posted on 04/05/2012: 817 views
In the past year the Arab World has experienced perhaps the greatest tumult and upheaval in living memory, giving particular relevance to this year's youth survey. How have young people reacted to the Arab Spring, and how do they view the future? Rym Ghazal and Ola Salem report
They worry more about finding a job than any lack of democracy, while a roof over their head is as much a priority as free and fair elections. Above all, when they look for a country where they would most like to live, they see the UAE.
Released yesterday, the Arab Youth Survey 2012 is a window into the hopes and fears of a generation whose lives were changed forever by the turmoil of the Arab Spring.
The euphoria that accompanied the toppling from power of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Muammar Qaddafi in Libya and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia has given way to a more realistic assessment of their prospects among the region's young people.
While many trust their governments more, corruption is still a serious concern. The young worry that continuing civil unrest threatens the prosperity and stability of the region, while the traditional values of their parents' generation are threatened as never before by the growing influence of the internet, social networking tools and the blogosphere.
Most striking is the single thing that young Arabs now most desire. Twelve months ago, and before the Arab Spring unfolded, it was a desire to live in a democratic society. Today most young Arabs place home ownership and a living wage at the top of their wish list.
In face-to-face interviews in 12 Arab countries with 2,500 men and women between 18 and 24, more than eight out of 10 asked for a fair wage, and 65 per cent wanted their own home.
While in 2011 nearly seven out of 10 made living in a democracy their top priority, a year later only 58 per cent felt the same way, dropping it to third place.
This yearning for prosperity and stability was also expressed when young Arabs were asked where they would most like to live. The dream of emigrating to America has now been replaced by visions of the good life in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
Asked which country in the world they most admired, four out of 10 nominated the UAE, ahead of Turkey on 28 per cent and Saudi Arabia with 18 per cent.
When it came to the question of emigrating, 33 per cent picked the UAE, ahead of 17 per cent who wanted to move to France. The USA, once seen as the land of freedom and opportunity, now trails in third place with 16 per cent.
By nationality, the country whose young gaze mostly longingly at the UAE is Lebanon. More than four out of 10 young Lebanese would like to be here, as would 38 per cent of young Egyptians. The emirates lifestyle was also attractive to 28 per cent of young Turks.
The results of the survey came as no surprise on the streets of Beirut and Cairo. Haneen Jbeily, 23, a primary schoolteacher browsing a busy Beirut shopping mall, said: "I would move to the UAE because I think the salaries are good and also because I have relatives there and you can have good social relations there."
Wissam Elias, 22 and now looking for work after finishing a graphic design course, was equally clear: "Lots of people I know discuss moving to the UAE for job opportunities. Also, it's an Arab country, so they won't get confused or feel like it's such a foreign place."
Just half a block from Tahrir Square, Sherif Mostafa Ziyad paused from selling mobile phone cases to observe: "If I had the opportunity to travel there, I would move there right away. You have a great economy in the Emirates. The system there works. The standard of living is better, and unemployment is lower."
The people of the UAE, he said, were "Arabs like us".
Outside a street cafe, Ramy Mohamed Kamel told the story of his sister, whose earnings as a singer in Dubai "blew away" what she could earn in Egypt. "In the Arabs' opinion, Dubai is like France, like Europe," said Mr Kamel, 24, an accountant.
The changing priorities from political to economic should not be interpreted as pessimism among the region's young, though, said Sunil John, chief executive of ASDA'A Burson-Marsteller, the public relations company in Dubai that conducts the survey.
"I would argue that even those youth populations that are frequently less optimistic - in countries like Lebanon and Tunisia - should not be misjudged as pessimists," Mr John said.
"I think that at least part of what we are seeing in these countries is an expression of self-belief and in the possibility of doing even better - for themselves and their countries. Sometimes, we see great hope in the most unexpected places "
Other snapshots show that more than half of those surveyed followed news and current affairs every day, compared with fewer than two out of 10 last year. But while last year most turned on the television, as the events of 2012 unfolded more than half now looked to the internet. Nearly a third now either read or write blogs.
Asked about the effect of the Arab Spring, nearly seven out of 10 said they felt governments had become more transparent and trustworthy since the uprisings.
This was most obvious in Libya, with 86 per cent placing greater faith in the new rulers, while in the UAE nearly 60 per cent of young Emiratis felt the government was more trustworthy than a year ago.
Corruption was still seen as a serious problem in the Arab world, mentioned by 42 per cent, but few believed the protests of the past year would spread to other countries. Nearly six out of 10 said they thought this was unlikely.
Particularly striking was the challenge of the Arab Spring to traditional values. While preserving the values of past generations was still a priority for 65 per cent of young Arabs, the figure has declined significantly since 2011, when over eight out of ten felt they should be preserved.
Those who wanted the culture to embrace modern values and beliefs rose from 17 per cent in 2011 to 35 per cent this year. By contrast, nearly eight out of 10 young Emiratis said traditional values were still the most important to them. – The National
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