Young Arabs turn to entrepreneurship as unemployment persists

MENA countries need to create 80 million to 100 million jobs by 2020 to maintain current unemployment rates, according to the World Bank

Nearly one-third of young people in the Arab world say unemployment is the biggest obstacle facing the region, with many turning to entrepreneurship as way of evading soaring joblessness rates, research shows.

The seventh annual Arab Youth Survey found 81 per cent of young people polled are “concerned” about unemployment, up from 63 per cent in 2014. In the wake of the Arab uprisings, which toppled rulers in Tunisia to Yemen, and which have since given way to widespread civil unrest, little has changed for Arab youth.

“Their concerns remain largely the same, with unemployment weighing heavily on their minds,” the report noted.

The annual survey from Asda’a Burson-Marsteller provides a snapshot of the attitudes of the region’s 200 million youth. Some 60 per cent of Middle East and North African population is below the age of 25.

MENA countries need to create 80 million to 100 million jobs by 2020 to maintain current unemployment rates, according to the World Bank. Joblessness was seen as a primary trigger of the uprisings of 2011, which shook much of the region.

Nearly two in five, or 39 per cent of young Arabs plan to start a business in the next five years, the report found, with technology, retail and real estate the most popular sectors among would-be entrepreneurs.

Respondents said governments should intervene to loosen credit lines and improve education systems, to foster support for a startup culture.

Confidence in government ability to tackle joblessness varies widely in the region. Only a third of those polled outside the GCC believe their governments will be able to confront the issue, while two-thirds of those in the six Gulf states have faith in their leaders’ ability to create jobs.

Many respondents identified the rise of extremist group Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant - known as ISIS - as the biggest challenge facing the region; a threat that appears to have undermined faith in the ability of the Arab Spring to deliver democratic change.

Just 38 per cent of the 3,500 people aged 18-24 interviewed for this year’s survey agree the Arab world is better off following the uprisings, compared to 72 per cent in 2012. In 2011, 92 per cent of Arab youths said their biggest desire was “living in a democracy”.

In this year’s survey, just 15 per cent named a lack of democracy as the biggest challenge facing the region. Some 39 per cent of respondents said democracy would never work in the region.

Among North African and Levantine youth, the outlook for the next five years is gloomy. Just 39 per cent and 26 per cent respectively believe they will be better off in 2020. The survey did not include Syria due to the ongoing civil unrest in the country.

One in five of respondents say they would like to live in the United Arab Emirates and a similar proportion would like their home countries to be like the UAE. The GCC was followed into second and third place by the US and Germany.

The seventh edition of the Arab Youth Survey, by public relations firm Asda’a Burson-Marsteller, polled 3,500 young Arab men and women in the six GCC countries, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Palestine, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and Yemen.