Arab youth want to see fundamental changes in political and civil rights, the economy, education, technology, and peace and conflict resolution in the Middle East and North Africa. This has been illustrated in a mini poll conducted by Sada that sought to explore young Arabs' priorities and what they consider essential to improve political, economic, and social conditions in their countries.
The participants’ answers varied according to each country and its unique circumstances, but it is remarkable that the youth in their entirety agreed that the participation of young people in political and economic decision-making, the reduction of unemployment rates, the improvement of economic conditions, and the liberation of Arab markets from rentier economic systems are among the basic factors necessary for state stability and preventing political turmoil. Civil and political rights enshrined under the rule of law and existing alongside social justice topped the list of demands, as well as respect for freedom of opinion and expression and the upholding of human rights. Economic development and creating suitable economic environments for young people ranked second in the list of demands that Arab youth want in the new year.
In Arab countries experiencing armed conflict such as Yemen, Syria, and Libya, ending their respective wars and conflicts has been a top priority, in addition to restoring peace and stability. Improving the economy was their second priority, closely followed by improving the education system, ensuring public freedoms, and respecting human rights.
Arab Youth’s Top Priorities
- Guaranteeing civil and political rights
- Developing the economy and reducing unemployment
- Improving education and promoting technological advancement
- Ending wars and division/peace and stability
- Respecting women’s rights
- Sponsoring/supporting culture and arts
We received 79 submissions from 19 Arab countries, with the most participation coming from Jordan (12), Morocco (10), Iraq (10), and then Yemen and Libya (6 each). The rest of the Arab countries were represented by a range of one to four participants. Most of the participants were females, with 44 young women participating in the survey, while 35 young men participated. The participation varied between 32 written responses and 46 recorded video responses. Women participated in 27 video responses and 17 written responses, while men participated in 19 video responses and 16 written responses. It should be noted that the lists of priorities did not differ much between male and female participants. The order of priorities were uniform, but a focus on women's rights and supporting culture and the arts appeared in the female participants’ lists only.
Sada asked participants, aged 21-35 years, this question: What change would you like to see in your country next year? And why do you think this change is important to your country and its citizens? The educational and employment backgrounds of the participants varied, along with the regions and cities they come from. Ultimately, however, their concerns and aspirations settled on providing a safe environment for youth to engage in political participation and decision-making, as well as respecting freedom of opinion, expression, and the press. In addition, the participants emphasized combating political and economic corruption, distributing wealth more equitably, decreasing unemployment, and ensuring social justice. Youth also agreed on improving education levels and curricula in their respective countries, as well as supporting their information technology sectors to keep up with rapid technological development currently taking place in the world. Arab youth’s responses and wide-ranging aspirations for the new year are exhibited in the following videos and text.
—Rafiah Al Talei
The Arab Youth: Aspirations for the New Year
- Saudi Arabia
- United Arab Emirates
The change that we desire and have needed for years in Iraq is stability and fair and just administration of the country’s institutions. This will establish peaceful trading of power, expert management of the country’s resources, a basis for control, accountability, security, and change regarding opinions and personal freedoms. Why are these ideas important? Simply, the professional management of the state will provide a fair distribution of national wealth and enable international investment companies and local companies to work on the vital sectors of the country.
Since the work of local and international companies must occur without suspicions of corruption, profit-sharing, or paying partisan or armed parties in exchange for permitting work, the standard of accountability and deterrence must be achieved through the independence of the judiciary and the monopoly of arms in the hands of the state. On the other hand, it gives state institutions a monopoly on fighting violence and accountability. All of this supports the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression, and we should not see killings and kidnappings of dissenters, journalists, activists, and demonstrators.
—Mustafa Jalel Mahsan, Media and communication
The change that I would like to happen in my country is a conceptual change that pertains to Iraqi society as a whole moving away from the ruling political class. This change in social consciousness would shift the focus to a comprehensive national identity instead of a dominance of sub-identities in all its forms (religious or factional) on the Iraqi political and social scene. Personally, I see that Iraq’s problems after 2003 are mostly because of the dominance of sub-identities over the political and social discourse and the attempts to mute all the voices that try to bypass the sub-identity groups. This was reflected in the empowerment of a political class that was never fit to lead. This political class squandered its wealth, strengthened the division in society, and undoubtedly failed to lead Iraq into a safe and peaceful coexistence. This conceptual conflict and its discourse in all its forms is based on fueling the fire of the sub-identity instead of the national identity that unites all Iraqis and is inspired by Iraq’s glorious heritage and its timeless history.
