Understanding a problem in as much detail as possible is key to solving it. The Arab Youth survey does just that on one of the most important issues the Middle East faces in the 21st century: giving its young people hope and prosperity. Released yesterday, this year's results are remarkable.
They matter so much because the Arab world is a very young place. Sixty per cent of its inhabitants are under 25. For the most part, young people have faced incredible challenges. A decade after the Arab uprisings, driven in large part by youth dissatisfaction, Covid-19 poses the biggest threat to regional prosperity in generations. So far it has killed almost 200,000 people in the Middle East and North Africa, costing its economy almost $230 billion. Already in a precarious situation, the crisis has disproportionately affected the prosperity of young Arabs. One in three lost a job, or had a family member lose one due to Covid-19. Unsurprisingly then, almost 90 per cent of those surveyed gave the pandemic as a key concern for the future.
But the survey measures more than worries, and that is why 2021's results have been so interesting; the wider situation appears to be more optimistic than expected, and six in 10 young Arabs believe their best days are ahead.
Such optimism about the future is highest in the Gulf. Kuwait takes the top spot, with 92 per cent of young people feeling this way. Second is the UAE, at 90 per cent. More surprising is that it has risen in many of the region's more unstable countries. In Syria, last year's survey registered just 12 per cent as optimistic about the future. This time round, the result is 36 per cent. Other increases have been recorded in Lebanon, Palestine and Yemen, among others. While many are still too low to celebrate, this uniform positive trajectory is remarkable.
But there is still much to overcome in day-to-day life. More than two thirds of participants are worried about personal debt. This year, far more Arab women believe that male counterparts have greater rights. And almost 90 per cent put quality of education as a key concern.
After a year of huge disruption it is no surprise that young people's material issues have compounded. What is surprising is that the drive and spirit needed to keep going in the face of this hardship, and ultimately overcome it, is on the rise. Much of this energy will be funnelled into the Emirates. For the 10th year running, participants said that the UAE is the country they would most like to live in globally and have their own country emulate, ahead of the US and Canada. Experts point to the country's burgeoning economy, particularly in terms of trade, transport, tourism and tech.
The Arab Youth Survey has been going since 2008. So much has changed for the region since then. But what remains stubbornly backed up data is the resilience of one of the region's most fragile demographics. Covid-19 might have taken jobs, money and sometimes even their loved ones, but it has not taken young people's hope.