March 31, 2011 / 3:42 PM / 8 years ago

Young Arabs crave economic opportunity: poll

LONDON (Reuters) - Young Arabs are crying out for change but their economic dreams are being blocked by rigid, intolerant societies which fail to recognize their huge potential, an in-depth study found on Thursday.

Students shout slogans as they demand the reopening of schools during a demonstration at Tahrir Square in Cairo February 27, 2011. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

The Gallup poll of more than 16,000 nationals aged between 15 and 29 across 20 countries in the Middle East and North Africa was taken before a wave of uprisings that has engulfed the region in the past few months.

The poll, the latest installment of the Silatech Index, found the attitudes of young Arabs changed significantly in 2010 from the last time the survey was undertaken in 2009.

Views had soured toward their standard of living, for instance, especially regarding affordable housing.

Young people across 20 countries — including Bahrain, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, which have seen major unrest — said they felt unable to fully integrate economically into their societies despite their strong entrepreneurial aspirations.

“Even though they are one of the healthiest and best-educated generations in the region, young Arabs still have difficulties obtaining access to employment and enterprise opportunities,” the report concluded.

The report also found that, contrary to traditional measures of gross domestic product growth pointing to steady economic growth in some countries, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region still has one of the highest rates of youth unemployment in the world.

“Reports of a booming economy do not always reflect the proper dynamics in the countries,” said Nobel Peace Prize Winner and former president of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari.

“We need to look at what the younger generation thinks and understand how important it is to get them economically engaged,” he said presenting the findings.

There were some positives too, however. The poll found that mobile phone access in the region had increased more than any other indicator, jumping from 79 percent use in 2009 to 89 percent in 2010. Internet availability also rose.

The use of mobile web services such as Twitter has been seen as one of the drivers of protests that have toppled leaders in Tunisia and Egypt and led to civil war in Libya.

Underscoring the willingness of the youth to engage, the poll found more were willing to re-train for a new career if unemployed for at least six months.

Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton

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