The Expert Commentary
Leading commentators offer their perspectives on the key findings of the ASDA'A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey 2018.
UAE’s focus on youth proves a bittersweet draw for young Arabs
Raed Barqawi is the long serving editor-in-chief of Al Khaleej. The daily Arabic broadsheet was the first ever daily newspaper published in the UAE way back in the 70s. Under Barqawi, it has become one of the most popular Arabic newspapers in the country, and without doubt one of the most influential. It is closely read in government and business circles, with Barqawi himself widely viewed as one of the most connected and influential journalists in the Middle East.
According to the Arab Youth Survey, the United Arab Emirates is the country in which most young Arabs would like to live, and the one they wish their own countries could emulate. This finding is neither new nor surprising, but it is a bittersweet statistic.
On the one hand, this means that the majority of Arab countries remain, unfortunately, incapable of providing for the needs of their young citizens. On the other, it reaffirms the fact that the UAE – an Arab nation – has become a role model and a beacon of hope for young Arabs. The UAE, ultimately, is doing something right when it comes to youth.
We are all aware that, for decades, across much of the region Arab youth have been ignored and excluded from the equation. This indifference towards youth, with their massive potential and zest for life, provided fertile ground for extremist groups. Efforts across the region continue to be exerted to combat this phenomenon. Yet amidst this, the UAE has stood out as an exception, an example to be emulated all over the Arab world.
A dedication to youth is not a recent development in the UAE; it stems from the vision that has been guiding the country since its very inception, set out by the UAE’s Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
He believed that people are our ultimate wealth, and that every other asset is void of value unless utilised to serve and develop the people.
The UAE leadership, therefore, has had youth at the heart of its efforts ever since the country was established, not only because marginalising the young means forfeiting their immense potential, but also because ignoring or alienating them would leave them exposed to exploitation by negative influences. We have seen a great many examples of this scenario unfold all around us.
To demonstrate but one concrete example of the UAE’s successful approach, education is held in the highest regard in the UAE, and the country provides its youth – both citizens and residents – with a range of high quality academic opportunities at home and abroad.
In the workplace, too, youth are encouraged to play a major role: they are real partners in ideating, planning, and implementing projects. Youth lead the charge, as has been demonstrated by the appointment of so many young people to senior government posts, including Ministers for Youth Affairs and for Artificial Intelligence, where they bring energy, enthusiasm and new ways of thinking to government itself.
The UAE’s trailblazing approach to the future is unimaginable without youth. It is they who, first and foremost, design this future with their aspirations. We could only imagine how much they will be able to achieve now that they themselves have been given responsibility for realising the dreams and ambitions of their peers, supported by a forward-thinking leadership that paves the way for their young citizens to gain the skills they need to secure fulfilling careers that contribute to society.
What more could young Arabs ask for? Aren’t they, after all, seeking a country that can help them realise their dreams and ambitions? A country whose leadership nurtures their efforts, invests in them, and considers them a solid foundation upon which the future can be built?
There is an important truth that cannot be overlooked in this context: The UAE is arming its youth with everything they need to build a prosperous future. The Emirates does not limit its outlook to the sciences and technologies themselves; the country is more concerned with what these advancements can bring to its people.
Ultimately, the ‘Emirati model’ can be explained as: invest in youth; nurture their dreams; and catalyse their contribution to society. This simple model provides the answers that many across the Arab world are struggling to find. And it is this confusion that is leading to the bitter reality we are living today, which forces young Arabs into one of two directions: resigning themselves to an existence where hopes and ambitions will be crushed; or seeking a brighter future in a country not of their birth.
The refuge that the UAE has come to provide to these young Arabs has cemented its position as a land of opportunity, a country with a secure future and a country that champions human beings above all. It is my hope that, instead of importing young talent from the region, the UAE can in the future export its model of success, and that the Emirates’ approach to youth becomes not the exception, but the norm for the Arab world.
Founder, ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller and President, Middle East, of Burson Cohn & Wolfe
Senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies
Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University
Mina Al Oraibi
Editor-in-Chief, The National, UAE
Senior fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy in Washington, D.C.
Senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, D.C.
Osama Al Sharif
Journalist and political commentator
Khalid Al Maeena
Former Editor-in-Chief of Arab News
Stevens Initiative at Aspen Institute
Watch Findings Debated
Watch our panel of experts discuss the key findings of the ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey 2018. The wide-ranging conversation takes on hot-button issues facing youth today, including how they view their future, the digital revolution and shifting attitudes to the region’s friends and enemies.