World Economy

Nearly half of young Arabs consider leaving their country as economies stall

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Key Points
  • 42% of young Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have considered leaving their country. 
  • 60% of the region's population is under the age of 30.
  • 72% of young Arab nationals aged 18 to 24 said the pandemic had made it more difficult to find a job.
Three-fifths of the MENA region are under the age of 30.
Lilly Roadstones

Nearly half of the 200 million young Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have considered leaving their country, as the Covid-19 pandemic cripples economies and fuels unrest across the region, according to a new survey. 

Frustrated with struggling economies and government corruption, 42% of young Arabs have considered emigrating to another country — a worrying trend for a region where 60% of the population are under the age of 30.

The findings, part of a landmark survey of Arab youth released annually by public relations firm ASDA'A BCW, also highlight existing regional trends. It found the desire to leave is among the most prevalent in countries like Lebanon, where one in six people are between the ages of 15 and 24. 

A deadly port blast in Lebanon's capital in August only worsened an ongoing political, health and socio-economic crisis this year. Nearly three-quarters of respondents there said they believe the pandemic has made protests against the political status quo more likely.

Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Yemen and the Palestinian territories also ranked high on the list.

"The primary drivers of potential emigration are economic reasons and corruption, with educational opportunities, new experiences and safety and security also playing a significant role," the report said. 

Arab youth increasingly anxious

The survey found that tackling government corruption was the single largest priority for achieving progress in the Arab world. Job creation was identified as the second most important priority for regional progress, with 87% of respondents concerned about unemployment.

The survey also shows that Covid-19 has had a highly damaging impact on the region. Twenty percent of respondents said someone in their family had lost their job due to the coronavirus crisis, 30% reported higher household debt, and 72% said the pandemic had made it more difficult to find a job.

When asked which country in the world they would like to live in, 46% of all young Arabs selected the United Arab Emirates as their country of choice, followed by the United States, Canada, the U.K. and Germany.  

"The findings underpin the need for many parts of the MENA region to focus on and nurture its youth dividend or risk losing a generation of its brightest young people," said Sunil John, founder of ASDA'A BCW. 

"Set against the backdrop of street protests and a sharp oil price decline that have led to acute government budget deficits, the study demonstrates the link between poor governance and lack of opportunities," he added.

Regional power dynamics shifting

The survey also canvasses views on issues such as gender rights, personal identity and importantly, foreign relations: Arab youth see Saudi Arabia and the UAE as the two rising Arab powers that have the most influence on the geopolitical environment of the region.

Young Arabs also see rising American influence in the region. The U.S. is viewed more favorably (56%) by Arab youth than in 2019 (41%) or at any point since 2016.

The survey, the largest of its kind of the region's largest demographic, polled 4,000 young Arab nationals aged 18 to 24 from 17 Arab states in the Middle East and North Africa with a 50:50 male female split. The main survey took place between January and March, before the pandemic. A second, smaller survey across six Arab states took place in August to update the results.