—Laith Saher, Translator and Novelist
Iraqis suffer from the spread of unemployment, which reached 40 percent nationwide, and the lack of job opportunities, real investment, and safe living condition. Most important, though, is the marginalization and social suffering of citizens. I would like to see political and economic reforms.
We, as young people, strive to live stable lives in this country and hope that the government works to support people working as farmers, laborers, students, and investors. I also hope that the government starts treating people according to equal citizenship rights and competencies, not on the basis of race and religion, which destroys the country.
My hope is that Iraqi youth, who have started to enter politics in order to change things for the better, work in civil society to rebuild societal cohesion, find job opportunities, and reduce unemployment by creating private projects. However, the country must be stable to continue forward and return to its true place politically, economically, and socially. This can be done through the support of the youth.
—Zais Al Wees, Mosul
The executive and legislative bodies must work to change the rentier economic market of the country to an open market economy, where individuals and companies can enjoy freedom of initiative, freedom to exchange and move goods, and get services without hindrances. Under this system, resources are allocated by the financial institutions and the price mechanism that ensures supply and demand. This should happen without the state intervening to organize the production process. Prices, according to information sent by financial institutions, play another role, which is to direct the bidders to produce the goods and services required by consumers, and thus push the market to a state of perfect equilibrium - satisfying the largest amount of consumers' needs using the available resources.
—Ali Kareem Idhheeb, Economic Journalist
The change that I aspire to is a successful and ambitious political system that achieves what citizens desire, regardless of race, religion, or sect. Why has Iraq chosen the last three presidents according to quotas, race, and sectarianism, while citizens are suffering as a result of the catastrophic failure that of governing for many years? The most important thing is that every citizen should enjoy their rights without discrimination.
For a unified Iraq, we must have real security. The Iraqi citizens have the right to be proud of the country’s security and military institutions, which work to enforce security and stability of the homeland, leading to an environment that is suitable for investment, construction, and development.
I want to see real change in the health and education sectors that have been sluggish for years, and to witness an economic renaissance with a modern vision of removing the effects of devastation and destruction that have persisted for many years. I want to see Iraq without external interference or foreign opinions imposed by corrupt state officials and politicians, who have tampered with the security and future of Iraq for decades. I hope this will happen soon because there is no more patience.
—Mustafa Yaseen, Program Anchor
Every year in Iraq we hope for the existence of a strong state run by a government whose first and last concern is the Iraqi citizens and whose loyalty is with Iraq and its people only, but this never happens.
After the recent election, which resulted in political conflicts and armed clashes that amounted to an attempt to assassinate the Iraqi prime minister, the hopes that were hanging on the elections seemed to have been greatly dashed. However, the hope remains that next year will bring a strong government that is capable of stopping uncontrolled weapons, building a solid military institution, and making the official security forces the only military force in the country. I want to witness a solution to our citizen’s problems, most notably, unemployment and job creation. I want to see exploitation of the high price of oil in building long-term strategic projects, the enactment of laws that preserve the prestige of the Iraqi economy and restore its health, as well as laws that address the deterioration of the education system. We need a plan of at least five years in order to revitalize the educational system. I would like to see development in the sectors of agriculture, industry, and tourism.
—Ali Alhayani, Employee - Anbar
The most important thing that I hope will change is the role of corrupt political parties in Iraq. I want to see Iraq ruled by people who care about the citizens and aim to build big projects and huge investments like the Gulf states. I hope that the Iraqi passport becomes one of strongest passports in the world. I hope we get rid of the corrupt politicians and terrorism ends in the country. The truth is that I was going to record a video clip, but I am afraid that one of the politicians will see me and won’t like what I say and kill me. All Iraqis want change. I hear people talking every day on buses, at college, and at home. Only the beneficiaries of the government corruption want the situation to remain as it is. We need honest politicians who understand people's needs, want to build Iraq, and provide job opportunities for young people, so that we can live in peace like the rest of the world. Unemployment and corrupt politicians are the cause of terrorism. If new politicians, who are ethical and love the people, come, everything can change for the better.
—Feryal Abdullah, English Literature
As an Iraqi citizen, I have experienced many crises and storms that have passed through the country. One of the many changes I would like to see is that the law be enforced without discrimination. I hope that people solve their problems through dialogue and debate, not by using weapons to prove that they are right, despite their obvious wrongdoings.
