Middle East Program Occasional Paper Series: Saudi Arabia's Youth and the Kingdom's Future

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The Arab Spring, or Arab Awakening as some prefer to call it, shattered the Middle East status quo a little over a year ago. Since then, a cascade of uprisings has brought down three Arab leaders, threatened several others, and ushered in a potentially historic era of change. These events highlighted one of the defining features of contemporary Arab societies: their large and expanding youth populations. Researchers and demographers have long underscored how these cohorts of young people will present new challenges—political, social, and economic—to Arab governments. But it took the past year’s dramatic developments in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, Morocco, and even Oman to showcase the growing role of young people in shaping the future of this region. Clearly, the Arab Awakening is shifting the region’s political center of gravity from an older to a younger generation. And all of a sudden, the youth of the Arab world are front and center in everyone’s consciousness. There is one major Arab country, however, where young people have not challenged their rulers. Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest oil producer, the spiritual homeland of Sunni Islam, and a heavyweight in regional diplomacy and trade. It is, therefore, crucial to foresee as much as possible the kingdom’s likely future path, which is why it is wise to study its youth. What do they want? Where are they headed? How different are they from their peers elsewhere in the region? Are they being affected by the Arab Awakening?


Caryle Murphy

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