September 2019

Two-thirds of young Arabs view Iran as an enemy, 11th Arab Youth Survey 2019 shows

Two-thirds of young Arabs view Iran as an enemy, according to findings from the 2019 ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey which were debated at a special event for academics, journalists, policymakers and diplomats held at the London think tank Chatham House last week.

The event, “2019 Arab Youth Survey: Pragmatism, Frustration and Optimism,” featured a presentation of key findings from this year’s Survey, now in its 11th edition, including new data about young Arabs’ attitudes towards European nations and a panel discussion, chaired by Dr Sanam Vakil, Senior Research Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme, Chatham House.

With tensions running high in the Middle East after the strikes on Saudi Arabian oil installations on September 14, 2019, an attack which many observers are blaming on Iran the event proved to be an opportune moment to revisit Arab youth’s attitudes to their perceived allies and enemies. The Survey, conducted in January 2019, reveals that 67 per cent of young Arabs view Iran as an enemy, with 32 per cent viewing it as an ally.

The data reveals significant differences in perception based on region: in the GCC states, 87 per cent view Iran as an enemy, with just 13 per cent saying ally; while in the Levant, youth are equally split, with 51 per cent saying enemy against 49 per cent saying ally. In North Africa, 64 per cent saw Iran as an enemy, with 35 per cent saying ally.

New findings from the Survey reveal that young Arabs are generally favourable towards European nations, with three European nations among the top 10 viewed as a strong ally. France is viewed as an ally by 75 per cent of those surveyed, closely followed by Germany with 73 per cent and the UK at 68 per cent. Arab youth attitudes towards the US are much more polarised, with more than half (59 per cent) considering the US to be an enemy of their respective countries.

Closer to home, 93 per cent of young Arabs seeing the UAE as their strongest ally, while 80 per cent seeing Saudi Arabia as their biggest ally – showing a high favourability towards the GCC.

Participating in the panel Sunil John, Founder, ASDA’A BCW, and President, Middle East, BCW said, “We’re moving from the power hubs of Baghdad and Cairo to those of Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.”

In addition to John, the panel, which explored the potential of harnessing the findings of the Arab Youth Survey to steer policy- and decision- making and to shed light on young people’s attitudes towards  countries around the world,  comprised  Dr Simon Mabon, Senior Lecturer in Politics, Philosophy and Religion, University of Lancaster; and Sara Masry, an independent consultant. Dr Mabon provided his expert opinions on religion and regional conflicts, while Masry provided strategic insight into Arab societies and the role of social media among Arab youth.

Addressing the audience at the event, John said, “We are proud to bring our research on the largest demographic of the Arab world to one of the foremost think-tanks in the world. To bring about any progressive change, a dialogue must happen. This dialogue here today at Chatham House heralds the larger discourse of an evolving global future that has, till now, often failed to hear the voice of Arab youth.”

The Arab Youth Survey is the largest study of its kind into the region’s largest demographic: its youth. Every year, ASDA’A BCW generates evidence-based insights that provide governments, the private sector, media and civil society with critical information and analysis to inform decision-making and policy formation and build greater awareness of Arab youth.

The full survey data is available at