strong indicator of reliability.
Each section of the report is introduced with commentaries by experts including international officials, journalists, academics, and analysts. Overall, the indicators strongly reflect a progressive agenda focused on providing better education, healthcare, infrastructure, and social services, which enables the private sector in the creation of jobs, with the government focused on security, and safety, key priorities of the youth.
Economic issues were mentioned most often as the concern of the youth. With 2.8 million young people joining the workforce in the MENA region annually over the next 10 years, there is great concern with their future prospects in the individual countries where, even in the GCC, respondents believe governments can do a better job of supporting the private sector. This challenge, as one commentator noted, calls for “A new social contract between MENA governments and citizens that ensures accountability, transparency, and a commitment to the principle that no one is left behind,” sentiments which echo the findings of last year’s World Bank study, Expectations and Aspirations : A New Framework for Education in the Middle East and North Africa.
What follows is an extraction of the results for North Africa (Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia) and comparisons to the Levant and the GCC when that data was provided. Overall results show that the youth have a strong pragmatic orientation focused on tangible goals to improve their lives, their families, and their society.
- The Role of Religion
Some 66% of young Arabs say that religion plays too big a role in the region and 79% say the role of religion needs to be reformed. Almost 50% of respondents say that religion is holding back the Arab world, with 46% of North Africa in agreement. Interestingly, 54% (53% in North Africa) think that religion is losing influence in the region.
- The Role of Government
Overall, 65% think that governments are not doing enough to help young families, which goes up to 74% in North Africa. In terms of the responsibilities of government, 96% (97% in North Africa) noted safety and security, 89% (90% in North Africa) education, 88% (87% in North Africa) healthcare, and 78% (vs. 80%) mentioned jobs. In terms of their personal concerns, 56% of the young people mentioned the rising cost of living, 45% unemployment, and 35% lack of Arab unity. In North Africa, slow economic growth was mentioned by 34% of respondents. Terrorism dropped from third place in 2018 to sixth place in 2019.
More than three-fourths (78%) of young Arabs are unhappy with the quality of education in their countries, which rises to 81% in North Africa. Overall, 49% in region and 53% in North Africa are unsatisfied that their educational system prepares them for the job market. Concerning education in the West, some 53% made that their choice, with North Africa coming in at 58% who want to study in the West.
- Foreign Relations
Some 37% mentioned that Saudi Arabia’s influence was increasing in the region, with the US’ growing role noted by 48%, followed by Turkey (23%), Russia (13%), and Iran (13%). The US is seen by 59% as an enemy of their country, while Russia is now perceived as an ally by 64% of those surveyed. In North Africa, 39% believe that the US is the stronger ally compared to Russia, which came in at 27%. The US did not receive a positive rating of more than 45% (GCC) in any region. In fact, overall, 59% rated the US as an enemy compared to 67% for Iran. Russia came in at 64% ally and 36% enemy.
A large majority, some 79%, still sees Palestine as the most critical conflict in the region, and 59% believe that relations between Sunni and Shia have become worse over the past ten years. Regarding the war in Syria, 70% want it to end regardless of who is in power.
- Model Nations
For the eighth straight year, the UAE tops both as the Arab country (44%) in which they would like to live and the one young people wished their country would emulate (42%). Work opportunities (38%), and safety and security (36%) were the top reasons for choosing the UAE. Canada was chosen by 22% and the US by 21%. In terms of a model, the US and Japan tied at 20%.
- Drug Use
Sadly, 68% of young people in North Africa said that drugs are easy to obtain, compared to 57% in the rest of the sample. Concurrently, 59% in North Africa said that drug use is on the rise compared to 57% in the other groups. The three top reasons for increased drug use were peer influence (62%), stress (45%), and boredom (43%). Young people mentioned stricter laws (63%), stronger law enforcement (58%), and more education and awareness (54%) as the primary means for reducing drug use.
- Mental Health
In North Africa, 52% said that it was difficult to get mental health services while 65% noted that it is considered a stigma. The major reasons for mental health issues were lack of national security and safety (28%) and financial issues (21%), with stress from personal relationships (21%) following.
Shopping is alive and well across the regions with a continuing rise in use of credit cards, purchases of consumer items, and familiarity with e-commerce options. However, there is still a great deal of potential for growth as the sector is underdeveloped in terms of sites for e-commerce activity in the region. In addition, the quality of delivery services, the availability of clearing functions for e-commerce financial transactions, and ease of cash purchases limit e-commerce currently.
- Media Consumption
Social media was mentioned at the main source of news (80%) with 60% giving it a high trust rating. Some 66% look to TV for news with a 55% trust rating, with 61% turning to online news sources. WhatsApp came on top at 89% followed by Facebook at 88% and YouTube at 77%. In North Africa, 88% visit Facebook for their news followed by WhatsApp (70%) and YouTube (65%); and 56% rated Facebook most important and 19% made WhatsApp their top choice for social media.
Regarding internet usage, Morocco is third highest in the region at 62% after Libya (69%) and Tunisia (66%). It has the third largest number of mobile subscriptions, is fourth in use of mobile phones for social media, and 47% are active social media users.
The commentaries are quite helpful for tying together the various findings of the study, especially as there is now 11 years of comparative data to analyze. One wonders if the study will have any impact in reordering priorities and programs in Arab countries to more effectively impact the futures of young people.