What IF Youth Led the MENA Region
Survey of Youth Perceptions
In a region where nearly 30% of its population aged 15-30, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is home to a bright generation of driven young people who strive to advance and develop their countries. There have been numerous initiatives over the past ten years aimed at enhancing the level of youth inclusion in their countries’ decision-making processes. While the current level of such engagement remains low, this report looks to illustrate a clearer picture of the benefits that would result should youth be given their rightful opportunities. More specifically, MENAACTION conducted an online survey featuring 1,324 respondents from 14 countries to explore how the MENA region would look like, politically, economically, and environmentally if youth were its leaders.
Challenges Facing Youth in the MENA Region
The survey results show that a staggering 78.3% of the respondents believe that their countries are headed in the wrong direction. Data from the World Values Survey and the Arab Barometer unveil low levels of public confidence in governments across the region, particularly among youth. This was mirrored in the survey results, as 69.1% of the respondents believe that their countries treat youth very badly or somewhat badly, compared to just 13% who stated that their countries treat them very well or somewhat well.
Much of these perceptions stem from perceptions of government inabilities to create jobs, respond to citizen needs, and address the stagnant corruption that has long engulfed the administrative sector. To that end, the survey results found that 64.6% of the respondents highlighted economic issues as the main challenges facing youth in the MENA region.
This was divided between 44.4% who indicated unemployment, lack of job opportunities and lack of proper support for young entrepreneurs; 10.5% who stated poverty and difficulty to make ends meet; and 9.7% who indicated that they fear the unknown future and have been denied from fulfilling their aspirations. Further, some 13.5% of the respondents outlined challenges pertaining to the lack of safety and security, prevalence of armed conflicts and sectarianism, and the poor education systems.
Other notable challenges included 14.4% who believe that they are being actively excluded from the political and public life within their countries, as their attempts to improve the overall conditions tend to be faced with rejection, especially since 5.5% of the respondents referred to their countries’ misgovernance, administrative and financial corruption, and nepotism and favoritism as the main challenge they face.
Youth Perceptions on Politics and Governance
The respondents ranked a number of different political systems to determine which systems would be most appropriate to govern their countries. The results show that if we were to rank these political systems in terms of respondents’ favorability toward them, plural democracy that is inclusive of all would rank highest, followed by the rule of experts, then religious laws, then army rule, and finally authoritarian rule.
Next, the respondents indicated a number of characteristics they believe are tenets of good governance. Further analysts shows that the way youth perceive good governance is somewhat synonymous with advanced liberal democracy.
In fact, liberty ranked first with emphasis on political and social rights as the most important element of good governance; followed by rule of law, with proper separation of powers and checks and balances; then economic benefits by way of ensuring economic equality (social democracy); and finally, participation and competition.
While youth face a number of imminent challenges in the region, the majority of respondents maintained that intricate reform should take precedence to rushed reform. Additionally, the majority of the respondents also believe that it is unacceptable to use of Wasta (nepotism) to obtain the services they want but may not be entitled to or even to obtain their rightful services.
Youth Perceptions on Economics Governance
The survey also looked to gauge the respondents’ perceptions on how they believe their countries’ economies should be run. First, 69.4% indicated that there should be greater incentives for individual effort as opposed to making incomes more equal. This highlights youth’s value for individual effort.
On the other hand, 77.3% of the respondents believe that governments should take more responsibility to ensure that everyone is provided for, compared to 19.4% who believe that people should take more responsibility to provide for themselves.
These two results signify that most youth in the MENA region believe in a certain welfare baseline, whereby everyone is provided for while maintaining proper incentives for individual effort. They do want to see a greater governmental role when it comes to public service provision that can ensure proper welfare, human security, and socioeconomic support while also operating within an economic scheme that promotes individual effort.
Looking at which priorities governments ought to focus on to improve economic conditions, achieving a high economic growth and maintaining a stable economy featured heavily in the results, followed by a portion of the respondents who wanted to see more input from citizens, and another group who emphasized strengthening countries’ defense systems and reforming the education systems. When it comes to public spending, the education system ranked highest with 57.1%, followed by the healthcare system and national security.
Youth Perceptions on Foreign Relations
In this section, the survey looked to illustrate which countries youth want theirs to have closer political, economic, security, and cultural ties. For political alliances, 15.4% of youth indicated Arab states in general, including the Gulf countries, followed by 15.3% for the United States – as the highest percentage for a single country, 8.8% for Russia and 7.7% for Turkey.
For economic alliances, Arab states in general, including the Gulf states, ranked highest with 27.3% of the respondents, given the financial capacity of these countries. 19.4% of the respondents indicated China, as the highest percentage for a single country, demonstrating its tremendous economic prowess. Turkey and the United States followed with 8.2% and 7.6%, respectively.
As for security alliances, 16.9% and 15.2% of the respondents believe their countries should align with the United States and with Russia, respectively, especially given their strong defense systems and advanced militaries. It is likely that Russia might not have ranked this high had it not been for its invasion of Ukraine, which probably enhanced the respondents’ perceptions of its power. In third came Arab states in general, coupled with 6.6% for Egypt and 5.7% for the Gulf states, as Arab militaries have been involved in a variety of operations and coalitions lately.
For cultural alliances, 37.2% indicated Arab countries in general, which stems from the prevalence of cinematography, music, art, publications, and more importantly, language. Further, 17.6% indicated Western European countries, including Germany, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Spain, Sweden, and Finland. 6.9% referred to Turkey, mostly due to its influence on pop culture across the region.
The Environment and Climate Action
The last section of the survey focused on youth’s perceptions in relation to climate change and climate action. Looking at the extent to which environmental protection should be prioritized as opposed to economic growth, the results show that nearly half the respondents believe that should be case, even if it causes slower economic growth and job losses.
This was mirrored by 64.4% of the respondents who indicated that climate change is an issue that is very important to them personally, coupled with 26.5% who stated that it was important, as 31.2% of the respondents indicated that they have taken or regularly take actions out of concern for climate change. Such figures illustrate a high level of attention to face this global challenge coupled with a growing interest, as 49.6% of the respondents stated that they are becoming more interested in taking action out of concern for climate change.
Additionally, when the survey examined the respondents attitudes and intentions toward climate action, the results show that youth would consider to alter their daily routines to protect the environment.
This included using greener sources of energy, taking part in support campaigns, recycling waste, buying organic food, and even leaving their jobs if they caused harm to the environment. As such, with the right campaigns and with better investment in proper public transportation networks, youth of the MENA region can play a massive role in respond to the imminent threat of climate change.