Leading Causes of the political unrest in MENA / The Arab Spring

The political climate of the modern world continues to experience a series of changes as governments and people seek to shift from the driving forces of the past and embrace the future. The unfolding events during the push for the desired change are often significantly consequential to the social, economic, and political aspects of the people in a particular country. Nations in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) of the Arab world are examples of states where citizens have been pushing for change in the last decade with revolting global effects. Since 2010, countries in the mentioned region have experienced political and economic turmoil that is fuelled by social factors such as the demonstrations of the citizenry. The objective of this study is to explore the leading causes of the political unrest in MENA, also known as the Arab Spring. The research will first present a background of the source of political revolts, the countries involved, and the rationale behind the movements. The study seeks to advance the argument that a bad economy and social media influence are the primary factors causing the recent political upheavals in the Arab world. For the sake of clarity, the research will use Egypt as the case study to evaluate the various concepts under review.


The Arab Spring refers to a series of seismic events from the MENA region denoting a revolutionary tide of violent and non-violent demonstrations, protests and oppositions to the authorities exemplified by riots and protracted civil wars that started on December 18th, 2010 (Abdelsalam, 2015). Various researchers have differing perspectives on the primary cause of the political climate in MENA, a factor that often causes a change in the term of reference for the developments in the Arab world. For example, in his reference to the events as an Arab uprising, Chalcraft (2015) contends that frustrations in the manner and ways that the authorities run administrative affairs was the leading cause of the political turmoil. However, Ramadan (2012) and Pollack (2014) are more inclined to the religious role of the Islam faith in their reference to the revolution and protests as an Arab awakening. Regardless of the definition, there is a consensus in the existing literature that the citizenry as opposed to the government due to the economic hardships. If the primary consideration is the build of anger and frustrations in the Arab country, then it can be argued that the protests in Tunisia enthused the rest of MENA countries, causing an Arab uprising based on a combination of social, economic and political factors (Idris, 2016).

In his analysis of the regularly ignored dimensions of the Arab uprising, Ali (2013) contends that the events in MENA were conceptually caused by a mixture of past development in the Arab world, present reality and the future implications of the current situation. The past western imperialism was critical to the events in the Arab world, such as the drawing of borders that conveniently caused the transference of revolutionary desire among the MENA nations (Ali, 2013). Since the cold war, western governments have always attempted to control the political climate in the Arab world for personal gains, primarily the control of oil. For example, through the United Nations, powerful western countries made the promotion of democracy a thematic priority in Egypt since 1998 through decentralization and offering support for the civil society (Turan, 2018). Turan (2018) and Ali (2013) agree that such past developments lay the foundation for the uprisings since 2011.

The present globalization of politics, social life, and economic activities are also a conceptual cause of the Arab Spring. According to Ali (2013), the past western imperialism was again witnessed in 2011 when the US and her allies rallied behind the citizenry pushing for the ouster of most authoritarian leaders in the MENA region. In his analysis of the Arab Spring, Selim (2013) notes that the demonstrations were a strategic surprise to the US, especially since the US was satisfied with the political nature of Egypt before 2010 with regards to its interests in the region. However, as the uprisings became a threat to western imperialism as well as the possibility of promoting the global specter of terrorism and security, the western countries joined the fray to steer the developments towards causes of action that best suit the global interest. Finally, there is an underlying fear of the future of MENA countries if the countries continue with dictatorial governments (Jones, 2012). The following section of the study exclusively examines economic and social media effects of the Arab Spring.

The Economic Effect of Political Upheavals in the Arab Spring

The above background has provided different references to the political upheavals in the Arab world based on the cause of the protests and revolutions. There is a consensus in the literature that a bad economy and its ensuing effects were the primary cause of the uprising (Jones, 2012; Ali, 2013; Selim, 2013). In the same manner the December 18th, 2010 demonstrations took place in Tunisia, the people of Egypt took to the streets on January 25th, 2011 with the primary grievances as high unemployment, corruption, and inhibition of many political freedoms (McKay, 2012). Notably, although an economic failure of the governments was the genesis of most protests, unemployment was the leading factor due to the frustrations of the youth. The Egyptian revolution bore a little resemblance to Tunisia in the swiftness of dislodging their political dictators for having the same driving grievance, unemployment as the exemplifying factor of a bad economy (Bayat, 2012). While the Tunisians took a month to dismantle the dictatorship, Egyptians ousted Mubarak in just eighteen days (Bayat, 2012). Such resemblance for two different countries shows that the pain of unemployment among the youth and the general population was a massive driving force behind the Arab Spring.

According to the United Nations Development Program, the unemployment rate in Egypt at the time the revolution started was at 8-11 %, which was relatively high considering the state of governance and the economy (Puspitasari, 2017). Under the dictatorial Mubarak regime, the high unemployment caused a rift between the economic power of the rich and the poor, which eventually exploded into a state of unrest that caused the revolution. McKay (2012) notes that the general estimates for unemployment in the region were 20%, a factor that surprised the international community when Egypt revolted because it always exhibited an image of a country under good governance. Bakr (2013) notes that the revolution did not help the country because the 2012 estimates showed that 9.7 % of the population was unemployed, with most of them being young people with university degrees. Such figures confirm the assertions of McKay (2012) that besides Tunisia, the uprising Arab countries did not effectively revolt towards actions that would lead to economic redemption, which exemplifies the current upheavals in the region.


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