Poll: Economics, not democracy driving Arab youth

Survey of 2,500 Arab youth in 12 Middle Eastern countries shows population cares predominantly about socioeconomic issues.

First anniversary of Egypt’s uprising in Tahrir Square 390 (photo credit: Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters))
First anniversary of Egypt’s uprising in Tahrir Square 390
(photo credit: Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters))
The desire for coping with the rising cost of living has toppled aspirations for “living in a democracy” among Arab youth, a new poll has found.
Released over the weekend, the fourth annual ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey was aimed at examining the effects of the Arab Spring one year later. It found that earning a fair wage and owning a home are now the two highest priorities for young people in the Middle East.
The survey comes at a time when the region’s leaders – both those who have come to power on the back of Arab Spring protests and those who are trying to head them off – are grappling with how to steer their countries to greater prosperity and freedom. So far, they are stumbling, with most of the region’s economies reeling from political upheaval while the transition to democracy is proceeding slowly, if at all.
The mass protests, which brought down the rulers of Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia and are threatening Syria, may have been animated by a genuine desire for democracy and freedom during the Arab Spring. Yet, the striking change apparent in this year’s survey over that of 2011 was the expression of more personal and economic anxieties rather than the larger political concerns.
“More than a year after the Arab Spring, it seems that economic issues as well as political issues are now on the minds of the youth of the region,” said Mark Penn, CEO of Burson-Marsteller Worldwide. “While there is seemingly widespread support for the political changes sweeping the region, there’s also a clear interest in improving the economic conditions of the region as well.”
The poll examined 12 Middle Eastern countries and found that the youth in all of them unequivocally placed being paid a fair wage as their top priority, above living in a democracy and receiving reliable healthcare, the top two priorities in 2011.
The poll surveyed 2,500 Arab youth between the ages of 18-24, in the UAE, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Tunisia and Libya. It did not question Syrian or Palestinian youth. The face-to-face survey took place between December 2011 and January 2012 and was unveiled in Dubai at the end of last week.
When questioned about their greatest concerns, 63% of Middle East youth cited the rising cost of living, up from 57% last year, the poll found. 42 % now cited corruption in government and public life as the second-greatest challenge after the cost of living, up dramatically from 16% in 2011.
The percentage of respondents who said that living in a democratic country is “very important” to them declined by 10% --from 68% to 58% -- in the 2012 survey.
The Arab Spring was supposed to bring democracy, peace and prosperity. But stalemates between governments and opposition forces are paralyzing economic life and not accelerating economic and social development as was originally hoped. 
Currently, there are 200 million people under the age of 30 living across the Arab World, the largest demography of youth anywhere in the globe. On an optimistic note, 72% of those polled agree that, following the events of the Arab Spring, the region is better off today; 68% of Arab youth say they are also personally better off now than they were a year ago.
In general, 72% of Arab youth trust their new governments. This was most evident in Libya where 86% expressed greater faith in their new rulers, in contrast to Jordan with only 51% saying they trusted the government.
59% said they did not think the Arab Spring would spread to other countries, but of the 24% who said they did think it would spread, Jordan topped speculation of where it will hit next. Ironically, though, those youth polled inside Jordan overwhelmingly (62%) said they did not think the rebellion would spread.
France is increasing its popularity with 46% seeing it as a most favored country, up from 39% last year, while the United Kingdom took a big spill from 43% in 2011 to 34% this year. The United States fell from 41% to 31%. On the other hand, both India and China were seen in more favorable light than in previous years.
Media consumption skyrocketed. In 2011, just 18% said they updated themselves daily on news events and current affairs. But in 2012, that rose to 52%. Interestingly, online news outlets saw a dramatic rise in their credibility among Arab youth, replacing traditional news outlets like television, radio and newspapers as their preference, according to the survey.
Also, while a majority of youth hold “traditional values” as worthy of preservation, the numbers of those who see them as outdated and something to be replaced rose from 17% in 2011, to 35% this year. This was most obvious in Tunisia where 4 out of 10 said traditional values were outdated.
The survey also found that 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.
“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, Burson-Marsteller, Europe, Middle East and Africa.