September 11, 2001 – 2016
This, the 50th posting to Fifty Year Perspective, coincides with the 15th anniversary of the attack on United States targets in New York and Washington, DC. The nineteen attackers were Islamic terrorists belonging to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda organization. Fifteen of the nineteen came from Saudi Arabia, two from United Arab Emirates (UAE), and one each from Egypt and Lebanon. Four of the terrorists had lived in the United States long enough to take flying lessons at commercial flight schools. Others slipped into the country in the months leading up to September 11th. Their median age was 23.
In the years since 2011, young Arab men and women have executed attacks in several western countries – England, France, Belgium, and Germany – and in the U.S. Motives and personal backgrounds of attackers have been scrutinized. While many have been natives of western countries, their family histories go back to Gulf Coast countries and North Africa.
ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller, a public relations consultant headquartered in Dubai, has conducted annual surveys of Arab youth for the last eight years. The survey, called Inside the Hearts and Minds of Arab Youth, covered 16 countries in its 2016 survey. Face-to-face interviews were conducted with 3,500 Arab youth between the ages of 18 and 25. Sixty percent of the Arab world’s population is below age 25, nearly 200 million people.
Of particular interest is the attitude of those surveyed toward terrorism and Daesh, the name the survey used to identify the group variously referred to as ISIS or Islamic State. The 2016 survey marked the second year in a row that Arab youth viewed the rise of Daesh as the top obstacle facing the Middle East, and nearly 80% expressed concern about the terrorist group’s rise.
Most Arab youth believe Daesh will ultimately fail to establish an Islamic state, and most (4 out of 5) would not support the group even if it stopped using so much violence. A quarter of respondents believe the lack of jobs and opportunities for young people is a primary reason why some are attracted to Daesh. As The Economist reported on the survey, “These days life for young Arabs is often a miserable choice between a struggle against poverty at home, emigration or, in extreme cases, jihad. Indeed, in places such as Syria, the best-paid jobs involve picking up a gun.”
Optimism regarding the future declined precipitously in the years since the Arab Spring. In the 2012 survey three-quarters of Arab youth agreed with the statement, “Following the Arab Spring, I feel the Arab world is better off.” Agreement with this statement fell steadily until reaching 36% in the 2016 survey. Prior to the Arab Spring the survey found a powerful desire for social change. As the revolutions began in 2011, 92% said living in a democracy was their most important desire. In the 2016 survey, promoting stability ranked as more important than promoting democracy, and they are calling on their leaders to do more to improve personal freedom and human rights, especially for women.
When asked which country in the world they would like to live in, UAE was ranked first, capturing 22% of respondents. The U.S. ranked second with 15% of respondents, and Germany ranked third with 11%. They cited UAE’s safety and security and its growing economy with a wide range of work opportunities and generous salary packages.
The survey also covered attitudes toward allies of their respective countries, the declining income from oil exports, the Iranian nuclear deal and Syrian conflict, Sunni-Shia relations, and sources of daily news read by Arab youth. The full 2016 report can be accessed at http://www.arabyouthsurvey.com/en/home.