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Frustrations among Arab youth pose challenges for Middle East governments during pandemic

Frustrations among Arab youth pose challenges for Middle East governments during pandemic
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Arab youth in the Middle East are growing frustrated with their governments and a lack of economic mobility, putting pressure on government leaders to respond during the pandemic, experts said Tuesday at an event hosted by The Hill.

“Nearly half of young Arabs want to leave their country, frustrated with struggling economies and government corruption, something that governments and civil society should be looking at seriously,” said Sunil John, president of communications firm BCW Middle East, who conducted a survey of 18- to 24-year-olds in 17 Arab nations.

Many of those frustrations have become ingrained in some Middle East countries, said Karen Young, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute who also spoke at The Hill's event, Aspirations and Resilience: Arab Youth & The COVID-19 Era.

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“A lot of the grievances within the Middle East, particularly that young people feel, are structural and pre-date the pandemic, pre-date the collapse of oil prices, and those things have to be reckoned with,” she told The Hill's Steve Clemons.

But since the coronavirus has taken hold, young people in the Arab world have had an opportunity to become less reliant on the government in some ways, said Zineb Riboua, a student at Georgetown University.

“During the lockdowns they had to innovate, they used their development skills. And I think that these kinds of entrepreneurial skills and this mindset was something that other generations have not seen before,” she said.

“We always say that yeah, it’s the government that needs to give economic opportunities et cetera, but this time we saw something really changing. We saw how much young people, they wanted to contribute, they wanted to save other citizens from this pandemic,” she added.

Coronavirus cases have hit some countries in the region much harder than others. Iran and Iraq lead in case counts, with just over 700,000 and 500,000, respectively, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Saudi Arabia is third with just over 350,000 confirmed cases.