I wish to witness a bright future for me and my children in our homeland and to live a safe, dignified, and reassuring life. I want to see our country with a government that guarantees my kids their rights like the governments of the civilized world. Unfortunately, my wishes are just features of an ordinary life that people in the rest of the world enjoy without having to ask. I hope that Iraq will become a safe and prosperous country, where security, safety and stability prevail.
—Labid Omar, English Literature - University of Baghdad
The change we want is to shift from a state of quotas to a state of citizenship, in which young people are guaranteed their rightful place in the state. I also want to see Iraq with an economy that exports goods more than imports in addition to having a flourishing education system, rising quality of health, and an abounding agricultural sector. The country also needs the establishment of a strong army whose loyalty lies with Iraqis instead of an outside party. The economy, media, security, and politics are the pillars upon which states are built
—Abdul Aleem Mahmoud, Biology Department
I wish to eradicate racism in my country, where it has increased in intensity and spread across society among all age groups. For example, the Bidoon face racism constantly as some Kuwaitis refuse to integrate them into society and allow them to obtain their legal rights. The Bidoon suffer from a lack of citizenship cards, unemployment, acceptance in state jobs, and proper education for their children. They simply lack the basics of life, which led some to ultimately commit suicide.
Racism has also affected Kuwaiti women who marry non-Kuwaitis. The culture of the non-Kuwaiti is rejected and the woman and her children receive harsh criticism - not to mention the fact that her children do not enjoy citizen rights. This led to an increased rate of spinsterhood among Kuwaiti women due to the limited choices. Kuwaiti women must choose her husband from the same social class, the same sect, and the same nationality.
The solution to these issues begins with educating children, from an early age, to be open and accepting of differences. Citizens must be aware that being proud of citizenship and preserving national identity does not mean excluding others. Rather, diversity is important for the country to thrive socially, economically, and culturally.
I hope to see growth in the issues of personal freedoms, human rights, freedom of the press, trade union organizations, and civil society associations. On the regional level, I would like the Gulf institutions to be multiplied, both governmental and societal, and cooperation to increase in the economic and environmental fields. Additionally, I would like to see the Gulf countries agree on security strategies to address Iran, Israel, Turkey, and other dangers.
—Omar Abdali, age 24
I hope to see an expansion of freedom of expression and belief, reforms in education, and increased citizen participation in decision-making.
—Manal, age 28
In the new year, I hope that my country achieves justice, dignity for every human being, freedom for every citizen, and acceptance of differences. Widespread societal ignorance, failure to manage health or government systems, lack of awareness, a deteriorating economic situation, ease of spreading hate, persecution, and crimes based on gender, color, and religion, are all a result of the failing education system.
I would like to see equal educational opportunities guaranteed to all students, where the curriculum is in line with the current era and modernity. The world is now open, full of technology, and we have to deal with this to produce fruitful generations that have a bright outlook for the future.
I hope to witness an educational system that encourages respect for everyone, supports freedoms, encourages cooperation, and develops students’ spirit of community, innovation, and intelligence, so that we can see an advanced Egypt - a country of security and safety for everyone without a sense of fear and terrorism.
—Hadeer Mekkawi, Journalist and Human Rights Defender
I want to feel safe when going to the police department and the judicial system in Egypt. I have had an innate anxiety since childhood in dealing with these entities. I am always expecting the worst to happen when interacting with these entities, and often, the experience is negative. The decline in the citizen's confidence in the rule of law and the institutions that implement it, in my opinion, is the most dangerous thing that could happen to a state, which undermines the rules of social peace. The citizen's feeling that state institutions may use their power to confront him and not support him is contrary to and even destroys the essence of the idea of the social contract.
When citizens feels that the law is fair, the legislation is sufficient, the guarantor of rights and the institution of the judiciary is independent in decision-making, and the police protects him from all aggressors regardless of status, then their sense of freedom, equality, and participation in public life increases. This is the essence of democracy.
—Samar Al-Husseini, Researcher
In the new year, I hope that my country can become a homeland, for all intents and purposes of the word. I also hope that young people feel safe and stable, so that they can focus their energy on creating opportunities for creativity.
The personal rights and freedoms of all citizens must be respected and citizens, especially young people, should be included and have a vote in decisions that affects them. It is important for citizens, especially the youth, to be a partner in making change and advancing state institutions. Citizens should have the highest priority in the state. All of this cannot be achieved without allowing the individual to express their opinions and criticisms freely in a constructive dialogue without restricting or marginalizing them.
