ISIL popularity in free fall with Arab millennials

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The coolness factor of Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) has taken a nosedive among Arab youth.

A new survey showed that the young Arab men and women who are the main social media targets of ISIL recruiters strongly oppose the terrorist organization. The poll found 80 percent ruled out any possibility of supporting ISIL, up from 60 percent a year ago.

Arab youth overwhelmingly rejected ISIL in a new survey. /Getty Images
Arab youth overwhelmingly rejected ISIL in a new survey. /Getty Images

The 16-country survey, which was based on face-to-face interviews with 3,500 Arab youth ages 18 to 24, was released on April 12.

“Tacit support for the militant group is declining,” concludes a summary report by the poll’s sponsor, ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller, a public relations firm that has tracked young Arabs’ views in annual surveys for the past nine years.

When asked why Middle Easterners join the group, survey participants listed joblessness or poor economic prospects as the top reasons. Only 18 percent cited religious views — a “belief that their interpretation of Islam is superior to others” — and nearly as many picked sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shi’ites as the chief motivating factor.

“Members do not say they join for economic reasons, but other factors they identify — including ones related to religious reasons — could be a proxy of economic or social factors,” Hassan Hassan, an ISIL expert at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, said in an analysis of the survey’s findings. “In other words, members may consciously or unconsciously conceal true motives.”

“Daesh (ISIL) still attracts a narrow audience that remains committed to its radical ideas, and it is important to understand this source of appeal, as even this limited appeal can have devastating consequences for the region. It is a challenge that will likely outlive the group even if it’s expelled from the area it controls. The number of suicide bombings carried out by the organization, both in Syria and Iraq and outside, is soaring as the group’s territory shrinks due to the relentless campaign against it,” said Hassan, who has interviewed ISIL members and sympathizers.

“So, the solution to Daesh must not be limited to military and security responses. The organization thrives on political, economic, social and religious failures. Daesh may weaken and disappear, but the underlying sickness will remain and similar groups will emerge if that sickness is not addressed. The Survey’s findings should be a reminder to everyone that Daesh did not simply materialize out of thin air.”

Meanwhile, more than 60 percent of Arab youth in the survey viewed the United States as an ally, with the strongest positive rankings coming from Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

In Iraq, however, more than 90 percent regard the U.S. as an enemy. Dislike for Washington was nearly as high in Yemen and in the Palestinian territories, and more than half of Lebanese youth said they saw the United States as an enemy.

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