An overwhelming majority of young Arabs believe US President Donald Trump is anti-Muslim and are worried, angry or fearful about his presidency, according to the results of an annual region-wide youth survey.
Of the 3,500 Arab national men and women aged 18-24 years old polled for the 2017 edition of the Arab Youth Survey, 70 percent agreed that Trump holds anti-Muslim views, with those from GCC countries feeling most strongly that the American leader is hostile or racist towards Muslims.
Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of Arab youths view the Trump presidency with concern, anger or fear, while five in six view the 45th elected President unfavourably, making him the least popular US president of the 21st century.
Most of those polled regard his election victory as having more far-reaching consequences for the Arab world over the next five years than the future of oil prices or Daesh losing territory.
“These results are not surprising when the new President bans, in the initial phase, seven Muslim-dominated countries from travelling to the US,” said Sunil John, chief executive of ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller, which, together with international polling firm Penn Schoen Berland, conducted face-to-face interviews with participants from 16 countries in the MENA region. “As those countries form a dominant part of the survey, I am not surprised that nearly two-thirds associated fairly negative terms to his presidency.”
When quizzed about Trump’s executive order banning immigrants and refugees from six Muslim-majority countries, 49 percent of Arab youth said the travel ban would make it easier for terror groups to recruit young Muslims.
In eight Arab nations, a majority of youth now consider the US their enemy, twice as many as last year, and Russia has replaced the US as the top non-Arab ally.
Kim Ghattas, a Washington-based BBC international affairs correspondent, describes the region’s youth as an “unpredictable, emotive judge of America”, saying: “With Trump himself proving just as unpredictable and impulsive, people’s views and anxieties about him and America will shift often during his time in office”.
Participants were selected from the six GCC states, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Yemen, Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia, and questioned about their views on politics, regional conflicts, the economy and social issues.
John said the “most stunning” revelation was the geographical split of optimism among GCC and non-GCC Arab youth about opportunities in their respective countries, explaining the theme of this year’s survey as “a region divided”.
Young Arabs in the Gulf were the only sub-section overwhelmingly optimistic about the direction of their countries, in direct contrast to their counterparts in the Levant and Yemen.
Just 42 percent in North Africa were optimistic about the direction of their respective country.
While 82 percent of GCC youth see a healthy economic future, only one in five young people in the Levant and Yemen and almost half in North Africa (47 percent) are positive about their country’s economy. And while the majority of GCC youth (86 percent) feel their government is putting youth-focussed policies in place, most young Arabs in the Levant and Yemen feel overlooked (74 percent).
“The majority of young people in the Gulf say ‘the best days are ahead of us’, and the exact same percentage — 85 percent — in Levant say ‘our best days are behind us’,” John said. “It is a very, very worrying result.”
Faisal Al Yafai, chief columnist for The National in Abu Dhabi, says the findings reflect “the emergence of two Middle Easts — one where stability and prosperity have birthed a generation who believe even the sky is not the limit, and another where, in a matter of years, communities and cities that have thrived for centuries have broken apart”.
He said this presents “a profound policy challenge” for all the region’s leaders, and added: “A lack of prosperity, stability and optimism in one part will necessarily lead to a mass movement of people, and provides a breeding ground for nihilistic ideologies that bleed across borders”.
The annual survey also revealed that unemployment is the joint biggest obstacle facing the Middle East, together with the rise of Daesh. It found 51 percent of respondents are now “very concerned” about the lack of job opportunities, and only the same percentage — predominantly non-GCC Arabs — have confidence in their governments dealing with unemployment.
Despite extremism and terrorism threats unsettling many young Arabs, the majority (61 percent) are more confident that Daesh has become weaker over the past year, while the number of those expressing major concern over the terrorist group has declined from 50 percent in 2016 to 36 percent. Many expressed a rising confidence in governments to deal with the threat.
Hassan Hassan, a senior fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy in Washington DC, said: “The findings offer a window on what might be missing in the equation — the need to go beyond military action in the fight against Daesh and terrorism.
“Education reform and providing well-paying jobs are seen as just as important as military operations.”
For the sixth year in a row, respondents once again chose the UAE as the country they most want to live and whose systems and policies they believed their own country should most emulate, ahead of the US, Canada and Germany.
“What is interesting this year is that there has been an unusual spurt in favourability towards the UAE,” said John, suggesting that young people who have traditionally looked to the US for the American dream or Europe for opportunities are finding “the doors are now closing” and turning their focus to the UAE.