The UAE has cemented its status as the most desirable country to live in for young Arabs, with multimillion-dollar global deals for homegrown businesses adding to the Emirates’ appeal.
The acquisitions of Souq and Careem by multinationals helped the UAE build a reputation as a meritocracy where hard work could be rewarded spectacularly, experts said.
This was seen by many young people in contrast to the system of "wasta", or nepotism, which prevails in much of the Arab world.
For the eighth year in a row, the Emirates led the Arab Youth Survey as the country most young people in the region would like to live in, but extended its lead significantly in 2019.
This year, 44 per cent chose the country as the one they would most like to live in – an increase of nine percentage points on last year.
Speaking on Tuesday, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, said the UAE would continue to welcome young Arabs.
"My message to them is the UAE was & will always be your country, a part of a beautiful Arab world that will continue prospering with your energy & aspirations," he wrote on Twitter.
The second-placed country – Canada – was selected by 22 per cent of Arab 18 to 24-year-olds, just ahead of the US, with 21 per cent.
The large acquisition of Souq by Amazon, for a reported US$650 million (Dh2.4 billion) in 2017, had made its founders role models in the Arab world, said Afshin Molavi, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC.
Weeks after the research was carried out in January, Careem, another UAE company, was bought by Uber in a $3.1 billion deal.
“This might help explain why, for the eighth year in a row in the Arab Youth Survey, young Arabs have chosen the UAE as the country they would most like to live in and emulate,” Mr Molavi said.
“While no country is wasta-free, it’s no accident that both Souq.com and Careem are based in Dubai. They benefit from both world-class infrastructure of connectivity and access to talent, but also one of the more meritocratic – even cut-throat – entrepreneurial environments in the region.”
Young Arabs were also asked what country they would like their own to emulate. The UAE also topped this category with 42 per cent, followed by the US and Japan, both with 20 per cent. It was the first time Japan had entered the top three.
Asked what they associated with the UAE, the most popular three options among survey respondents were a wide range of job opportunities, that it was safe and secure and generous salary packages.
It is not just economic opportunities behind the country’s popularity, however, according to Sunil John, Middle East president of the Asda’a Burson Cohn & Wolfe public relations company, which runs the survey.
“The growth in popularity over the past eight years is really down to the UAE’s success in achieving a vision, articulated by the leadership many years ago, of becoming a model country, not just in the Middle East, but globally,” Mr John said.
“Today, the UAE is measured not only by the traditional parameters of progress and prosperity, but the benefits of its growing soft power in the global community. The UAE is enjoying the dividends of embracing global values and an open, tolerant culture.”