Religion plays too big a role in the lives of young Arabs, survey reveals

The survey found that young people wanted to see the role religion played in government reassessed. (File/Shutterstock)
Updated 30 April 2019

Religion plays too big a role in the lives of young Arabs, survey reveals

  • Young Arabs believe that drugs are too freely available in society
  • Three quarters of young Saudis say they are optimistic about their futures

DUBAI: Young Arabs believe religion plays too big a role in their lives and want their religious institutions reformed, according to the latest annual survey of attitudes of young people in the Middle East and North Africa.

Young Saudi citizens also believe overwhelmingly that the Kingdom - under the Vision 2030 strategy - is heading in the right direction, and that its economy is on track, the ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey, unveiled today, reveals.

Young Saudis demonstrate optimism in their personal future, with three quarters of those polled saying that they will have a better life than their parents, and only 10 per cent expecting to be worse off.

The 11th annual survey is based on 3,300 interviews with Arabs between the ages of 18-24, split equally between men and women, in January this year.

Perhaps the most eye-catching finding in the 2019 survey is that young Arabs seem to want a reduced role for religion in their lives. Some 66 per cent of those polled said that religion plays too big a role, with an even bigger number - 79 per cent - calling for reform of their religion’s institutions.

The findings come as the Arab News series “Preachers of Hate” explored the destructive influence religious extremists have had on society.

Half said religion was holding the region back, while nearly the same proportion said religion was losing its influence in the region - a finding especially pronounced in North Africa and the Levant.

Young Arabs are also increasingly tired of war and civil strife. A big majority - nearly three quarters - believe the war in Syria should end regardless of the regime in power there. But another big majority remain concerned about the Palestine-Israel conflict. Nearly 60 percent believe that Sunni-Shia relations have deteriorated over the past ten years.

In international relations, 59 percent view the USA as an enemy, while 37 percent see Russia as a strong ally, almost as many view America the same say (38 percent).

Most of those polled - around 60 percent - say the murder of Jamal Khashoggi would have no or only temporary impact on Saudi Arabia’s image around the world.

Most young Arabs think the rising cost of living is the biggest obstacle facing the Middle East, and many - 65 percent - say they want their governments to do more for them, especially in education and healthcare.

The survey also included for the first time questions about youth attitudes to drugs and mental illness, with a large number of respondents saying that illegal drug use was on the rise and drugs were easy to obtain. Mental health is an increasingly important issue, with nearly one third saying they knew someone who was suffering from mental health problems.

Sunil John, president of Asda’a BCW, said: “This year’s findings show that youths are looking at their governments to reshuffle their priorities, especially when it comes to the role played by religion and seemingly endless conflicts – and they want to see change.

“Young Arabs who have grown up against a backdrop of extremism and geopolitical conflicts are tired of the region being defined by war and conflict. They say they want their leaders to focus on the economy and providing better services such as quality education and healthcare.”

Mamdouh Saif, Saudi-born musician, composer and producer

Updated 20 August 2019

Mamdouh Saif, Saudi-born musician, composer and producer

Mamdouh Saif is one of the most popular Arabic music composers. 

The 52-year-old, born in Saudi Arabia, is a composer, pianist and music producer.

He rose to fame through his partnership with Abdulmajeed Abdullah in 1990, when Saif became the keyboard player for the singer.

In 1994, he composed for Abdullah for the first time, and since then he has acted as a producer, artistic supervisor and music consultant.

In 2005, Saif visited India and said it changed his view on life. He launched his solo career in 2006, and furthered his studies at the Berklee College of Music in the US.

Some of Mamdouh’s most popular works include Ya taib Algalb (1996) and “Harmony” (2014).

He has also composed an album to accompany a science-fiction novel written by Ahmad Al-Aidroos, with each piece of music accompanying a specific part of the literature.

Recently, the Ministry of Culture’s Quality of Life Program announced it will set up academies, including two in the next two years, offering academic qualifications and enlarging  the Kingdom’s footprint in heritage, arts and crafts, and music.

The composer called these music academies “the core of music production and talent development in Saudi Arabia,” adding that the music industry was a large and diverse field and education in it was crucial.