—Yara Al Ahmadi, Lawyer and Women’s Rights Activist
I believe that change starts with education. If education is in good shape, then the status of the citizen and the country will be good. Education is the foundation and the starting point for a better future. Poor education services in the country are the reason for the chaos we are in now.
Regarding the issue of elections, there are fears that the results of the elections in the country will not be accepted by armed parties, regardless of the integrity of the elections.
—Khawla Al-Amin, Sirte
Elections are a complex issue in Libya and the situation is getting worse little by little. There are two things hindering the political and developmental movement in the country. First, politicians have monopolized the decision-making power by using quotas as a way to fill positions, leaving the majority of the populations marginalized. Second, the misdistribution of money has created a very large gap between citizens that reinforces marginalization and creates a desire for revenge on those who caused it. It is necessary to change these basic practices in order to reduce the frightening hierarchical system. I hope that the behavior of some politicians will change because their actions have reinforced the division in Libya. When faced with any problem, the officials immediately seek help from outside, even if it is at the expense of public interest.
—Ezzedine Ahmed, Tripoli
Social justice is the foundation of everything. This is an important change that I aspire to, as I have lived through difficult days due to the absence of social justice and rule of law, which created a feeling of inequality and marginalization. There are privileges and opportunities that are exclusive to a particular group of society. In our country, ordinary citizens are excluded from good employment, banking facilities, good housing, and treatment abroad. I have lived most of my life in a simple, small house in a slum in the middle of the country with no infrastructure services. I think social justice and the rule of law is the basis of everything, and the rest should be left to competition and diligence.
—Sama, Employee - Tripoli
I hope to witness real stability in my country, free from problems, fear, and daily acts of violence. Without stability, there can be no ambitions, dreams, or development. We need to activate the youth and involve them in state institutions and local organizations. I want the government to focus on effective youth development.
I would also like to see environmental policies get as much attention that is given to political affairs. Environmental policy determines the general shape of the state. I also wish the government would pay attention to research and educational development centers in the country.
—Malak - Environmental Policy Researcher - Tripoli
What I want to happen in Morocco is a reformation of the education system because nations do not advance without education. In particular, I want every Moroccan child to have good educational opportunities, in which the rich child is equal to the poor child and the child in the desert is equal to the child in the city. Because the concerned authorities view education as a basic human right and harness the power to guarantee this right to all, we should be able to question them if this right is neglected. The state should make education its first priority because the indicators paint a frightening picture of the status of education, which is not befitting Morocco's reputation, history, and position.
Finally, public schools should be rehabilitated by retraining teachers, improving their financial conditions, and developing curricula that prepares a citizen to gainfully contribute to development and positively interact with globalization.
—Omaima Ben Sahra - Master's student in Media and Communications Management
I wish to witness increased participation in the political process and a change in the nature of the relationship between the ruler and the ruled. Today, Oman is no longer a welfare state that supports the lives of citizens and where people enjoy government-supported services. In reality, it has become dependent on taxes, removed support from most services, and shrunk job opportunities in state agencies. Therefore, the previous pattern of the relationship - the social contract - which required people to surrender absolute authority to the ruler in return for the provision of basic needs has ended, and this necessarily means a change in the principles, rights, and duties between the two parties.
We must create plans for popular participation to be represented in an effective parliament at the national level with full legislative and oversight powers, as called for by Oman Vision 2024. Also, municipal councils must be empowered to become responsible for managing the local affairs of the states in a decentralized framework, which reduces pressure on the central government and makes citizens partners in decision-making.
This change is not expected to happen all at once, but since taxes are changing, subsidies are being lifted, and unemployment and layoffs are increasing, it is necessary to increase efforts towards political reform and popular participation in decision-making. Then, we can talk about the concept of preventive or proactive reform, is free from the scourge of revolutions, civil wars, and foreign interventions, which makes the relationship between the ruler and the ruled based on citizenship, partnership, and mutual respect.
—Mays Al Farsi, Political Rights Defender
After the great change brought about by the Corona pandemic, it is necessary to develop the health sector. The State of Qatar has the potential to advance any sector. We need to develop the health sector and focus more on medical training. The health sector has very good capabilities but is lacking highly qualified medical cadres that contribute to solving patients' health problems, accurately diagnosing them, and directing them to the correct treatment. Qatar is about to host a global event in which the world will gather in a small area of the country that may be vulnerable to the emergence of epidemics. It has become very necessary to develop the health sector and provide it with highly qualified doctors. This will solve a crisis and will reduce citizens' choice to seek treatment abroad.
