Arab Youth Survey finds young Saudis increasingly optimistic, reflecting wider regional trend

Saudi driver adjusts his traditional “shemagh” head cover before getting into his car to start the day working for Uber in Riyadh, on Jan. 20, 2020. (File/AFP)
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For this year’s Arab Youth Survey, 98 percent of Saudi respondents said the Kingdom’s economy was “heading in the right direction.” (File/AFP)
Arab Youth Survey finds young Saudis increasingly optimistic, reflecting wider regional trend
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The survey, which has been running for 13 years, is an annual poll of youth from the region. (Supplied)
Arab Youth Survey finds young Saudis increasingly optimistic, reflecting wider regional trend
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Around 82 percent of Saudi participants described the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic as “excellent.” (File/AFP)
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Updated 13 October 2021

Arab Youth Survey finds young Saudis increasingly optimistic, reflecting wider regional trend

Arab Youth Survey finds young Saudis increasingly optimistic, reflecting wider regional trend
  • Annual Asda’a BCW opinion poll provides insights into hopes, aspirations and attitudes of the Arab world’s largest demographic
  • Despite the challenges ahead, respondents expressed confidence about future prospects while citing cost of living as main obstacle

DUBAI: Young Arabs are taking an increasingly optimistic view of their prospects in the post-pandemic world, with Saudi youth among the more confident that their lives will improve as the COVID-19 wave recedes.

That is one of the main findings of the 2021 annual Asda’a BCW Arab Youth Survey of people in the region, released on Tuesday, showing positivity for the future at a three-year high.

The poll, now in its 13th year, found that a growing majority of young people are taking a positive view of the future, with 60 percent agreeing that “their best days lie ahead of us,” according to the survey of  3,400 men and women aged 18-24 in 50 cities across 17 Arab states. The survey response was split 50/50 between men and women.

Optimism was particularly strong in Saudi Arabia, where a big majority — some 82 percent — said they strongly approve of their government’s handling of the pandemic, describing its response as “excellent.”

That is significantly higher than the average for the Gulf Cooperation Council member states of 51 percent, and the average for the Middle East and North Africa of just 25 percent of young people.

While many young adults worldwide are reluctant to have any of the COVID-19 vaccines now available to them, young people in Saudi Arabia strongly support inoculating themselves against the virus, with 93 percent of survey participants in the Kingdom saying they have either taken a vaccine or plan to do so, compared with the regional average of 49 percent.

In economic terms, young Saudis also lead the way in the region, with 98 percent saying the Kingdom’s economy is “heading in the right direction.”

The same proportion said they are confident that Vision 2030, the strategy for economic and social reform, will succeed, up from 91 percent last year.

Announcing the findings, Sunil John, president of BCW MENA region, said: “Despite the grave social and economic challenges facing much of the region, the hopefulness of young Arab men and women has been one of the most pleasing, if somewhat unexpected, findings of this year’s research, although regional decision-makers have a tremendous responsibility to ensure the ambitions of their young people are fulfilled.”

In particular, young Arabs want regional policymakers to focus on further economic progress in the wake of the pandemic, and to deal with basic “kitchen table issues” such as the rising cost of living, the quality of education and unemployment. 

Concern over the rising cost of living has been a persistent factor in young peoples’ thinking in recent years, waning just marginally in 2021, with 89 percent responding that they are very or somewhat concerned about inflationary pressures on their everyday lives. Over a third of young Arabs said they struggle to meet their expenses.

“The results of this year’s study indicate that while Saudi youth are facing many of the same challenges as their regional peers, such as rising living costs and increasing job market competition, they are fully behind their leadership’s vision for social and economic reform,” John said.

As in previous years, the survey threw up wide variations between different parts of the MENA region.

Broadly, young people in the GCC countries are more optimistic than their peer group in North Africa, and markedly more so than those in the Levant.

In the Levant countries, more than half of respondents — 56 percent — face regular financial problems.

Across the region, a large number of young men and women are concerned about high levels of personal indebtedness, with many citing the rising cost of educational expenses and personal debts as a big reason for their financial anxiety, as well as car loans and medical bills.

