The Relations between Diffuse and Performance-Specific Trust with Reform: A Research Report

The Middle East and North Africa region boasts populations whose pride in their nations remains at a high level. The region also enjoys a youth cohort with tremendous energy, entrepreneurship, and endurance, which otherwise is unfortunately and mistakenly labeled as “the youth bulge”. Such a cohort has worked tirelessly to improve their livelihoods and the conditions of their respective countries, whether in the form of collective activism or individual work. In this report, we sought to explore the relations between nationalism or national pride and youth’s tendency to admit to the existence of an issue and in turn, reform or change.

Methodology

For this research, we examined data gathered by the World Values Survey, the Arab Barometer, the Afro Barometer, and the Arab Center. The data examined reflects a youth cohort of the individual countries, aged 18-30, as part of nationally representative samples. In examining the data, we further curated them on a scale of 1 to 4, whereby 1 was the lowest and 4 was the highest on the scale:

  • 1 = do not trust at all/ no confidence at all;
  • 2 = do not trust to an extent/ low level of confidence;
  • 3 = trust to an extent/ moderate level of confidence;
  • 4 = trust to a great extent/ very high level of confidence

Public confidence or trust was defined as inclusive of two types. The first type delved into people’s attachment to country symbols as the level of belonging to their individual states, which can be labeled as diffuse support. The second type reflects public trust or confidence in the performance of public institutions in meeting their objectives.

In order to further prove, disprove, or refine the hypotheses made in this report, an in-depth research with more detailed and specific questions and to cross-examine such data to better understand how youth’s willingness to acknowledge the existence of issues and need for change varies with the level of their national pride. Such a research can also be accompanied by an observatory study of engaging youth of different nationalities in discussion with one another and contrasting their attitudes when discussion groups feature different nationalities, which arguably can stimulate nationalism. Nevertheless, this report looks to start a discussion on this matter and engage with young people in the region in a conversation about reform.

Diffuse Trust and Performance-Specific Confidence

Looking at individual countries’ youth populations’ trust levels revealed interesting findings. The individual scores of diffused trust and performance-specific confidence were aggregated under composite scores for each category. The first category included indicators such as national pride level, trust in the armed forces, affinity with the nation, and willingness to fight for country, among others. The second category included an evaluation of the performance of the governments, the legislative councils, the judiciary, the healthcare system, the educational system, among others.

With that, Algerian youth illustrated a diffuse trust/ national pride level of 3.19 out of 4, compared to only 1.82 level of performance-specific confidence, with a 1.37 difference in favor of the first. Bahrain’s youth national pride level was a little lower with 2.90, about 0.65 higher than its confidence in public institutions with 2.25. As for Egypt, a 3.50 national pride level, compared to 1.92 confidence level in public institutions, which stood 1.58 points below the first. Iranian youth showed similar pride levels to Egypt, but indicated slightly higher public confidence with 2.4, about 1 point lower than its pride levels. Iraqi youth’s pride levels stood at 3.38, almost double its 1.66 confidence in public institutions. Jordanian youth’s diffuse trust was the second highest in the region with 3.75, contrasted by a 2.08 confidence level.

As for Kuwaiti youth, their diffuse trust stood at 3.28, compared to their 2.18 performance-specific trust. Lebanese youth’s pride level with slightly higher than Kuwait’s with 3.35, but it was lower in terms of specific trust with 1.88, with a 1.47 difference between the two categories.

Libyan and Mauritanian youth scored very similar diffuse trust levels with 3.24 and 3.29, respectively, compared to a 1.72 and 1.96 performance-specific confidence levels, with Mauritanian youth illustrating some moderate levels of confidence, especially in terms of civil service. Moroccan and Mauritanian youth boasted identical levels of diffuse trust with 3.32, but Oman’s public confidence in the performance of institution higher than Morocco’s with 2.67 compared to 1.69 for the later, mostly due to Omani youth’s satisfaction with its healthcare services. Data for Palestinian youth was harder to find, given their circumstances. Their diffuse trust stood at 2.92, as the second lowest in the region, while their performance-specific confidence appeared exactly in the middle of the scale with 2. Qatari youth indicated the highest levels of confidence in both categories with 3.87 diffused trust and 3.55 for the second category, due to their high satisfaction with civil service, judiciary, and even the government.