—Haya - Bank Employee
I wish that the question had been “what I wished to achieve in my country in the past ten years.” If that were the question, I would have said I wished that young people would not leave and that schools would be full of children learning and dreaming. I would have wished that Syrians would live proud because of what they had achieved by destroying the walls of injustice and written in Syrian history that they did it.
I wished I could wander in the streets of the Levant without fear. I would wish to be a citizen of my country, where the government official is keen to be satisfied so that my voice is safe and that my Syria would be fine. I wish this question was about ten years ago.
—Ahmed El-Shamy - Producer and Presenter
Change on the economic level is the most important for Tunisia at the current stage, and this should not be affected by political tensions. Changing Tunisia’s economic outlook has several dimensions. The most important of which is the social dimension because an improvement in the economic situation would provide an opportunity for young people to be active members in society, and it would reduce the irregular migration rate among young people whose main problem is the deteriorating economic and social climate, especially since the youth represents the largest age group in Tunisia.
The improvement of the economic environment in Tunisia will also have an impact at the global level because of Tunisia’s strategic and economic importance. An improvement of Tunisia’s ranking on the Moody economic scale will allow Tunisia to be a player in global markets.
—Noha - Journalist
The change that I want in my country is the immediate cessation of the ongoing war and for the causes of the war to be addressed. I want my country to enjoy stability that enables us to live in peace without disturbances or conflicts that destroy our country, our lives, or our future.
I want my country to adopt policies that change political systems as well as includes aspects of the Charter of Human Rights in the constitutions and laws. The adoption of these international covenants will help increase civil, political, cultural, social, and economic rights in the country, which will reduce conflicts.
I also want change in the educational systems, which will work to enhance the capabilities and competencies of young people, so that they can join the labor force. I want to see a reduction in the unemployment rates. In addition, I would like to see policies that work to fundamentally change the traditional mentality of young people and society.
—Ahed Yassin - Journalist - Aden
I want us to have a strong state in Yemen that protects people, makes them equal before the law, and guarantees the rights of male and female citizens.
—Ahd Abdel Shakour Yassin Abdel Karim, age 28
The change I want to see is the abolition of the monarchy, the opening of the market, and the abolition of the sponsorship system.
—Khaled Mohammed Al-Qahtani, age 21
The change I want to see is increased employment opportunities that are in proportion to the number of university graduates, support for poor families, improved infrastructure quality, especially public streets, and reduced taxes.
—Mia’ad Abdullah, age 23
The change that I want to witness is the expansion of freedom of expression and the decriminalization of differences in politics, which would allow for the fair establishment and management of civil society institutions and political parties. I would also like for there to be elections where citizens can vote on who will represent their political interests.
—Zenkor, age 32
United Arab Emirates
I wish to see people in my country equal in citizenship, treatment, ambition, and the pursuit of happiness.
—Omar, Sharja, age 30
The change I want to see in my country is more freedom, especially freedom of expression and freedom of the press, abolition of laws that discriminate between males and females, abolition of arbitrary laws against minorities and people of different sexual orientation, and less restrictions on investment and the economy.
—Sumaya Shabab, age 28
The change I want to see is the creation of a free and competitive political climate in which political parties exist. I want to see the transformation of the political system to a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary government.
—Anas, age 26
I hope to see the level of crime decrease in Jordan. I want people to adhere to their traditions that forbid them from committing such crimes, so that our society will return to being safe and cohesive.
—Zidoun Kurdi, employee
Thank you and appreciation
Sada thanks its writers and all the individuals and entities that helped involve Arab youth from most Arab countries. The diverse and representative participation they attracted contributed to the success of this survey project and its wide-ranging insights:
- Anas Mazour - Morocco
- Mohamed El Amine - Mauritania
- Ezz El Din Ahmed - Libya
- Taim Al-Hajj and Jiwan Souz - Syria Jihad Almallah-Lebanon
- Haitham Numan - Iraq
- Roman Haddad - Jordan Adnan Abu Amer- Gaza & West Bank
- Safa Nasser and Mohammed Alassadi- Yemen
- Bahrain Women’s Association for Human Development