A big number think the pandemic has had a negative effect on their education and employment prospects.

Some 33 percent said they or a family member had lost their job during the pandemic, and most of these have not yet been able to find new employment.

Despite the drive in many regional countries to diversify their economies away from government-sector employment, a large number of young people — some 42 percent — still said they would prefer to work for the public sector.

“The continuing appeal of government jobs may be holding back greater entrepreneurship across the region,” the survey found.

Despite concerns generally about education quality, 97 percent of young Saudi men and women said their schooling has equipped them to succeed in technology-related industries.

Reflecting the Kingdom’s economic diversification drive, 62 percent of respondents said they are “very interested” in pursuing a career in tourism, compared with the regional average of 27 percent.

However, most think their voices matter to governments when formulating policy, with about half agreeing that they have the right policies to deal with their concerns.

But tackling public corruption or “wasta” remains a challenge, young people said in large numbers.

Religion still plays a prominent part in the lives of young men and women, with 34 percent saying it plays the most important role in their personal identity.

This proportion has been falling steadily in recent years, and while young people still strongly prioritize religion over factors such as tribe or nationality, over two-thirds want to see further religious reform in their countries.

The importance of Saudi Arabia as a regional ally was also highlighted in this year’s survey. The Kingdom was named alongside Egypt and the UAE as a strong ally of their country, or somewhat of an ally, by 80 percent of interviewees across all 17 Arab states.

But Arab youth also continue to feel the presence of the US in regional affairs, with 51 percent saying the country has the most influence over the Arab world, followed by Saudi Arabia (29 percent) and the UAE (23 percent).

For the 10th consecutive year, the survey found that the UAE is the country most young Arabs would want to live in, and would most like their own governments to emulate.

But Canada, the US and Germany were the most popular global destinations for emigration, the survey found.

In foreign relations, Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia are regarded as the most important allies for young people’s own countries, but the influence of the US in their affairs has not been affected by the polices of the Biden administration, with more than half identifying America as a big influencer in their lives.

Despite moves toward gender equality in many MENA countries, young women cited more challenges in accessing jobs compared to men, with two-thirds concerned about lack of opportunities to join the workforce. Nearly three-quarters of women think it would benefit their family more if they got a job.

In terms of media habits, social media remains the most popular source for news, but the proportion saying they get most of their news from there has fallen, and trust in social media outlets has declined during the pandemic. TV news remains the most trusted source of news for young people.

Inability to “turn off” from social media is a growing issue for young people, the survey found, with 67 percent reporting they find it difficult to disconnect.


Moroccans protest mass vaccination rules; some skirmishes

Moroccans protest mass vaccination rules; some skirmishes
Updated 27 October 2021

Moroccans protest mass vaccination rules; some skirmishes

Moroccans protest mass vaccination rules; some skirmishes
  • Decision came into effect Oct. 21 and stipulates that Moroccans must provide proof of vaccination to enter workplaces
  • The pass is also required to access indoor services such as restaurants, banks and travel

RABAT, Morocco: Demonstrators took to the streets in cities around Morocco on Wednesday, some clashing with police as they denounced the country’s decision to require coronavirus vaccination passes to be allowed to work and enter public venues.
The decision came into effect Oct. 21 and stipulates that Moroccans must provide proof of vaccination in order to enter their workplaces. In a statement, the government has said employers have “direct legal responsibility” to enforce the decision.
The pass is also required to access indoor services such as restaurants and banks as well as domestic and international travel.
The North African kingdom of 36 million people has Africa’s highest vaccination rate, with more than 50 percent of the population fully inoculated. Earlier this month, the government also started administering booster shots.
But the abrupt and unusually widespread vaccine requirements have also prompted opposition, and led to big crowds at vaccination centers as people rushed to get shots.
In the capital, Rabat, protesters gathered outside the parliament building and chanted slogans against the rule, arguing that it goes against fundamental human rights and civil liberties. Police formed a line to prevent the angry demonstrators from getting inside the legislature.
A few protesters clashed with police as they were pushed away down Mohammed V Avenue that leads to the parliament building.
Among protesters was Nabila Mounib, a member of parliament and the secretary general of the opposition Unified Socialist Party. She joined the protest after being barred from entering the parliament building for showing up without a vaccination pass.
Similar scenes unfolded in other Moroccan cities, with dozens of protesters taking to the streets in the country’s most populous city, Casablanca, as well as tourist hotspots of Marrakech and Agadir. They shouted “United against the pass!” as police pushed and swung batons at some of the demonstrators in an attempt to disperse them.


