Survey shows Arab World is upbeat about the future
The World Economic Forum in Jordan 2005 opened at the Dead Sea this afternoon with results of an extensive survey of the Arab world. Compiled from the Gallup International Voice of the People Survey, the results show that the people of the region are generally quite optimistic about the future, but at the same time they are making a strong call to their leaders to “reduce wars and conflicts” and make “the war on terrorism” their priority. Held under the theme ‘Seizing the Moment’, the World Economic Forum will welcome more than 1,000 leaders from business, politics and civil society to the three day meeting.
The poll was conducted exclusively for the World Economic Forum; more than 60,000 citizens in over 60 countries representing over 1.3 billion of the world’s population were interviewed at the end of last year. The findings released today relate to the Arab and Middle East region, with more than 4,500 people in eight countries (Egypt, Israel, Kuwait, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates) interviewed.
“It is great to see that there is so much optimism and good in a region that the rest of the world often sees as a source of problems. What the survey shows is that if led properly and given the right opportunities the people of the Arab world are willing to roll up their sleeves and work on making this a better world,” said Frédéric Sicre, Managing Director of the World Economic Forum.
When asked whether 2005 was going to be a better year than 2004, the region is slightly more optimistic than the world as a whole, with almost half (48%) indicating the year will be better than the previous one. Egypt was the only exception; one in four of those interviewed (39%) felt 2005 would be worse, compared with just over a quarter (26%) who said it would be better than 2004.
Other countries in the region were markedly more upbeat. In Tunisia (72%) and Kuwait (70%), more than seven out of ten felt that 2005 would be better than 2004, and this optimism was shared by majorities in all the other countries included. Even in Saudi Arabia, where levels of optimism were significantly lower, optimists (39%) still outnumbered pessimists (34%).
Previous surveys have demonstrated that economic stability is a necessary condition for such optimism. In all of the eight countries, when those who are employed were asked if they thought their present jobs were safe, most thought they were (53% overall). However, a significant proportion of those asked in Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia thought there was a chance of unemployment – 38%, 46% and 27% respectively.
However, when those employed were asked if they would find a new job easily in the event of becoming unemployed, a majority of 6 out of 10 (60%) in the region overall, and majorities in each of the eight countries, thought it would take some time to find a new job.
By comparison, taking the world as a whole, the overall employment view is slightly better than in the Arab region – generally, two-thirds of those employed (65%) felt their jobs were safe and, if they were to become unemployed, one in four (38%) felt they would find a new one fairly quickly.
Respondents were asked to select what they thought should be the most important priority for leaders of the world. Priorities in the region are, perhaps unsurprisingly, clearly focused on generally “reducing wars and conflicts” (21% overall) and “the war on terrorism” (14%).
Other issues seem to have significant salience in particular countries. For example, “overcoming the drug problem and drug trafficking” was only mentioned by 1 in 20 around the world and the region generally (5%), but by more than 1 in 6 in Kuwait (15%) and by more than 1 in 10 (11%) in the United Arab Emirates. Improving or maintaining human rights was mentioned by more than 1 in 10 in Egypt (11%), Tunisia (11%) and Turkey (10%) and by 9% in the region as a whole, compared with only 4% of the global total who mention this issue.
Respondents in the region focused significantly on war and terrorism and fears for the economy as their greatest worry for 2005. Of course, both these issues are also reflected in the responses from the global sample, but more people in the Arab world are concerned about the possible expansion of the war to other parts of the world with 1 in 4 fearing this in the region (24% compared to only 16% globally). A similar proportion in the region (23%) worry about an increase in terrorism but the proportion amongst the global population (22%) is similar on this issue.
Fears about the expansion of the war are at their highest in Saudi Arabia – almost half (46%) are worried about this, but they are also high in Kuwait (31%), Tunisia (35%) and the United Arab Emirates (27%).
Economic fears in the region mirror global concerns with almost 1 in 5 respondents in the Middle East (18% and 17% respectively) stating that their greatest worry for 2005 would be a failure of the economy or loss of jobs in their country.