05/04/2017, 18.47
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Arab youth are less optimistic, drawn to Putin, and increasingly distant from the US

Russia is better than the US as a non-Arab ally. Most Arab youth are concerned, scared or angry about Trump. Most would like to go to the Emirates. About 54 per cent use English in lieu of Arabic in everyday life. Facebook outpaces print media and TV as a news source. For an expert, regional differences are troubling. Optimism among young people has dropped.

Dubai (AsiaNews) – A recent survey found that young Arabs view Putin and Russia as the most valued international ally, whilst trust in the United States is down. They are also concerned about the economy as well as terrorism, even though the threat from the Islamic State has become less pressing. They also share a broad sense of uncertainty, have less trust in the future, and their dream is to move to the Emirates.

The ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller 2017 Arab youth survey looked at what young Arabs think and aspire in the Middle East and North Africa. Findings are based on 3,500 in-person interviews of Arab youth between the ages of 18 to 24 from 16 countries in the region. The interviews were conducted by international polling firm Penn Schoen Berland Research between 7 February and 7.

Surprisingly, this year’s polling shows the United States dropping from as top non-Arab ally, from 25 to 17 per cent, with Russia climbing 12 points to take top spot at 21 per cent.

A major factor is pessimism about US President Donald Trump. As many as 64 per cent of youth used negative words — such as concerned, scared or angry — to describe Trump’s presidency with only 19 per cent view it as positive, with words such as excited, optimistic or hopeful.

The survey was conducted right after Trump signed anti-immigration presidential orders. The latter weighed heavily on Arab public opinion before the US attack against Syria following the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime.

Russia’s intervention to support Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria has persuaded Gulf powers to increase their diplomatic overtures to Moscow, given Russia’s more muscular presence.

While young Arabs in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the biggest backers of Syria’s rebels, are more likely to identify Russia as an enemy, respondents in other Gulf states, notably Kuwait, were more open to Moscow.

Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates cemented its position as the country most young Arabs said they would like to live in and would most like their own countries to take after.

This year, one in three (35 per cent) young Arabs said they would most like to live in the UAE, a significant increase of 13 percentage points from last year.

Unemployment remains a top concern for young Arabs (35 per cent), along with Islamic State (35 per cent) and terrorism in general (34 per cent).

However, if in Iraq 82 per cent respondents believe the Islamic State has been weakened, many young people in Libya, Yemen and Saudi Arabia say it has become stronger.

More than 80 per cent of respondents agreed overwhelmingly that governments needed to do more to address the needs of young people.

For the first time, more than half of respondents (54 per cent) said that the used English more than Arabic in their daily life last year.

In Gulf Cooperation Council member states, an overwhelming majority (85 per cent) of young people said their country has been heading in the right direction over the past five years, but in the Levant and Yemen, which face mounting social, political and economic challenges, the same number, 85 per cent, said their country is headed in the wrong direction –  bringing the division of views into the spotlight.

Lastly, it is worth noting that Facebook has become the number one medium for daily news for young Arabs, far more than other online news sources, print media or TV.

Findings also show a major regional divide among young Arabs. “The stark divide between the responses of youth in the GCC nations and those in the Levant and North Africa is clearly related to the huge differences in access to opportunity,” said Sunil John, Founder and CEO of ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller.

“The findings from this year’s survey are profoundly troubling. In the nine years we have conducted this important research – the biggest study of its kind into the region’s most important demographic – we have always seen geographic differences, but never have they been so pronounced.”

“Optimism,” he added, “should be the default attitude for youth”. Sadly, “so many young people, in so many nations, today said that their countries’ best days are behind them”.

“It would be easy to dismiss this divide as the result of the widening income gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, but it goes beyond this, because “some of the least confident in their government’s ability to address issues” are also found oil-rich nations.

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