Western envoys met with Sudan’s PM in his residence

Western envoys met with Sudan’s PM in his residence
Updated 27 October 2021

Western envoys met with Sudan’s PM in his residence

Western envoys met with Sudan’s PM in his residence
  • The mission added that the envoys found Hamdok in good health

CAIRO: Envoys from France, Germany, Norway, the UK, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations met with Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok at his residence, the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission Sudan (UNITAMS) wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.

The mission added that the envoys found Hamdok in good health.


US urges Iran to show ‘good faith’ in talks resumption

US urges Iran to show ‘good faith’ in talks resumption
Updated 27 October 2021

US urges Iran to show ‘good faith’ in talks resumption

US urges Iran to show ‘good faith’ in talks resumption
  • Iran's negotiator said after talks with EU mediators in Brussels that Tehran had agreed to resume talks
  • “This window will not remain open forever as Iran continues to take provocative nuclear steps”: State Department

WASHINGTON: The United States on Wednesday urged Iran to show “good faith” and quickly revive a nuclear deal after the clerical state indicated it would return to negotiations in Vienna next month.
Iran's nuclear negotiator said after talks with European Union mediators in Brussels that Tehran had agreed to resume talks in Vienna next month. These discussions had been on hiatus since June.
"We are prepared to return to Vienna, and we believe that it remains possible to quickly reach and implement an understanding on return to mutual full compliance" with the 2015 nuclear deal, a State Department spokesperson said.
The talks should focus on "closing the small number of issues that remained outstanding at the end of the sixth round of talks in June," he said.
"As we have also been clear, this window will not remain open forever as Iran continues to take provocative nuclear steps, so we hope that they come to Vienna to negotiate quickly and in good faith."
President Joe Biden has repeatedly offered to return to the nuclear accord reached in 2015 but his administration has voiced growing frustration at the prolonged delay, which comes as a new hardline government gets settled in Tehran.
Then president Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the deal in 2018 and imposed sweeping sanctions, leading Iran to step up contested nuclear work in protest.


Arab coalition says 105 rebels killed in latest Yemen strikes

Arab coalition says 105 rebels killed in latest Yemen strikes
Updated 27 October 2021

Arab coalition says 105 rebels killed in latest Yemen strikes

Arab coalition says 105 rebels killed in latest Yemen strikes
  • EU delegation in Aden to support government, implementation of Riyadh Agreement
  • Coalition has claimed the deaths of 2,000 Houthis around Marib in strikes it has reported since Oct. 11

AL-MUKALLA: The Arab coalition said on Wednesday it killed 105 Houthi rebels in airstrikes around Yemen’s strategic city of Marib.

The coalition, supporting the internationally recognized government, has claimed the deaths of 2,000 Houthis around Marib in strikes it has reported almost daily since Oct. 11.

“Thirteen military vehicles were destroyed and 105” insurgents were killed in strikes in the past 24 hours, the coalition said, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

The latest bombing was carried out in Al-Jawba, about 50 km south of Marib, and Al-Kassara, 30 km to the northwest.

Marib, capital of the oil-rich province of the same name, is the internationally recognized government’s last bastion in northern Yemen.

The UN Security Council last week called for “de-escalation” in Yemen, in a unanimously adopted statement to counter “the growing risk of large-scale famine” in the country.

Meanwhile, a group of EU diplomats visiting the port city of Aden, the interim capital of Yemen, has expressed support for the internationally recognized government of Yemen, hailed its return to Aden, and called upon the country’s political forces to accelerate the full implementation of the Saudi-brokered Riyadh Agreement. 

The EU delegation also urged the Iran-backed Houthis to end their deadly offensive in the central province of Marib and engage with peace efforts to end the war in Yemen.

