DUBAI: Arab youth’s confidence in government is on the slide with less than half (46 percent) saying their voice matters to leadership — a substantial decrease from 2022 (67 percent).
Sunil John, founder and president of ASDA’A BCW, told Arab News: “Over the past five years there has been a significant drop in the percentage of Arab youth who feel their voice matters.”
The ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey, the largest study of its kind, looked at youth — men and women aged 18 to 24 — across the Middle East, adding South Sudan this year, and focused on their views, hopes and fears.
Within the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, a massive 78 percent said they think their voice matters to the leadership of their country. However, in North Africa and the Levant that number dropped to 35 and 32 percent respectively.
John, who called the contrast between the regions “striking,” added: “These numbers reveal that the Middle East must be understood through the new reality that the youth are living today.
“While GCC governments have their youth’s confidence and have enacted policies that address their concerns, it is an entirely different picture in the rest of the region.”
Moreover, a majority of youth in the Levant (71 percent) and North Africa (61 percent) say their regions are going in the wrong direction, and over two-thirds believe their governments do not have the right policies to address their most important concerns.
Young GCC nationals held the opposite view with 87 percent saying their leaders had the right policies.
The contrast between the regions is apparent even in views on corruption. While 52 percent in the GCC believe there is no corruption in their region, a mere 10 percent in the Levant and 12 percent in North Africa held the same view about their countries.
Corruption is among the top five concerns for Arab youth (83 percent), along with rising living costs (89 percent), unemployment (86 percent), the state of the national economy (84 percent), and income inequality (81 percent).
This list has remained largely unchanged for more than a decade, except when a lack of democracy and the rise of Daesh were top concerns, in 2011 and 2012 respectively.
Inflation is understandably a major source of anxiety for Arab youth and is likely to remain so, according to the survey, with the International Monetary Fund recently saying that the conflict in Ukraine and further OPEC Plus production cuts would “increase fiscal and external strains for MENA (Middle East and North Africa) importers.”
The IMF believes inflation will remain unchanged at around 15 percent this year, before declining modestly in 2024.
Unemployment is the second biggest concern for Arab youth, which is unsurprising given that unemployment rates among the young are averaging around 30 percent in Egypt, Sudan and Algeria — three of the Arab world’s most populous countries — and more than 50 percent in Lebanon.
Arab youth is not particularly optimistic about finding a new job either, with 50 percent of the youth in North Africa and 57 percent in the Levant believing it would be difficult to find employment.
This year’s findings resemble the 2012 Arab Youth Survey, which found youngsters were extremely frustrated with the government on issues such as education, jobs, and inflation.
John said that the findings underlined “the need for governments in the region to step up and address issues that the youth are facing with urgency.”
Not only does Arab youth feel its voice does not matter to government, but it also lacks trust in its leaders to address the most important issues.
More than half of the participants said they were not confident in their government’s ability to deal with issues like unemployment, corruption, the rising cost of living, income equality, and economic stability.
John said: “Unemployment, corruption, and the rising cost of living are issues of concern for youth globally, but the fact that Arab youth — especially in North Africa and the Levant — don’t have confidence in their government’s ability to tackle these is alarming and a red flag.”