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.

France’s Macron says hoping for progress on Lebanon ‘within next hours’

France’s Macron says hoping for progress on Lebanon ‘within next hours’
Updated 03 December 2021

France’s Macron says hoping for progress on Lebanon ‘within next hours’

France’s Macron says hoping for progress on Lebanon ‘within next hours’

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday he hoped there would be progress on the Lebanon crisis in the next hours.
“We will do all we can to re-engage the Gulf regions for the benefit of Lebanon... I hope the coming hours will allow us to make progress.” Macron said during a visit to the United Arab Emirates.
Lebanon is facing a diplomatic crisis with Gulf states, spurred by a minister’s critical comments about the Saudi Arabia-led intervention in Yemen that prompted Riyadh, Bahrain and Kuwait to expel Lebanon’s top diplomats and recall their own envoys. The UAE withdrew its envoys.

US critics of Israel face challenges in redrawn Congress districts

US critics of Israel face challenges in redrawn Congress districts
Updated 03 December 2021

US critics of Israel face challenges in redrawn Congress districts

US critics of Israel face challenges in redrawn Congress districts
  • Planned changes to district boundaries could affect nine members of Congress who have a record of voicing support on Palestinian issues

CHICAGO: Nine members of Congress who have been vocal critics of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians could face tougher re-election campaigns as a result of their districts being redrawn, an analysis by Arab News shows.

Every 10 years, the dominant political parties in many states re-draw district boundaries based on demographic data provided by the US Census, which does not count Arab and Muslim Americans as a separate category.

Where population shifts have led to proposed boundary changes, incumbents may be forced to stand in new districts. That’s the challenge facing Illinois representative Marie Newman, who won election in 2020 in the 3rd Congressional District, which has the largest concentration of Palestinian American voters.

Newman has chosen to face-off with Sean Casten, who is very strong on climate change, in the new 6th District rather than stand against Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who is one of only two Hispanic congress members in Illinois, in the 4th District. Casten is a strong supporter of Israel and silent on Israeli violence against Palestinians, while Garcia has often joined Newman to support pro-Palestinian legislation, including voting against a bill giving Israel $1 billion for its Iron Dome defense system last September.

“Rep. Newman was supportive of the push to create a second congressional district of Latino influence and understood that doing so would mean the need to shift boundary lines of existing CDs in the Chicagoland area,” Newman campaign spokesperson Ben Hardin said.

Describing the challenges as “inevitable,” Hardin said: “Representative Newman is grateful … to have the support of so many people here in Chicago’s southwest side and in the south and west suburbs, including a strong coalition of supporters from the Arab and Muslim American community.”

The new Illinois district map was approved by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, one of Israel’s strongest advocates, in November. Pritzker aroused anger among Arab Americans after refusing to apologize for disparaging remarks he made in a 1998 congressional race in which he accused a rival of accepting money from a Muslim group that Pritzker asserted supported terrorists.

“There is no doubt that the Illinois Democrats are seeking to undermine Newman, who has been a vocal supporter of Palestinian, Arab and Muslim rights,” said Hassan Nijem, the president of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce.

“She and Chuy Garcia are the only Illinois Democrats to defend Palestinian rights and recognize our growing community.”

The Illinois primary has been delayed from March until June 28, 2022, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to Newman and Garcia, seven other members of Congress who voted against the Iron Dome money could be affected by district changes.

They include Cori Bush of Missouri; André Carson of Indiana; Raúl Grijalva of Arizona; Ilhan Omar of Minnesota; Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts; Rashida Tlaib of Michigan; and Thomas Massie of Kentucky, a Republican Congressman who consistently votes against all foreign aid regardless of the recipient.

Tlaib, Pressley and Omar are members of the “Squad,” a group of progressive Democrats that includes New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Instead of voting against the Iron Dome funding, however, AOC voted “present” not taking a position.

In Michigan, which is holding its primary on Aug. 2 next year, mapmakers are proposing to re-draw Tlaib’s 13th district, increasing the number of African American voters. That could be important even though Tlaib defeated several African American candidates when she first ran and won office in the predominantly African American district in 2018.

Tlaib may be forced into a new district against pro-Arab Democrat Debbie Dingell. However, she could survive as the Michigan process puts remapping in the hands of an independent commission rather than partisan politicians. The final Michigan remap might not be completed until late January.

Also in Michigan, proposed changes would pit Jewish Democratic Congressman Andy Levin, who has been an outspoken supporter of the two-state solution for Palestine and Israel, against Brenda Lawrence.

Minnesota congressional remapping plans have targeted Omar and another pro-Palestinian Congresswoman, Betty McCollum, although maps in those districts have not been finalized.

