Young Saudis optimistic about future, Arab Youth Survey shows

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About 80 percent consider Saudi Arabia as an ally in the political sphere, with the US polling second highest as an enemy (59 percent), behind only Iran (67 percent). (File/Shutterstock)
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Updated 01 May 2019
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Young Saudis optimistic about future, Arab Youth Survey shows

  • Approval ratings higher than the average in the MENA region, according to 11th annual poll
  • Interviews with 3,300 young Arabs reveals that they want their governments to help them secure decent and affordable lives

DUBAI: The 2019 edition of the Arab Youth Survey by Asda’a BCW offers a snapshot of 200 million aspirational young adults tackling the opportunities and challenges of modernity, but also seeking the reassurance of traditional structures and overwhelmingly concerned with their own well-being.

Perhaps the most eye-catching of the Dubai’s PR consultancy’s findings, released on Tuesday, is that while most young people across the Gulf, North Africa and the Levant want to see reform of their traditional religious institutions, which most see as “holding them back” in the modern world, they also want their governments to remain providers of most of their basic requirements — not just essentials such as security, education and health care, but also subsidized energy housing and even financial handouts.

Above all, they are concerned with securing a decent and affordable life for themselves and their families in an era of high unemployment and dwindling job opportunities in the traditional government sector.

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. Asda’a BCW also offered Arab News a look at Saudi responses   specifically.

Young Saudis share the concerns of many of their age-peers across the region, but they expressed a new-found spirit of optimism in light of the Vision 2030 strategy, which Sunil John, president of Asda’a BCW, said was “transforming the economy and creating job opportunities.”

About 93 percent of young Saudis said they thought the Kingdom is headed in the right direction, with 83 percent believing the economy is on the right track. Notably, three-quarters (75 percent) told the pollsters that they expect to have a better life than their parents.

Approval ratings among Saudi youth for their government’s policies were higher than the average in the MENA region. A huge 89 percent said they believed Vision 2030 would succeed in securing the economic future, while 83 percent said government policies were right for them and their peer group, a good 30 points higher than the positive feeling toward governments across the region.

Saudi youth were outliers in some other respects, too, apparently more willing to stand on their own feet. Another feature of the survey was that despite the drive of governments to cultivate entrepreneurial young people, many still believe it is the state’s job to provide cheap energy, jobs, housing and even debt relief.

If there is one cause we should focus on, it is youth unemployment

 

A detailed look at the country breakdowns showed that young people in the Kingdom were less likely than those in other Arab countries to expect these services to be officially provided to all citizens.

Another feature of the survey, as in past years, was some fairly dramatic differences in opinion by young people in three main sub-regions within MENA. In education, for example, only 20 percent of Gulf youngsters were unsatisfied with the quality provided by the country’s educational system. This level of dissatisfaction rose to 53 percent in North Africa and 73 percent in the war-torn Levant. Not surprisingly, many more Levant youngsters would rather be educated in the West than their peers in the Gulf.

Saudi Arabia figured prominently in the survey in other ways, too. When young Arabs were asked which countries had grown in prominence in regional and international affairs, 37 percent named the Kingdom as the biggest gainer in influence this year.

A majority of them consider Saudi Arabia as an ally in the political sphere. Iran is seen as an enemy by an overwhelming majority (67 percent).

Only a tiny minority in the region believed that the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi would have any long-term negative impact for the Kingdom in Arab or international eyes.

If young Saudis were not Saudi, they would probably want to live in the UAE, the pollsters found. For the eighth year running, the Emirates topped the ratings for the preferred place of residence, chosen by 44 percent of those polled, followed by Canada and the US.

Reasons for the UAE’s popularity hark back to the basic self-interest of young Arabs: They like the range of work opportunities in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the UAE is safe and secure, and it offers generous salary packages.

Jihad Azour, the International Monetary Fund’s regional head for the Middle East, hit the nail on the head when he delivered the keynote address at the survey launch. “If there is one cause we should focus on, it is youth unemployment. All economic policies fail if they cannot deliver on unemployment,” he said.


Saudi Arabia’s Cabinet approves new tobacco license regulation

Updated 48 min ago
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Saudi Arabia’s Cabinet approves new tobacco license regulation

  • Annual license will cost more than $26,000
  • New measure could lead to more vaping, says expert

JEDDAH: Cafes and restaurants in Saudi Arabia will have to pay up to SR100,000 ($26,675) a year to sell tobacco products inside and outside their premises, after the Cabinet approved a new licensing regulation.

Saudi Arabia was one of the first countries to ratify the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2005, an ambitious plan to reduce smoking rates from 12.7 percent to 5 percent by 2030.

The Health Ministry has taken steps to curb smoking through awareness campaigns and cessation clinics. Taxes on cigarettes doubled in 2017, leading to a 213 percent increase in smokers seeking help to kick the habit in the months that followed.

Saudi restaurant owner Hassan Moriah supported the Cabinet decision, although he said customers would be hit the hardest.

“Every restaurant and café manager should be licensed to provide this service. I believe all restaurants and cafés will support this decision too, but I believe the only people who will be affected by this decision are the customers,” he told Arab News. “All outlets will raise the price of hookahs. The actual people who would be paying for it to reach SR100,000 are the customers and not the cafés. Yes, there will be people who cannot afford to pay the new prices and they may have to cut down on their hookah consumption.”

The new regulation would also affect places that were not so popular, he added.

Associate professor of history at Middle Tennessee State University Dr. Sean Foley, who is writing a book on smoking in Saudi Arabia and the wider Muslim world, said the new law was part of the Kingdom’s attempts to address a serious health crisis while also meeting a goal of the Vision 2030 reform plan to move away from non-oil revenues.

“While raising cigarette taxes is a proven strategy for reducing smoking, the new SR100,000 annual fee for Saudi restaurants to permit patrons to smoke may be even more important,” he told Arab News. “Many restaurants may not be able to afford to pay for such an expensive permit, so there is likely to be less smoking in restaurants. That would mean there will be fewer people exposed to second-hand smoke in restaurants, itself a serious problem, and existing smokers would have a powerful new incentive to quit. Studies have consistently shown that creating smoke-free areas is one of the most powerful tools to motivate and help existing tobacco users to quit while preventing new smokers from picking up the habit.”

"The academic, who has written "Changing Saudi Arabia: Art, Culture, and Society in the Kingdom" published this year, said the Kingdom had some of the highest smoking rates in the world.

He added that the problem was getting worse as the number of smokers in Saudi Arabia was expected to rise from six million to 10 million in the coming years.

He warned that while there was the danger of a rise in smuggling and other black-market activities — because of the higher costs associated with smoking — there were other challenges too.

“The real danger is not the rise in black-market activity but that Saudis will continue to switch in large numbers to a product that is currently legal to use — vaping. While purchasing any of the products associated with vaping is illegal in the Kingdom, it is legal to vape in public and many Saudis buy vape juice and vape modules online.”