Saudi Arabian youth showed similar patterns to that of Qatar, with a 3.69 diffused trust level, compared to a 3.03 performance specific trust. It is also worth noting that such a number might have been higher if it were not for moderate confidence in labor unions. Sudanese youth’s diffuse trust stood at 3.06, contrasted with a 2.01 performance-specific trust levels, as its government, elections, political parties, and parliament all evaluated under 2 points. Similar to Palestine, data for Syria was somewhat difficult to gather, so we relied on slightly older data. Nevertheless, Syrian youth indicated a diffuse trust level of 2.88, compared to a 1.55 performance-specific confidence, which was the lowest among the countries studied, with a notable 0.93 confidence level in civil services.

Tunisian youth illustrated a high diffuse trust level with 3.46, about 1.75 points higher than their performance specific confidence, which stood at 1.75. Turkish youth indicated one of the highest diffuse trust levels with 3.23, compared to their 2.55 trust level in their public institutions, with a notable high confidence levels in the judiciary. Youth of the UAE’s diffuse trust stood at 3.64 was the fourth highest, below Qatar, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, and their performance-specific confidence was the second highest with 3.35, second only to Qatar’s 3.55. Finally, Yemeni youth illustrated high levels of diffuse trust with 3.46, similar to that of Saudi Arabia, compared to its performance specific confidence level of 2.24.

Looking at the overall average of the two categories, we find that the average diffuse trust levels stood at 3.34 out of 4, which means it was between “trust to an extent” and “trust to a great extent”. On the other hand, the average performance-specific confidence levels stood at 2.20 out of 4, which was between “trust to an extent” and “do not trust to an extent”. While the average performance-specific confidence was somewhat higher than initially anticipated, it was still 1.14 below that of diffuse trust. Further, such high levels of national pride or diffuse trust should not stand in the way of demanding better and higher quality performance from public institutions.

Sub-regionally, North African youth’s average diffuse trust stood at 3.29, compared to an average of 1.83 performance-specific trust. West Asian youth’s average diffuse trust was also 3.29 while their average performance specific confidence stood at 2.02, slightly higher than that of North Africa. Youth of the Gulf averaged the highest diffuse trust level with 3.45 as well as the highest performance-specific confidence level with 2.75.

North Africa Sub-Region

Looking more specifically at the individual component scores for each country, we provide the highest and lowest trust/confidence levels for each country, divided by subregions. For North Africa, Egyptian youth noted the highest individual diffuse trust level, in the form of a 3.80 national affinity level, followed by Libya’s 3.72 national affinity level, and Tunisia’s national affinity with 3.61. Morocco and Algeria followed with 3.54 and 3.46, respectively, both for “national pride”. Mauritanian youth’s highest component was a 3.29 confidence level in the military. Finally, Sudanese youth’s highest component was a 3.17 national affinity level.

On the other hand, Algerian youth noted the lowest component, which was in the form of a 0.90 confidence level in elections. This was mirrored in low turnout and boycott calls. Egyptian and Mauritanian youth underscored the second lowest component, as Egyptian youth noted a 0.92 confidence level in labor unions and Mauritanian youth illustrated another 0.92 confidence level in healthcare services. Moroccan youth also had little confidence in elections with 1.19 confidence level, as Tunisian youth’s lowest trust component was a 1.20 confidence level in political parties, and Libyan and Sudanese youth illustrated similar disenchantment with elections with a 1.25 and 1.53 confidence levels. National affinity and national pride were among the highest scoring indicators in this sub-region, yet the lowest scoring indicators were ultimately mostly institutions of democracy such as elections, labor unions, and political parties.

