Survey: Most Young Arabs Want to Leave Middle East

But contrary to conventional wisdom, the Jewish state is one of the few where young Arabs are content

By Ryan Jones |
Most young Arabs want to leave the Middle East
Photo: Illustration - Hadas Parush/Flash90

Israel as the great and intractable foe of the Arab world is a notion that’s crumbling before our eyes, in more ways than one.

The Jewish state was supposed to be a place where all an Arab could expect was discrimination and racial hatred. It’s an “apartheid” state, they told us. So why, then, is Israel one of the very few places in the Middle East from which young Arabs aren’t trying to escape?


Trying to escape

Every year since 2008, the Dubai-based research group ASDA’A BCW has conducted the “Arab Youth Survey.” And every year the numbers have been getting progressively worse.

The 2020 edition of the survey found that more young Arabs than ever before see no future for themselves in the Middle East. It’s a situation no doubt exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis, but equally driven by government corruption and sectarian violence, which combine to leave little, if any, economic hope.

Among Arabs aged 18-24, a full 42 percent across all the Middle East and North Africa want to emigrate, and 15 percent are taking steps to do so.

Those percentages might not sound immediately concerning, but when you consider the numbers involved, you begin to understand why countries like Israel, the Gulf states and EU member states are worried about a new flood of immigrants.

  • 66 percent of the population in the Middle East and North Africa is under the age of 30;
  • 578 million is the overall population of these regions;
  • 380 million fall in this younger demographic;
  • 42 percent, or 160 million people, from that demographic want to emigrate;
  • 57 million migrants will need a new home if even just 15 percent who are trying to leave end up succeeding.


Not-so-Fertile Crescent

The problem is most pronounced in the so-called Fertile Crescent, a region that these days doesn’t quite live up to its ancient description, and North Africa.

In Lebanon, an overwhelming 77 percent of young adults would abandon the country given the chance, followed by Libya (69%), Yemen (66%), Iraq (65%), the Palestinian Territories (58%), Jordan (56%), Syria (54% – would probably be higher if so many hadn’t already emigrated), Sudan (54%), Tunisia (52%), and Morocco (46%).


Money can’t buy happiness?

Notably missing from that list of Arab counties where a majority of young people want to leave are any of the oil-rich Gulf States.

The Gulf state with the highest percentage of those looking to jump ship is Bahrain (28%), but that likely has something to do with the fact that in the island emirate, a Shiite majority is ruled by a Sunni minority.

Just 18 percent of young Kuwaitis want to emigrate, in Oman only 12 percent are looking to escape, and a mere 6 percent of young Saudis would turn their back on the kingdom.

Unsurprisingly, the prosperous United Arab Emirates was at the very bottom of the list, with just 3 percent of citizens aged 18-24 saying they have considered emigrating.


Israeli coexistence

While it wasn’t part of this survey, if had been, Israel would also have ranked toward the very bottom of the list.

In another survey, the annual World Happiness Report conducted by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, Israel has consistently ranked among the top 15 most happy countries in the entire world.

Now, some might try to attribute that ranking entirely to Israel’s Jewish majority. But another annual survey conducted by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics has just as consistently shown that an overwhelming majority of Israeli Arabs are satisfied and content with their lives in the Jewish state.

In the 2018 edition of the survey, 80.7 percent of Israeli Arabs said they were satisfied with their lives, and an incredible 89 percent said they feel safe and secure.

Now do those sound like the kind of numbers you’d expect from an “apartheid” state, or are they more in line with a country that has successfully fostered coexistence between its majority and minority populations?


A quiet desire for annexation

That the Jewish state of Israel is one of the few desirable places in the Middle East for Arabs to live hasn’t been lost on the Palestinians.

When in the first half of this year Israel was making a lot of noise about annexing the Jordan Valley and other parts of the so-called “West Bank,” the international community decried the move as a crime against the Palestinians.

But when engaged directly by reporters, many average Palestinians admitted that they just wanted to live a quiet, prosperous and safe life, and believed that Israeli rule offered them a better chance of that.

I myself visited some of the Palestinian villages in the “annexation zone” and found that many, if not most of the young adults there were not concerned about being ruled by Israel. They just wanted to make sure that it came with Israeli residency and ID cards for them and their families. (See: Take the Land, Take the People)

Of course, Israel is too concerned about its own demographics to take in large numbers of new Arab citizens. But the fact that nearly all Israeli Arabs feel satisfied and safe, and that many Palestinians would love to switch places with them, once again puts the lie to claims that no Arab would ever choose to live in Israel. That ignominious honor belongs to the Arab states around us.


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