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What do tomorrow’s Arabs really want?

Bakir Oweida

Published: Updated:

I do not know to what extent the authorities in the Arab world are up-to-date on the thinking of future generations about several topics such as the spectra of political and social trends, individual and communal desires, important local, regional and perhaps international expectations, and then - as a result - the ambitions of the future nation builders.

What I mean by “up-to-date” is do they have the information needed. Information based on numbers and samples taken from field studies and gathered from field research. It is not wrong to include the information gleaned from spying devices used to learn the secrets of the people through their emails and iPhones and other similar gadgets, as long as they are not used for evil purposes. As the new rioters, like the American Edward Snowden, demonstrated - as long as the country is spying on its youth in order to enrich the knowledge of specialists on the thinking patterns of young men and women and not for the purpose of prosecution or defamation, the act must be treated differently.

Certainly, many studies have been conducted. But, are they being updated from time to time or maybe on an annual basis or every three or five years? Do they review the points mentioned in the opinion polls or surveys? Do the questions include all, or the most important communication tools and forms of knowledge in the global and not only the local market?

For instance, I do not know if the field research takes into account what is happening on planet Facebook or in the Twitter galaxy. Are the inspectors of younger generations’ trends - for example - interested in analyzing the patterns of the social behavior that will prevail in the fifth decade of the 21st century? Do they want to know what the differences will be between the teenagers of that time and the adolescents of our time, who are in constant battles with our generation? Are the observers’ interests limited to tracking and monitoring political affairs and what revolves around them?

Asking the right questions

I know that all internet platforms have public opinion sections. But, what is the dominant topic of questions on most Internet sites? Politics, of course. Even within the political sector you can rarely find diversity that is related to the aspects of the daily lives of young people. For instance, as long as the crisis in Syria is topping the news, it is the subject of most of the polls, and you can notice the lack of diversification that occurs even when a political development takes place within a community and is more important for the citizens of the country than any foreign matter. Do Arab web polls try to ask their young audience about family or work relationships? Do they try to ask about the youth interests in the context of the curriculum or the relationship between the faculty in institutions and universities and students?

Are the observers’ interests limited to tracking and monitoring political affairs and what revolves around them? Do Arab web polls try to ask their young audience about family or work relationships?

Bakir Oweida

In the same vein, do Arab research centers try to study the relationship between youth in all society’s strata? In other words, can we say that the expansion of poverty among young people here, and the expansion of wealth among others there, affect the security and social peace, or it is just an illusion?

I remember that I monitored a survey for al-Sharq al-Awsat’s weekly magazine about the thoughts and aspirations of the year 2000 generation. We developed questions that dealt with several aspects and targeted young people under 20 years-old in several Arab countries, assuming that they will be the leaders in their respective countries ten years after conducting the survey. That was an interesting experience, and I remember that the answers surprised us at the time, with many positive aspects related to their ambitions, and shocked us with negative response on general culture questions.

Besides its role in displaying public opinion through news coverage and opinion pages, newspapers in Western countries feel that they are generally responsible for the practical involvement in the formation of societies in different forms. This includes their polls measuring public opinion and giving an objective idea about the mood of society, not just in politics, but also in issues related to the environment, health, education, etc. Arab media institutions are certainly trying to deploy some effort at this level, but it is not essential –I may be wrong – when it comes to the the concerns of any newspaper in the Arab world.

How can we establish a scientific basis for a better future without the continuous measurement of the orientations of future generations? In fact, if it is no longer impossible to imagine the future, understanding how the youth of today think and what they want is the first and most important step on the path to imagining the reality of tomorrow.

This article was first published in al-Sharq al-Awsat on Oct. 24, 2013.

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Bakir Oweida is a journalist who has worked as Managing Editor, and written for several Arab publications based in London. His last executive post was Assistant to Editor-in-Chief of Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, responsible for the Opinions section, until December 2003. He can be reached on bakir@hotmail.co.uk and bakir@darbakir.com

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.