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Winning the hearts and minds of Arab youth

The overwhelming majority of young Arabs reject ISIS and believe the group will fail to establish an Islamic State

Samar Fatany

Published: Updated:

The ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller survey found that Arab youth see Saudi Arabia as their country’s biggest ally for the 5th consecutive year. Sunil John the CEO of ASDA’A said, “Saudi Arabia has long been a powerful player in the region, and young people throughout the Arab world recognize that Saudi Arabia has a key role to play in order to ensure stability and security not just within its own borders but throughout the Middle East and North Africa.”

“Inside the hearts and minds of Arab youth” was the theme of a conference organized by the PR consultancy ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller in Dubai on April 12. Regional experts, business leaders and economists discussed the research findings of the Arab youth survey conducted to explore the attitudes of Arab youth in 16 countries in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region. The findings from the 8th annual ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey released this month reveal that 53 percent of young Arabs prioritize stability over democracy and believe that the main obstacles facing the region are unemployment, rising living costs and civil unrest.

The overwhelming majority of young Arabs reject ISIS and believe the group will fail to establish an Islamic State. Such findings negate the circulated claims by some elements in the West that Arab youth are violent and are ISIS supporters.

During the discussions, the panelists outlined the need for governments, businesses and civil society organizations to use the evidence-based insights to address the concerns and aspirations of Arab youth. According to the findings, poor job opportunities are prevalent across the Arab world, where 25 percent of those 15 to 24 years old are jobless – the highest youth unemployment on the planet, according to the World Bank. The International Labor Organization believes up to 75 million young people are jobless in Arab countries.

The overwhelming majority of young Arabs reject ISIS and believe the group will fail to establish an Islamic State

Samar Fatany

The lack of jobs and opportunities is seen as the number one recruitment driver for ISIS. In eight of the 16 countries surveyed, employment problems were a bigger pull factor for ISIS than extreme religious views. Policy makers need to formulate their strategies accordingly. Arab youth are less concerned with religious extremism with 66 percent more concerned about falling oil prices and economic needs. Socio-economic challenges are critical and ignoring them could create a bigger threat to the region’s stability and security.

The findings identified the UAE as the most desired place in which to live for the fifth consecutive year. It is viewed as a model country and a regional safe haven for Arab youth. The UAE has developed a diversified economy and is respectful of religious and cultural diversity. This is an indication that the majority of Arab youth seek business opportunities and want peace and stability.

Personal freedoms and human rights

According to the survey, 67 percent of young Arabs are calling for their leaders to do more to improve their personal freedoms and human rights, particularly women. Policy makers in the Arab world should make use of these findings that reveal the frustrations of Arab youth, who remain dissatisfied with the discrimination and lack of opportunities that deprive them of their basic human rights, mainly food security, housing, employment and a life of dignity. In Saudi Arabia women are still struggling to eliminate the guardianship rule that limits their freedom and deprives them of equal opportunities for a better future.

According to the survey, a large segment of young Arabs, 47 percent, believed that Sunni-Shia relations were deteriorating and 52 percent felt religion played too big a role in the region. Arab youth are not party to the sectarian conflict which they believe is a political conflict between rivals on opposite sides of the wars in Syria and Yemen. Policy makers should not be led by political agendas. Ineffective policies, lack of diplomacy and rigid attitudes toward public needs undermine all efforts to ensure regional peace and stability. Arab leaders need to reevaluate their strategies and address regional challenges with more dialogue, diplomacy and wiser policies to promote regional peace, security and economic opportunities.

The ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller survey found that Arab youth see Saudi Arabia as their country’s biggest ally for the 5th consecutive year. Sunil John the CEO of ASDA’A said, “Saudi Arabia has long been a powerful player in the region, and young people throughout the Arab world recognize that Saudi Arabia has a key role to play in order to ensure stability and security not just within its own borders but throughout the Middle East and North Africa.” Saudi policy makers must not disappoint Arab youth. They should pay attention to these reports that provide an overall view of Arab hopes and aspirations.

The Arab youth survey is the brainchild of the pioneering Sunil John, a man committed to the welfare of the region. The research center has established itself as a key referral source across the world. It provides accurate data and analysis about the social, political and economic trends in the region. The Arab youth survey provides valuable information that should help public and private sector organizations in their decision making and policy formation.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on April 16, 2016.

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Samar Fatany is a Chief Broadcaster in the English section at Jeddah Broadcasting Station. Over the past 28 years, she has introduced many news, cultural, and religious programs and has conducted several interviews with official delegations and prominent political personalities visiting the kingdom. Fatany has made significant contributions in the fields of public relations and social awareness in Saudi Arabia and has been involved in activities aiming at fighting extremism and enhancing women’s role in serving society. She has published three books: “Saudi Perceptions & Western Misconceptions,” “Saudi Women towards a new era” and “Saudi Challenges & Reforms.”

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