West Asia Sub-Region

As for West Asia, Jordanian youth’s highest component came in the form of a 3.85 national affinity level, followed by a 3.69 and 3.6 for Lebanese and Iranian youth, in the same category. Palestinian youth’s highest individual indicator was a 3.58 national pride level, followed by a 3.56 national affinity level for Iraqi youth. Turkish youth’s highest individual component was a 3.36 national pride level, as Syria’s highest individual indicator came in the form of a 2.88 confidence level in the military, albeit data on Syria is slightly older than the other countries.

Syrian youth indicated the lowest confidence level in this sub-region, with a 0.93 confidence level in civil service, followed by 1.20 and 1.24 confidence level in political parties for each of Jordan and Iraq, respectively. Palestinian youth’s lowest individual indicator was a 1.31 confidence level in elections while Lebanese youth’s lowest indicator came in the form of a 1.35 confidence in healthcare services, also cited as the lowest by Iranian youth, with a 1.84 confidence level. Turkish youth’s lowest single indicator was a 2.27 confidence level in labor unions. Similar to North Africa sub-region, the highest scoring indicators were mostly national affinity and national pride, whereas the lowest scoring indicators were split between institutions of democracy and those of public services.

The Gulf Sub-Region

Individual indicators for the Gulf sub-region were on average higher than those of the other two sub-regions. Qatari youth’s highest individual indicator was 3.97 national pride level, the highest single indicator across all countries. Yemeni youth also boasted a high level of national pride with 3.81, followed by 3.76 and 3.64 confidence level in the military for Saudi Arabian and Emirati youth. Kuwait youth’s highest indicator was a 3.59 national pride level, followed by 3.32 confidence level for the military for Omani youth, and finally a 3.24 national pride level for Bahraini youth.

On the other hand, Yemeni youth’s lowest single indicator was a 0.94 confidence level in labor unions, which was also the lowest single indicator for both of Kuwait and Bahrain with a 1 and 1.94 confidence levels, respectively. Omani youth’s lowest single indicator came in the form a 2.04 confidence level in the educational system. Saudi youth’s lowest indicator was a 2.40 confidence level in labor unions. As for Emirati youth, the lowest indicator was still a relatively high level of confidence (3.00) in the judicial system, as Qatari youth’s lowest indicator was also a high level of confidence (3.18) in the educational system. In short, the Gulf sub-region’s highest levels were divided between national pride and confidence in the military while their lowest scoring indicators were labor unions, followed by educational systems.

Most Pressing Challenges

The sub-regional brief analysis shows that national pride and national affinity were the highest scoring single indicators and notably higher than youth’s confidence in public institutions. In fact, the institutions which received the lowest performance evaluation were civil service, labor unions, elections, political parties, and healthcare services. Such poor evaluation is consistent to the major challenges facing people in the MENA region. With the COVID-19 global pandemic persisting, the three main and recurring challenges can be grouped under (1) economic challenges, including unemployment, price hikes, poverty, and deteriorating livelihoods; (2) government performance in terms of weak public services including health, education, and transportation, coupled with financial and administrative corruption; and (3) security related challenges including safety and political stability. The fact that these challenges continue to linger and remain under-addressed explains the low evaluation public institutions in meeting their objectives.

Conclusion

The main take-aways of this brief report shows that young people in the MENA region boast high levels of pride in and belonging to their respective nations. But their confidence in public institutions in addressing their needs and meeting their objectives remains low, specifically, about 1.14 points out of 4, lower than their average diffuse trust levels. While the gap is clear, a tendency to overlook, downplay, deprioritize, or even ignore the challenges we face remains a trend in the region.

In an attempt to explain this discrepancy, there are three main arguments in mainstream political literature. The first argument states that people’s national affinity or national pride would heighten when their countries are compared to others, propelling them to defend their countries’ shortcomings. The second argument entails that people’s national identity, and by proxy national pride, heightens when their countries face security-related challenges. This bears resemblance to the “security-human rights” debate, for which human rights is believed to take a backseat to safety and security. The third hypothesis indicates that governments have, in one shape or form, implanted the idea that criticizing government performance automatically means criticizing the country, and in turn reflects negatively on one’s patriotism or love for nation, and even means “defection”.

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