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Number of Arab youths viewing US as ‘enemy’ doubles

Iranians hold anti-US placards as they take part in a protest against the Trump administration's designation of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a "terrorist organization" in Tehran, Iran on 12 April 2019. [Fatemeh Bahrami - Anadolu Agency]
Iranians hold anti-US placards as they take part in a protest against the Trump administration's designation of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a "terrorist organization" in Tehran, Iran on 12 April 2019. [Fatemeh Bahrami - Anadolu Agency]

The findings of the largest survey of Arab youth were released earlier this week with some eye-opening revelations. America’s standing in the region has declined significantly while Russia’s image has been boosted. The share of young Arabs regarding the US as an enemy has almost doubled since 2016, while Russia’s standing has risen, with 64 per cent. Two-thirds regard Iran as an enemy; while a third view the Islamic Republic as an ally.

These were just some of the conclusions made in the 2019 Arab Youth Survey. Now in its 11th year, the study is commissioned by a Dubai-based communications agency. It is based on interviews with 3,300 people aged 18-24 in 15 countries, excluding war-torn Syria and Qatar, which is under a trade embargo imposed by states including the UAE.

The findings of the survey published in the Financial Times indicate that the biggest concern of young Arabs is the rising cost of living and unemployment. The rate of unemployment is said to be more than 30 per cent in many countries across the Middle East and North Africa, and the IMF says this year’s projected regional growth rate of 1.3 per cent is insufficient to create enough jobs for the 2.8 million youths joining the workforce every year.

Read: Report finds ‘quiet revolution’ in Middle East birth rates

Arab youth also expressed discontent with their government. A majority of the study’s respondents believe their governments should provide jobs, housing and energy subsidies. The Gulf states, which are trying desperately to wean their citizens off subsidies, contain the highest number of citizens with this attitude; 82 per cent said that their government should provide jobs for all citizens.

There were revealing attitudes towards religion and foreign affairs. Two-thirds said religion played too large a role in the Middle East, while half said religious values were holding the region back. Regarding foreign affairs, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were seen as extending their regional influence more than other Arab countries during the past five years.

According to the FT three-fifths of those interviewed said the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October last year would either have no impact or only temporarily tarnish Saudi Arabia’s international image.

Arab youth also expressed concern over worsening relations between Sunnis and Shias. Some 59 per cent believed relations between the two branches of Islam were worse. Social issues were also high on their list of worries including drug abuse and mental health.

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