Israeli agents convinced Iranian scientists to blow up their own nuclear facilities

Israeli agents convinced Iranian scientists to blow up their own nuclear facilities
Updated 03 December 2021

Israeli agents convinced Iranian scientists to blow up their own nuclear facilities

Israeli agents convinced Iranian scientists to blow up their own nuclear facilities
  • They posed as Iranian dissidents and smuggled bombs into the Natanz facility disguised as food
  • Israel had pledged to never allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons

LONDON: Agents from the Mossad convinced Iranian scientists to blow up their own nuclear facilities by “posing as dissidents” and smuggling explosives disguised as food into facilities, according to reports.

According to The Jewish Chronicle, Israeli agents convinced up to 10 scientists to destroy the Natanz nuclear facility, wiping out 90 percent of its centrifuges – crucial for research into nuclear weapons.

They are said to have smuggled some explosives into the plant in food lorries, while others were dropped in via drones and picked up by scientists – who they convinced to use against the nuclear sites by posing as Iranian dissidents.

The attack on the facility is just one of a long line of Israeli sabotages of Iranian nuclear facilities, a strategy that they have engaged in more as Iranian nuclear research has progressed.

The Natanz facility, a critical nuclear research site, has been hit by at least three attacks linked to the Israeli secret service, the Mossad.

In another incident, agents used a quadcopter drone to fire missiles at the Iran Centrifuge Technology Company in an attempt to disrupt its research.

In recent years, following the US withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Iran has increased its atomic energy research, including enriching growing quantities of uranium above the levels required for civilian nuclear activity such as energy production.

In April Iran said that it would start enriching uranium up to 60 percent after the attack on its Natanz plant which it blamed on Israel – that is closing in on the 90 to 95 percent enrichment required for nuclear weapons.

This week – much to the ire of Israel – Iran and the US returned to the negotiating table to try to find a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear activity in exchange for relief from crushing economic sanctions imposed on the country by the US and its allies.

But on Thursday, Israeli officials called on the US directly to cease those negotiations.

In a phone call with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called for “concrete measures” to be taken against Iran.

He said that Tehran was carrying out “nuclear blackmail” as a negotiation tactic and that “this must be met with an immediate cessation of negotiations and by concrete steps taken by the major powers,” according to a statement released by his office.

The Israeli leader also expressed his concern about a new report from the UN, issued during the US-Iran talks in Vienna, which showed that Iran had “started the process of enriching uranium to the level of 20 percent purity with advanced centrifuges at its Fordo underground facility.”

Israel, the only nuclear-armed state in the Middle East, has pledged never to allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.

Lebanon information minister resigns

Lebanon information minister resigns
Updated 03 December 2021

Lebanon information minister resigns

Lebanon information minister resigns

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Information Minister George Kordahi has officialy submitted his resignation on Friday to “give Lebanon a chance.”
“I will resign this afternoon,” Kordahi earlier told AFP. “I do not want to cling to this position, if it can be useful, I want to give Lebanon a chance.”
An official at the presidency confirmed to AFP that President Michel Aoun had received a call from Kordahi confirming he would submit his resignation.

UAE, France sign $18 billion deal for 80 Rafale jets as Macron starts Gulf tour

UAE, France sign $18 billion deal for 80 Rafale jets as Macron starts Gulf tour
Updated 03 December 2021

UAE, France sign $18 billion deal for 80 Rafale jets as Macron starts Gulf tour

UAE, France sign $18 billion deal for 80 Rafale jets as Macron starts Gulf tour
  • Macron arrived in the early hours of Friday for a brief Gulf tour where he will also visit Qatar

DUBAI: French President Emmanuel Macron met Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed on Friday at the start of a two-day Gulf tour that saw France sell the UAE 80 French-made Rafale warplanes for $18.08 billion (€16 billion). 
France’s Defense Minister said the deal was France’s largest-ever weapons contract for export while the Minister for the Armed Forces hailed the deal as "historic."

There was no immediate confirmation of the deal from Emirati officials. Macron was greeted at the leadership pavilion at Dubai’s Expo site for talks with Sheikh Mohammed.
“I don’t want to reveal the Christmas present” before the meeting, UAE presidential adviser Anwar Gargash told journalists in the build-up to the talks in Dubai.
Macron arrived in the early hours of Friday for a brief Gulf tour where he will also visit Qatar, host of next year’s World Cup, before traveling to Saudi Arabia on Saturday.
The UAE, which celebrated its 50th anniversary on Thursday, is expected to order dozens of Rafale jets to replace its Mirage 2000 aircraft acquired in the late 1990s.
The Emirates is the fifth biggest customer for the French defense industry with $5.31 billion (€4.7 billion) from 2011-2020, according to a parliamentary report.
Macron is accompanied by a large delegation in Dubai including Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire and Defense Minister Florence Parly.