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  • Arab Youth Survey 2022

Arab youth ‘trust Russia and China more than UK and US’

Person, Human, Clothing youth.gov.ae
There were 3,400 face-to-face interviews conducted across 50 cities in 17 Arab states of country nationals aged between 18-24 years old
  • 72% of Arabs aged 18 to 24 describe Russia as an ally
  • UK and US seen as an enemy by 30% and 37% respectively
  • Trump’s rhetoric towards Muslims made US unpopular, expert says
  • Third of Arab youth blame US and NATO most for the Ukraine war
  • US still considered second most popular country to live in, after the UAE
  • Over half in GCC believe democracy will never work in the Middle East

Arab youth see the United States and the United Kingdom as bigger enemies than Russia and China, with the majority blaming the US and NATO for the war in Ukraine, a new survey has said.

Close to three quarters (72 percent) of young Arabs describe Russia as either a strong ally or somewhat of an ally of their country, according to the findings of the 14th Annual ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey, which explores the views of 3,400 young Arabs aged 18 to 24 in 50 cities across 17 states in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Nearly four out of five (78 percent) said they view China as an ally.

The UK and France were ranked joint fourth in the study on 70 percent, followed by the US, which was rated an ally by two thirds (63 percent) of those interviewed.

Mohammed Sinan Siyech, non-resident associate fellow in the Strategic Studies Programme at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) in New Delhi, said the “historic baggage of the US coming into the Middle East to spread democracy, as they claim to do”, ultimately exacerbated problems in the region.

“This baggage remains in the minds of the Middle Eastern youth,” he said.

“Also keep in mind, after Trump became President, with all his Islamaphobic narratives and general rhetoric towards Muslims, the number of people who started disliking the US almost doubled in Gulf nations.”

Do you consider (country) an ally or enemy of your country?
(showing percentage among all)

US-based Giorgio Cafiero, CEO and founder at Gulf State Analytics, told AGBI there is widespread opposition to American and British foreign policies in the Arab world.

“Western military interventions in Iraq and Libya have been extremely disastrous from the perspective of many Arab citizens as well as government officials,” Cafiero said.

“Consequently, there has been significant support for a more multipolar world in which Arab countries can pursue more options and diversify their relations beyond Western powers.”

Echoing other experts, Merissa Khurma, director – Middle East Program at The Wilson Center in Washington DC, added: “Many young people see the United States through its military entanglements in the Middle East, so it’s viewed through its foreign policy positions vis-a-vis the region.

“China has not been, and is not, militarily involved in the region and most people see it as an impressive economic great power, so that helps explain why China is seen more favourably than the United States and the UK. The same applies to Russia to a certain extent.”

Who is primarily responsible for the conflict between Russia and Ukraine?
(showing percentage among all)

Meanwhile, a third of Arab youth (31 percent) said the US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies are primarily responsible for the crisis in Ukraine, while only 18 percent said Russia is mostly to blame.

Forty one percent of youth in Levant and about a third (29 percent) in North Africa say the US and NATO are at fault, while those in Gulf states are more divided on the issue with 22 percent saying that Russia is mostly accountable and 21 percent blaming the US and NATO.

“That speaks to the success of the Russian narrative about the war in Ukraine, whether on social media or on their Arabic media outlets,” Khurma said.

“When you look at some of the coverage in the region you will see that some Arab media outlets refer to the war as Russia’s military engagement in Ukraine instead of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Furthermore, both Russia and China have TV channels that broadcast in Arabic to audiences in the region and both governments control the narrative about the West on these outlets. It has an anti-imperialistic tone that is critical of the United States and that conceals their own entanglements.

“They are also careful to take supportive positions of the Palestinian cause and cover that extensively on their media outlets in Arabic, even when they don’t even cover it in Chinese or Russian on their own outlets.”

Cafiero added: “A common Arab perspective on Russia’s overt invasion of Ukraine on February 24 is that this is a European conflict.

“Russia’s actions in Ukraine, according to this perspective, are not a threat to Arab countries and Arab states should not be pressured to pick sides.

“Notwithstanding events in Ukraine since February 24, there is still much about Putin’s foreign policy that sits well with Arabs who see Moscow as an important pole in a new multipolar geopolitical order.”

Which country in the world, if any, would you like to live in?
(showing percentage from among the top five countries)

However, the US is still seen as the second most popular country young Arabs would like to live in.

After the United Arab Emirates, voted for by more than half (57 percent) of those polled, the top five countries they would most like to live in are the US (24 percent), Canada (20 percent), France (15 percent) and Germany (15 percent).

“There are differences in how a country is perceived politically and socially,” ORF’s Siyech said.

“They don’t choose to emigrate to a country for political reasons. They choose to do so because of the infrastructure, stability and network provided.”

Siyech added that even if the US is considered an enemy by Arab youth, the pop culture that has been exported by the US is still being consumed significantly.

“Young people are still drawn to US culture, the American dream and what it embodies – it is where innovation happens, it is where entrepreneurship gives anyone an opportunity to succeed, and it is the freedoms you get to once in the US,” Khurma added.

How strongly do you agree or disagree with the statement, ‘Democracy will never work in the Middle East’?
(showing percentage strongly disagreeing)

In wider politics, most Arab youth – the generation that has lived through the Arab Spring, the rise and fall of Daesh, and the Covid-19 pandemic – believe democracy will never work in the Middle East, and the majority believe they have more rights since the Arab Spring.

Over half (57 percent) of youth surveyed in the Gulf say that democracy in the region will never work, rising to 72 percent in the Levant.

More than eight in 10 (82 percent) in all three regions believe that promoting stability is more important than promoting democracy.

“A lot of democratic countries are slipping into authoritarian situations,” Siyech said.

“You can see that when Trump came into power. The whole point is democracy for what? To vote in a corrupt and authoritarian ruler as well? Then they just have the same system. You don’t need to have democracy for that. So, they don’t feel democracy is that useful.”

How strongly do you agree or disagree with the statement, ‘Young Arabs like myself have more rights and freedoms today because of the Arab Spring’?

The Arab Youth Survey covers five Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE), North Africa (Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan and Tunisia), the Levant region (Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestinian Territories, Syria) and Yemen.

“The survey results this year suggest that young Arabs are fast changing their opinions, beliefs and allegiances,” said Sunil John, president for the Middle East and North Africa at BCW and founder of ASDA’A BCW.

“The days of the US being the world’s policeman and problem-solver when it comes to the Arab world appear over: Arab youths are looking for and finding new friends in new places.

“The positive sentiment towards Russia is also reflected in their opinions on the war in Ukraine.

“What is clear is the Western deluge of anti-Russian media coverage and global sanctions against Russia has done little to change the minds of young Arabs.”

Do you think your government has the right policies to address the issues most important to young people?