THE BLOG

The Arab World's Global Citizens

It has been almost six years since U.S. President Barack Obama made his historic 'Victory Column' speech in Berlin, during which he referred to the "burdens of global citizenship" that bind nations and people and warned that the "greatest danger of all is to allow new walls to divide us from one another."

Six years on, many more walls have crumbled. From Wall Street to Main Street, the tremors of a global financial crisis and many political crises such as in Syria and Ukraine have reshaped the world irrevocably. Such events have led to the rise of more global citizens who are willing to challenge social conformities and make their voices heard.

Like their counterparts across the world, the Middle East's largest demographic -- its youth -- are increasingly asserting their global citizenship and embracing modernity. This is one of the main findings of the Sixth Annual ASDA"A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey, a study into the attitudes of the region's 200-million youth in 16 countries across the Middle East and North Africa through face-to-face interviews.

Nearly half of all those polled (46 percent) agree with the statement, "Traditional values are outdated and belong in the past; I am keen to embrace modern values and beliefs," up from just 17 percent in 2011. This significant shift comes amid a rise in social media consumption, smartphone penetration and exposure to new ideas and beliefs through international media and travel. Simultaneously, community leaders, music and sports are playing a more central role in their lives.

Not surprisingly, social media is emerging as the Arab youth's fastest-growing source of news. Although television remains the primary source of news for 75 percent of the region's youth for the sixth year running, 59 percent cite online as their preferred media of choice while just 31 percent opt for newspapers. Trust is also gaining in social media with 39 percent stating it as their "most trusted source" of news, up from 22 percent in 2013 and 9 percent in 2012.

Though young Arabs are becoming more global citizens and embracing modern values, the survey indicates a decline in favorability towards most western nations. One third cite Saudi Arabia as their country's biggest ally, followed by the UAE at 33 percent while 39 percent cite the UAE as the country they would most like to live in. While favorability towards most non-Arab countries has declined, the U.S. is widely viewed as the second most popular to live in and emulate.

The Arab youth's growing self-reliance is backed by a rising confidence in the ability of their national governments to deal with a wide range of issues including living standards and economic stability.

Conversely, a rising number of youth are starting to lose confidence in positive outcomes from the Arab Spring. The majority (72 percent) of youth agree with the statement, "Following the uprisings in the Arab world, I feel the region is better off" in 2011 compared to 54 per cent in 2012.

These findings are as much a challenge as an opportunity for the rest of the world as it shapes its narrative to engage with the future generation of the Arab world. This vast demographic, which is keen to embrace modernity, represents a sizable consumer market and an opportunity for businesses to expand their international presence.

On the other hand, the increasing trust of Arab youth in regional governments over western countries underscores their disappointment in the decisions of traditional allies not to intervene in issues such as the Syrian civil war.

In a region where reliable data is hard to access, the Arab Youth Survey presents interesting insights to the often overlooked opinions of its youth. Defying stereotypical notions, they are willing to tear down walls and share the "burdens of global citizenship." How the West responds to them and to their aspirations will define the future of the world's relations with the Middle East.