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The Educated Middle Class, their Economic Prospects, and the Arab Spring

September 16, 2012 • GLOBAL ECONOMY, CRITICAL ANALYSIS, CULTURE & LIFESTYLE, World Politics, Middle East & Africa, World Development

By Filipe R. Campante & Davin Chor

The recent uprisings in the Arab World carry a broader lesson, highlighting the importance of sustaining an economy that provides sufficient job opportunities for an increasingly educated and skilled middle class.

Since late 2010, the world has witnessed a remarkable groundswell of political change in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria, and other Arab countries. It has already swept aside several regimes once thought unassailable, while shaking up the existing political order in others. This wave of change – popularly referred to as the “Arab Spring” – has certainly prompted much thinking. What were the sources of underlying discontent in these states? Why were these movements able to gain sufficient traction within the span of a few weeks, leading ultimately to the overthrow of strongmen who had ruled for decades? These are deep questions that have absorbed the attention of policy practitioners and academics alike, who have sought to extract broader lessons from the Arab Spring to better understand the underpinnings of regime stability

Those who are interested in these questions could do worse than read a recently published book entitled “Revolution 2.0”, by the Egyptian Google executive Wael Ghonim.1 In this autobiographical account, Ghonim describes in extraordinary detail the role that he and other activists played in organizing the massive street protests that eventually triggered the downfall of Egypt’s then-President Hosni Mubarak. In doing so, Ghonim vividly brings to life several elements that have drawn attention in the ongoing effort to make sense of the Arab Spring, such as the background of the leading activists who featured so prominently in rallying the public to the streets. These were young, tech-savvy individuals adept in their use of social media, who often had prior exposure to living and working abroad. These factors certainly played a pivotal role in enabling the street protests to gain such momentum and energy in a short span of time.

 
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