Invest in Young People across the Arab World


  • Call to listen to “voices on the ground” as events show that reliance on GDP measures insufficient
  • Countries experiencing unrest have witnessed decline in thriving measure among young people
  • Mary Robinson and Martti Ahtisaari present study of young people across the Arab world

Leading international figures are calling for renewed impetus for finding ways to unlock the potential of young people in the Arab world.

Former President of Ireland Mary Robinson and the Nobel Peace Prize Winner and Former President of Finland Martti Ahtisaari are today presenting an in-depth study of the views of young people from across the Arab World which focuses on the need to more effectively integrate the group into their economies and communities.

The release of the 4th edition of The Silatech Index: Voices of Young Arabs – which covers 20 countries including Bahrain, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia – comes at a crucial time for the region.

The Index, created by The Gallup Centre for Muslim Studies, reveals fresh insight on the views of young Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The political upheaval in recent months has been symbolic of young people’s attitudes towards their future development and wellbeing. Young men and women in the Arab world are feeling disconnected from the opportunity to effectively integrate economically in their societies.

Traditional economic measures such as GDP have indicated steady economic growth in some parts of the region. But looking at just this can be misleading, as MENA has one of the highest rates of young people’s unemployment and underemployment in the world.

“Reports of a booming economy do not always reflect the proper dynamics in the countries. To understand this we have to do more than scratch the surface – we need to look at what the younger generation thinks and understand how important it is to get them economically engaged ,” says Martti Ahtisaari.

Even though they are one of the healthiest and best-educated generations in the region, young Arabs still have difficulties obtaining access to employment and enterprise opportunities. The slight improvement of the region’s economies after the downturn has led to increases in living costs rather than job creation. Despite this they are also full of aspirations and optimism.

“The dramatic events in recent months offer the chance to do what should have been done long ago. Young Arabs feel that this is the time to invest in and listen to them and their needs. This group has huge potential and strong entrepreneurial aspirations and they can definitely contribute to bolstering their countries’ economies,” says senior analyst Ahmed Younis from the Gallup Centre for Muslim Studies. “The events in the Middle East have not come as surprise if you look at the disengagement of young people.”

A growing willingness of the majority of young people (61%) to re-train for a different career if unemployed for at least six months and their strong ambitions to work underscore their insistence on being part of the solution to the challenges their countries face.

Furthermore, a greater mobile phone penetration (87%) and access to the Internet (62%) create as yet untouched, opportunities to engage with this group as well as broadening possible business opportunities.

Despite being more optimistic about the direction of their local economies, with 43 per cent saying economic conditions in their communities are improving, young Arabs feel that the current circumstances in their societies are not enabling them to reach their full potential. The group’s attitudes towards their standard of living, especially regarding affordable housing, changed negatively in 2010 compared with 2009. Also their satisfaction with public transportation systems declined (11%). Moreover, young people expressed their disappointment with efforts to tackle poverty issues in their countries.

Other key findings:

  • Young Arabs’ reported cellular phone access has increased significantly
  • Only 27 per cent of young Egyptians have access to internet at home putting the perception of online social networks igniting the recent events in the country in a different light
  • Eighty-six percent of young Arabs in high-income countries in MENA say their leaders maximize on youth potential, up by 19 points
  • Young Bahrainis place importance on education and the status of children. They are far more likely to express satisfaction with their schools, more than any other
  • Young Bahrainis are also more likely to say that they have voiced their opinion to a public official in the past month
  • Increasing religious attendance and strong social support may offset negative perceptions about Syria’s economic prospects and influence young Syrians’ desires to remain in their country.

The Research

Gallup conducted two separate waves of data collection between February and December in 2009 and 2010 in 20 countries in the League of Arab States and the Somaliland region of Somalia. Gallup surveyed more than 36,000 nationals, including more than 16,000 country nationals aged 15 to 29. Similarly, Gallup conducted two waves of data collection in 2009, which also included surveying more than 36,000 nationals, including more than 16,000 young people between the ages of 15 and 29.

The Silatech Index is endorsed by the Silatech Knowledge Consortium, lead by the American University of Beirut, the Dubai School of Government, and the International Labour Organization.


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