Explaining the Intensity of the Arab Spring
13 Pages Posted: 16 Jul 2012 Last revised: 13 Jul 2014
Date Written: August 11, 2012
Politicians and pundits are quick to say that the ‘Arab Spring’ has been caused by everything from an ominous ‘youth bulge’ in the region’s population to the spread of social media like Facebook and Twitter. Other observers blame the recent unrest on high levels of unemployment or on the government corruption endemic to the region. While there is a certain logic or intuitive sense to any or all of these explanations, they have yet to be rigorously tested. Moreover, we do not know if these same factors explain intra-regional variation in levels of unrest, or if, instead, factors specific to each particular country have caused some regimes to succumb to the violence while others have emerged unscathed.
This paper tests the conventional wisdom of the Arab Spring. We start by identifying a number of ‘likely suspects’ for the region’s unrest, oft-discussed potential factors such as economic hardship, income inequality, population pressure, government corruption, and the use of social media. We find that, while some of these factors (such as government corruption and inequality) sometimes correlate with higher levels of unrest, none of them does so consistently. Moreover, despite being touted as the “Twitter Revolution”, the intensity of Arab Spring does not seem to correlate with higher levels of internet connectivity or the use of social media. While things like inflation, unemployment, social media, and the relative youth of a population may contribute to a general propensity for instability in the region as a whole, they don’t reliably explain the level of unrest in any given country. These findings, such as they are, invite political observers and social scientists to search for other, case-specific causes of civil unrest and regime instability.
Keywords: Arab Spring unrest Egypt Libya Syria Yemen Tunisia Iraq corruption Twitter Internet social media
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