Highlighting shifting geopolitical allegiances in the Arab world, the region’s youth say they view Turkey and China as stronger allies of their country than traditional powers such as the United States and Russia.
This is a top finding of the 15th annual ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey, released in Dubai on Tuesday. The annual survey is the largest study of its kind of the Arab world’s largest demographic — its 200 million plus youth across 53 cities in the region.
At the same time, they say the US continues to exert the most influence in the Arab world. Compared to only 3 percent naming Turkey as having the most influence, and 4 percent identifying China, a third of young Arabs (33 percent) say the US is the most influential, followed by the UAE (11 percent), Saudi Arabia and Israel (both on 10 percent), and Russia (8 percent).
Call for US disengagement from the region
However, most would like the US to be less involved in Middle Eastern affairs, with nearly two-thirds across the GCC, North Africa and the Levant countries saying they ‘strongly or somewhat support’ US disengagement from the region.
When it comes to the war in Ukraine, a slightly higher percentage of respondents (28 percent) believe diplomatic negotiations will lead to a compromise than say the conflict will continue for ‘a long time with no clear resolution’ (25 percent).
The ASDA’A BCW agency revealed the main findings under the first of six themes explored in the research, ‘My Global Citizenship.’ This tackled a variety of geopolitical issues, including the United States’ intervention in the Arab world and its disengagement policy, ongoing regional conflicts and disputes, and the countries Arab youth say they most want to live in and their own country to be like.
The overall theme of the 15th edition of the survey is ‘Living a New Reality’.
In the coming weeks, the agency will publish insights under the other five themes covered in the study: My Politics, revealing what young Arab say about the performance of their government; My Livelihood, detailing their views on education, jobs, and their finances; My Identity, covering religion and issues of personal identity; My Aspirations, the hopes of young Arabs for the future; and My Lifestyle, highlighting their habits, pastimes, and the media they consume. “We believe that revealing the six themes independently provides an opportunity to better absorb these findings and understand them in the right context,” said Sunil John, President, MENA, BCW and Founder of ASDA’A BCW.
Findings on climate change, mental health and gender rights will also be disclosed, making this year’s study the most extensive in the survey’s history.
“All the respondents in this year’s study belong to Generation Z and the oldest were just into their teens when the epochal events of 2008 culminated in the Arab Spring,” John said. “Like the generation before them who lived through the global financial crisis, they are coming to terms with a new reality defined, on the one hand, by simmering conflicts and the involvement of new world powers in regional affairs, and on the other, by regional governments seeking new alliances and a platform of their own on the world stage.”
UAE is nation they would like most to live in
For the 12th consecutive year since they were asked to name the countries they consider ‘model nations,’ Arab youth have said the United Arab Emirates is the country they would most like to live in and the one they would most want their own to emulate. The United States and Canada were ranked second and third, respectively, for the third year running.
Significantly, three GCC nations, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, appear in Arab youth’s top-five list of model nations for the first time in nine years. Young Arab men and women now say they would rather live in Qatar than the United Kingdom, while Saudi Arabia ranks joint-fifth with the UK in their list of countries they most want their own to emulate.
Among non-Arab nations, 82 percent of Arab youth named Turkey as a ‘strong ally’ or ‘somewhat of an ally of their country’, followed by China (80 percent), the United Kingdom (79 percent), Germany (78 percent) and France (74 percent).
The US ranked seventh, with 72 percent votes, just below India at 73 percent. The US and UK, however, continue to be seen as a ‘strong ally’ by more than half of those surveyed, while two-thirds (66 percent) said America would be a stronger ally of their nation than Russia or China in the next five years.
Russia, a top-three ally in last year’s study, now ranks in ninth place, rated as an ally by 63 percent of respondents, below Pakistan (69 per cent).
Despite the Abraham Accords signalling a thaw in relations between Israel and several Arab countries, 86 percent of Arab youth overall say they view Israel as a ‘strong enemy or somewhat of an enemy,’ while 57 percent say the same about Iran.
Qatar is top Arab ally
The region’s youth say they consider all the GCC countries and Egypt as strong allies. Qatar was named as ‘a strong ally or somewhat of an ally’ by 92 percent, followed by Kuwait (91 percent), Egypt (89 percent), the UAE (88 percent) and Saudi Arabia (86 percent).
Young Arabs were also asked about their views on Qatar hosting the FIFA World Cup 2022. An overwhelming 87 percent said the event had galvanised the Arab world and enhanced Arab pride, while an equal percentage said events such as the FIFA World Cup and Expo 2020 Dubai have promoted greater understanding of the Arab world in general.
ASDA’A BCW commissioned SixthFactor Consulting, a leading research company, to conduct face-to-face interviews with 3,600 Arab citizens aged 18 to 24 in their home nations from March 27 to April 12, 2023, the largest sample in the survey’s history. Interviews took place with an equal number of men and women in 53 cities across 18 Arab states, including for the first time South Sudan.
ASDA’A BCW’s Sunil John, who has led the survey over the past 15 years, said: “The annual ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey has proven to be an indispensable resource for global decision makers in government and business seeking a clearer understanding of a region that is increasingly influential in world affairs, yet still an enigma for many outside it. Once again, the study sheds new light on the Arab world’s changing geopolitical landscape.”