Arab Youth Survey 2020: Young people plan exodus amid dismay at region's corruption and economic failure

Study finds close to half of region's 18-24-year-olds have considered, or are trying, to leave their home country

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Nearly half of young Arabs have considered leaving their home country because of their dismay over corruption, poor leadership and widespread economic failure, according to a major study.

The Arab Youth Survey 2020 found that more than four in 10 people aged 18 to 24 had thought about or were attempting to emigrate.

In the Levant, the figure was 63 per cent – and half said they wanted to leave permanently.

In Lebanon, 77 per cent said a move abroad had been on the cards, followed by Libya at 69 per cent, Yemen at 66 per cent, and Iraq at 65 per cent.

Half of young Arabs in the Levant want to leave their country

Half of young Arabs in the Levant want to leave their country

When asked what they were looking forward to in the next 10 years, the single most common answer from 29 per cent of those questioned was emigration.

Young Emiratis and Saudis were least likely to migrate, at 3 per cent and 6 per cent respectively.

When it came to which country they wanted to live in, 46 per cent said the UAE, followed by the United States at 33 per cent, Canada at 27 per cent, the United Kingdom at 27 per cent, and Germany at 22 per cent in a multiple choice question.

The desire to leave one's homeland was among the key findings of the Arab Youth Survey 2020. It  involved face-to-face interviews with 4,000 people in 17 countries and is widely regarded as a barometer of the mood in the region.

It also found:

• 77 per cent of Arab youth said there was government corruption in their country, with Yemen and Iraq at the top of that chart. Survey authors took aim at the concept of "wasta", or favouritism, and its acceptance in societies. Cracking down on government corruption was the top priority for 35 per cent of respondents, followed by the creation of well-paying jobs.

• there was widespread support for anti-government protests, sparked by corruption, bad governance and a lack of jobs, with 69 per cent backing such action. In Lebanon, Algeria, Iraq and Sudan, protests had the backing of more than 80 per cent of the people surveyed in those countries.

•  35 per cent of respondents had personal debt, up from 15 per cent five years ago. In North Africa and the Levant, higher education was the main reason, while in the Gulf it was mainly car loans

• survey authors found a surge in entrepreneurial spirit, with more young people wishing to work for themselves or their family's business, rising from 16 per cent in 2019 to 23 per cent this year. Those wishing to secure a government job fell from 49 per cent to 43 per cent. The trend is particularly desirable for governments in the Gulf, where low oil prices are creating a crunch on state finances.

Sunil John, founder of Dubai public relations agency Asda'a Burson Cohn & Wolfe, which launched the annual survey in 2008, said governments in the region must prove they were responsive to the demands of their people.

The youth hold the key to the recovery and to rising prosperity for all. They are the strength of the region

"Having a young population does not automatically translate into a dividend for economic growth and prosperity," said Mr John, who is also president of Burson Cohn & Wolfe's Middle East division.

"The decision makers in the region know that well enough and much has been said about the need for urgent action to tackle the growing issue of youth unemployment in the Mena at 30 per cent – the highest in the world.

"It is high time to implement the right mix of policies, relevant education systems to develop a well-prepared workforce and an environment that celebrates private sector success in creating jobs and thus economic growth. Nobody wants another lost generation."

The survey used on-the-ground researchers to interview 3,400 young Arabs in their home countries between January and March. In August, a further 600 people were asked questions related to Covid-19 and how it affected their lives and homeland.

Among the findings was that 20 per cent of young Arabs said either they or a family member had lost their job since the outbreak began.


Overall, 72 per cent said they felt it was more difficult to find a job, and that rose to 91 per cent in Lebanon and 90 per cent in Jordan.

Dr Jihad Azour, director of the International Monetary Fund’s Middle East and Central Asia department, said the pandemic brought what he called "unprecedented uncertainty" for young Arabs.

"Lockdowns have led to massive job losses and rising inequality," he said.

"We are seeing a rapid deceleration in economic activity. For nearly all countries, the recession is deeper than the ones following the global financial crisis in 2008 and the oil price shock of 2015."


He said Arab governments must look at their social security nets, which vary considerably across the region, tackle corruption, cut red tape and harness new technologies that could create jobs.

"The youth hold the key to the recovery and to rising prosperity for all," he said.

"They are the strength of the region and fulfilling their hope and aspirations can only lead to a better future."

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, said it was painful that so many young people cannot find a good life in their home countries.

He also singled out corrupt officials.

"We say that if governments become corrupt, the country will be ruined, its security diminished and its citizens will leave it," Sheikh Mohammed said.
"Every official will be responsible before God. The story does not end here."