DUBAI (Reuters) - Young Arabs view Islamic State as the biggest challenge facing their region and some blame poor job opportunities for the rise of the militant group, according to a survey published on Tuesday.
Islamic State has declared a “caliphate” over swathes of Iraq and Syria it occupies, has established branches in conflict-ridden Libya and Yemen and has also carried out a series of deadly attacks in western Europe and Arab Gulf states.
The annual survey of people in the 18-24 age bracket across 16 Arab countries showed half of the respondents saw Islamic State as the biggest challenge for the region, up from 37 percent in the 2015 poll and well above other issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and lack of democracy.
Asked if they could imagine supporting Islamic State - also known by its Arabic acronym Daesh - if it used less violence, 78 percent of respondents said they could not, while 13 percent said they could and nine percent said they did not know.
Almost a quarter of respondents blamed high unemployment among young Arabs for Islamic State’s success. The Arab world has long been blighted by corruption, wars and political stagnation and has struggled to create jobs for its fast-growing younger population.
Hassan Hassan, an analyst cited in the survey, said the region’s economic malaise had clearly helped Islamic State.
“Many people in the region may reject Daesh due to its extreme tactics, but the issue remains that the group exploits existing problems,” he said.
“It did not simply invent the problems the responders identified as factors. Daesh, put another way, is a symptom of a growing disease that needs to be tackled, and not just the disease itself.”
Respondents also cited as reasons for Islamic State’s advances the group’s belief that its interpretation of Islam is superior to others as well as the confrontation between the Sunni and Shi‘ite traditions. Islamic State adheres to a hardline version of Sunni Islam and regards Shi‘ites and other Muslims who reject its stance as apostates deserving death.
The survey was based on 3,500 face-to-face interviews carried out by Dubai-based public relations firm ASDA‘A Burson-Marsteller in countries ranging from Morocco and Egypt to Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Reporting By Noah Browning; Editing by Gareth Jones