The delegation includes the deputy head of the EU mission in Yemen, Marion Lalisse, French Ambassador Jean-Marie Safa, German Ambassador Hubert Jaeger, Dutch Ambassador Peter-Derrek Hof, and Swedish Envoy for Yemen Peter Semneby. 

“The EU ambassadors welcome the return of the Yemen government to Aden, express full support for the government and call for the full implementation of the Riyadh agreement,” the mission said in a statement.

The EU delegation touched down in Aden airport on Tuesday and then headed to the presidential palace for a meeting with Yemen’s Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Saeed. 

The official news agency SABA reported that the prime minister told the EU envoys that the Houthis are spoiling efforts to end the war by aggressively attacking internally displaced people in Marib and civilian targets in Saudi Arabia. 

He called for the Houthis and their supporters in Iran to be punished for undermining peace and security in Yemen. 

“The terrorist behavior of the Houthis, their war crimes against civilians and IDPs in Marib, and the attack on civilian properties in Saudi Arabia test the international community,” Saeed said. 

“Peace process should be based on effective pressure and sanctions on the Houthis and their sponsors in Tehran,” the premier said, urging international donors to expand their assistance to Yemen to include supporting the country’s exacerbating economic meltdown. 

Yemen’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Awadh bin Mubarak, who also met the delegation, said that the Europeans discussed offering assistance to the economy and to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis. 

“There is great European interest in discussing ways to support the Yemeni government, especially in the economic field,” Bin Mubarak said. 

The Dutch ambassador to Yemen said they held an “excellent” meeting with the government and discussed ways to help address the devaluation of the riyal, fight corruption and tackle other economic challenges. 

“Excellent meeting today with @Yemen_PM in Aden, expressing EU support for the Government of Yemen and discussing the economic challenges including the exchange rate, inflation, boosting revenues, the needed government reforms and the fight against corruption,” Peter Derrek Hof said on Twitter.

During a meeting with the EU delegation on Wednesday, Aden Gov. Ahmed Hamid Lamlis thanked the Europeans for visiting Aden, stressing that the visit carries a message that the city is safe and ready to receive international delegations. 

The Europeans also discussed the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement and supporting the government to smoothly resume its duties in Aden with the leader of the pro-independence Southern Transitional Council Aidarous Al-Zubaidi.

Yemeni officials and experts believe that the EU mission visit to Aden would spur the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement, help the government function effectively in Aden and convince many international diplomats to visit the city. 

“This is an indication that Aden is safe. The presence of the Europeans in Aden mounts pressure on parties to put into place the Riyadh Agreement and end hostilities in the city,” Najeeb Ghallab, undersecretary at Yemen’s Information Ministry and a political analyst, told Arab News.


Israel advances plans for more than 3,000 settler homes

Israel advances plans for more than 3,000 settler homes
Updated 27 October 2021

Israel advances plans for more than 3,000 settler homes

Israel advances plans for more than 3,000 settler homes
  • The Civil Administration’s high planning committee gave the final green light to 1,800 homes and initial approval for another 1,344
  • About 475,000 Israeli Jews live in settlements in the West Bank, which are considered illegal under international law

JERUSALEM: Israel advanced plans for building more than 3,000 settler homes in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, a military spokesman said, a day after the US forcefully criticized such construction.
The Civil Administration’s high planning committee gave the final green light to 1,800 homes and initial approval for another 1,344, a spokesman for the military body that oversees civilian matters in the Palestinian territories told AFP.
The approvals came a day after the United States criticized Israel for its policy of building settlements, with President Joe Biden’s administration saying it “strongly” opposed new construction on the West Bank.
His administration’s position on the matter stands in stark contrast to that of his predecessor Donald Trump, whose presidency saw the US offer a green light to Israel’s activity on occupied Palestinian land.
The homes approved on Wednesday were spread across the West Bank, from the suburbs of Jerusalem to new neighborhoods of settlements deep inside the territory.
Israel’s housing ministry had separately on Sunday published tenders to build 1,355 new homes in the West Bank.
About 475,000 Israeli Jews live in settlements in the West Bank, which are considered illegal under international law, on land Palestinians claim as part of their future state.
Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem has continued under every Israeli government since 1967.