Dubai, UAE, August 9, 2023: Over half of Arab youth in the Levantine and North African countries say they are actively trying to leave or are considering leaving their country for better opportunities. The desire to emigrate is strongest among young men and women in the Levant (53%) followed by North Africa (48%), with the primary goal of finding a job.
On the other hand, just over a quarter (27%) of youth in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states say they have considered emigration, with a majority saying they would ‘never leave their country.’
Most Arab youth say they would like to emigrate to Canada (34%), with the United States (30%) coming a close second, followed by Germany and the UK (both on 20%) and France at 17%.
These are some of the key findings under the theme ‘My Aspirations’ in the 15th annual ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey, the most comprehensive study of its kind of the Arab world’s largest demographic, its over 200 million youth, conducted by ASDA’A BCW, the Middle East and North Africa’s leading communications consultancy.
The desire to emigrate corresponds with the bleak economic outlook in many Arab nations. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of young Arabs in the Levant (Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestinian Territories, Syria and Yemen), and about two-thirds (62%) in North African countries surveyed (Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, South Sudan and Tunisia) said their national economy is going in the ‘wrong direction’.
In the GCC, however, youth remain extremely optimistic, with nearly nine in 10 (88%) saying their country’s economy is headed in the ‘right direction’.
With youth unemployment in the Middle East exceeding 25% – the highest and fastest-growing in the world, according to the International Labour Organisation – getting a job is understandably a priority for young Arabs. Among those who said they are actively considering emigration, nearly half (49%) said the reason was to ‘look for a job.’
One in four (25%) GCC youth said they have considered emigration to ‘experience something new’ compared with 13% in North Africa and 11% in Levant.
Despite their fears about their national economy, more than two-thirds (69%) of Arab youth believe their best days lie ahead of them, a 5% increase over 2022. Youth in the GCC are the most hopeful (85%), followed by those in North Africa (64%) and the Levant (60%).
Compared with four years ago, youth optimism in the region is at its peak, with 57% today saying they will have a better life than their parents, compared with 45% who said this in 2019. The positivity is highest among GCC youth (75%), followed by young Arabs in Levant (52%) and North Africa (50%).
Thinking about the next 10 years, Arab youth mostly want to start a career (18%) followed by finishing their education (17%). Pursuing a personal interest they are passionate about ranked third (15%).
In another insightful finding, more than 8 in 10 (85%) said Arab countries must uphold universal values such as freedom, equality and respect for human rights – a sentiment shared by most young Arabs in all the three regions covered – 91% in North Africa, and 81% each in the GCC and Levant.
Sunil John, President, MENA, BCW and Founder of ASDA’A BCW, said: “The increasing number of Arab youth seeking greener pastures abroad reveals two of their important characteristics: One, their disappointment in the lack of opportunities at home – for a good education and a successful career, and two, their eagerness to shape their own destiny.
“Youth emigration is a huge drain on the economy of the Arab world, which must be stopped if the region is to benefit from the youth dividend. The region is one of the youngest in the world with over 60% of its population, over 200 million, below the age of 30,” added John.
“Despite the bleak economies in North Africa and Levant, what shines through is the youthful exuberance of being optimistic of the future. This is evident in most young Arabs being defiantly hopeful about their chances for a better life. These findings underline that Arab countries must focus on creating the right enabling environment for young people to thrive – the responsibility for this lies with both the government and the private sector.”
ASDA’A BCW commissioned SixthFactor Consulting, a leading research company, to conduct face-to-face interviews with 3,600 Arab citizens aged 18 to 24 in their home nations from March 27 to April 12, 2023.
In the coming weeks, ASDA’A BCW will publish insights under the last theme of this year’s research, My Lifestyle, as well as findings on climate change, mental health and gender rights, making this year’s study the most comprehensive in its 15-year history.
The initial findings of the 2023 edition of the ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey, under the themes My Aspirations, My Global Citizenship, My Politics, My Livelihood and My Identity, are available with expert commentaries at arabyouthsurvey.com. The overarching theme of this year’s study is ‘Living a New Reality’.