Religion plays too big a role in the lives of young Arabs, survey reveals

The survey found that young people wanted to see the role religion played in government reassessed. (File/Shutterstock)
Updated 30 April 2019
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Religion plays too big a role in the lives of young Arabs, survey reveals

  • Young Arabs believe that drugs are too freely available in society
  • Three quarters of young Saudis say they are optimistic about their futures

DUBAI: Young Arabs believe religion plays too big a role in their lives and want their religious institutions reformed, according to the latest annual survey of attitudes of young people in the Middle East and North Africa.

Young Saudi citizens also believe overwhelmingly that the Kingdom - under the Vision 2030 strategy - is heading in the right direction, and that its economy is on track, the ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey, unveiled today, reveals.

Young Saudis demonstrate optimism in their personal future, with three quarters of those polled saying that they will have a better life than their parents, and only 10 per cent expecting to be worse off.

The 11th annual survey is based on 3,300 interviews with Arabs between the ages of 18-24, split equally between men and women, in January this year.

Perhaps the most eye-catching finding in the 2019 survey is that young Arabs seem to want a reduced role for religion in their lives. Some 66 per cent of those polled said that religion plays too big a role, with an even bigger number - 79 per cent - calling for reform of their religion’s institutions.

The findings come as the Arab News series “Preachers of Hate” explored the destructive influence religious extremists have had on society.

Half said religion was holding the region back, while nearly the same proportion said religion was losing its influence in the region - a finding especially pronounced in North Africa and the Levant.

Young Arabs are also increasingly tired of war and civil strife. A big majority - nearly three quarters - believe the war in Syria should end regardless of the regime in power there. But another big majority remain concerned about the Palestine-Israel conflict. Nearly 60 percent believe that Sunni-Shia relations have deteriorated over the past ten years.

In international relations, 59 percent view the USA as an enemy, while 37 percent see Russia as a strong ally, almost as many view America the same say (38 percent).

Most of those polled - around 60 percent - say the murder of Jamal Khashoggi would have no or only temporary impact on Saudi Arabia’s image around the world.

Most young Arabs think the rising cost of living is the biggest obstacle facing the Middle East, and many - 65 percent - say they want their governments to do more for them, especially in education and healthcare.

The survey also included for the first time questions about youth attitudes to drugs and mental illness, with a large number of respondents saying that illegal drug use was on the rise and drugs were easy to obtain. Mental health is an increasingly important issue, with nearly one third saying they knew someone who was suffering from mental health problems.

Sunil John, president of Asda’a BCW, said: “This year’s findings show that youths are looking at their governments to reshuffle their priorities, especially when it comes to the role played by religion and seemingly endless conflicts – and they want to see change.

“Young Arabs who have grown up against a backdrop of extremism and geopolitical conflicts are tired of the region being defined by war and conflict. They say they want their leaders to focus on the economy and providing better services such as quality education and healthcare.”


Bassam Ghulman, deputy minister at the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah

Updated 25 May 2019
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Bassam Ghulman, deputy minister at the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah

Bassam Ghulman has been deputy minister for transportation affairs at the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah since February 2018.

Previously, he was general manager of the Haramain High-Speed Rail Project, which links the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah.

He was also a professor of contracts and construction project management at Umm Al-Qura University in Makkah.

He first joined the university as an assistant lecturer in 1994, and held several positions there, including head of the civil engineering department.

Ghulman serves as vice chairman of the board of the Saudi Council of Engineers. He was an adviser to the secretary of Makkah, having first joined the municipality there as an assistant civil engineer in 1991.

Ghulman holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Umm Al-Qura University. He earned his master’s and Ph.D. in civil engineering from the University of Oklahoma in the US.

He has participated in local, regional and international events and conferences, and has published numerous academic papers and books.

Ghulman is a member of several government committees, including the advisory board for development in the Makkah region.

He recently met with members of the transport sector at the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah to discuss early preparations for this year’s season.

Ghulman said the meeting was in line with the ministry’s vision to improve and develop services to transport pilgrims to holy sites.