Arab Transformations: Have Expectations Been Met?

The Arab Transformations Working Paper No. 13

28 Pages Posted: 12 Oct 2017

See all articles by Pamela Abbott

Pamela Abbott

School of Education, University of Aberdeen

Andrea Teti

University of Salerno

Roger Sapsford

University of Aberdeen

Gerasimos Tsourapas

University of Birmingham

Date Written: October 10, 2017


This paper examines whether the expectations of the post-2011 Arab uprisings have been met, by evaluating how citizens felt, three years later, who had supported the 2011 events actively or passively. The 2011 protests that shook the Arab world could be seen as a form of popular protest demanding democratic government – albeit on a massive, cross-national scale – but a political economy approach would suggest differently: the drivers of the uprisings were not discontent with authoritarianism but the outcome of a complex process of interaction between political, economic and social development (or lack thereof). In particular, a variety of factors can lead to this ‘paradox of unhappy development’ – from the incomplete liberalisation of state economies since the 1970s and the subsequent rise of crony capitalism to the poor or worsening living conditions and poor labour market conditions, combined with a lack of freedom despite economic growth and improvements in human development.

Importantly, the implicit social contract of redistribution in return for limited “voice” is no longer seen as adequate. The legitimacy of Arab governments has been questioned by their citizens, particularly the middle classes. Specifically, the Uprisings can be located in the crisis of neo-liberalism and the growth of the precariat, a breakdown of the (implicit) social contract between the state and citizens and a perception of growing inequalities and a decline in in satisfaction with life. This was in the face of sluggish real economic growth at least partly due to the demographic transition, with a decline in decent jobs for the increasing number of educated young people coming onto the labour market. Ordinary people had become dissatisfied with their standard of living, with high inflation and large increases in food prices. Protestors were demanding social justice in the face of a more aggressive implementation of a new modality of capital accumulation in a regime where there had been a persistence of authoritarianism that offered highly restricted economic and political opportunities. The middle class in particular had become frustrated by a lack of reward for qualifications and experience and the persistence of a system in which connections and patronage determined progress.

Thus one could argue that the Uprisings should be located within a distinct socio-economic, cultural and political context, which will allow a more accurate analysis of the interaction between structure and agency. One way through which this can be done is to examine how citizens’ opinions on the Arab Uprisings evolved as the years passed. Indeed, as one delves deeper into the motivation of different classes with regard to the levels of support of the 2011 events three years later, it could be argued that the popular slogan accompanying the Arab Uprisings, “change the regime,” should be more broadly interpreted as “change the system.”

A related survey, the 2011 Arab Barometer, asked participants to nominate two main demands of the Arab uprisings: 80 per cent of both Egyptians and Tunisians identified the improvement of the economic situation as their main demand, followed by the fight against corruption (72.7% and 62.8%, respectively). The demand for civil and political freedoms and the fight against authoritarianism were identified by only16.5 per cent of Egyptians and 43.6 per cent of Tunisians. With the benefit of hindsight, how can we evaluate whether protesting citizens’ expectations have been met?

As a background note in order to contextualize the survey results, the situation in each country in 2014 was as follows:

In Egypt, protesters had achieved the ousting of Hosni Mubarak in early 2011, and a March 2011 constitutional referendum led the way for Egypt’s first parliamentary elections in November 2011. The subsequent election of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi to the Presidency in June 2012 was followed by a wave of protests against the new government. The military removed Morsi in July 2013, regained formal power in Egypt, and paved the way for Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to become President in June 2014. The intense polarization around Egyptian politics, the continuing deterioration of the country’s economic indicators, as well as a prevailing question regarding the effects of the 2011 Uprisings can be witnessed in the polling results below.

In Morocco, the 20 February movement led a series of protests in early 2011, to which the Moroccan monarch replied swiftly: in March, Mohammed VI agreed to adopt deep, comprehensive reform of the country’s politics in order to improve accountability and rule of law in the country. These reforms, formally announced in June, were agreed by referendum in July 2011. Although it has largely subsided, instances of protest continued (most notably in May 2012), accusing the monarch of not delivering results and also driven by continuing unemployment and a number of structural economic problems. Moroccans’ responses below shed light to the extent to which their 2011 demands were met three years later.

Tunisia, much like Egypt, has been characterized by intense polarization following the ousting of Ben Ali in 2011. The Islamist Ennahda Movement won the October 2011 Constitute Assembly elections but argued for maintaining the state’s secular orientation. As the transition away from authoritarianism continues – amidst protests, backtracking, and a number of obstacles – Tunisia has also been hit by terrorist attacks on foreign tourists as well as a number of political assassinations. Given a struggling economic performance in the post-2011 era, Tunisians continue to debate the extent to which the 2011 protests against corruption and unemployment and for freedom of speech etc. were successful, as can be seen from this study’s results.

In Jordan, the Arab Uprisings elsewhere produced distinct diffusion effects that led citizens to protest on a large scale following 2011. However, in a similar way to the Moroccan monarchy’s reactions to these events, King Abdullah II performed a quick shifting of his cabinet, replacing the prime minister, and promising a number of political reforms. The extent to which these actions placated Jordanians – who are also faced with a struggling national economy and instances of corruption and mismanagement, as well as an influx of Syrian refugees – is debatable. The study highlights the extent to which Jordanians have rethought their support of the 2011 events, and their perceptions of the country’s present and future.

In Libya, the 2011 Arab Uprisings quickly escalated to a civil war that led to the overthrow and killing of Muammar Qaddafi, in the midst of an international operation by NATO. The post-Gaddafi era has seen the country divided between different military groups that hindered economic or political progress. This has been highlighted by the creation of two separate governments, one in Tobruk and one in Tripoli, as well as several instances of the rekindling of hostilities. Citizens’ polling reflects to a large extent their positive reaction to the overthrow of Gaddafi, but also their apprehension and confusion about the future.

In Iraq, the Arab Uprisings contributed to heightened conflicts within the state, already suffering from the post-2003 US-led occupation. Normality – in terms of economic development or socio-political stability – is yet to be evident in the country, which is struggling to reconcile the interests and demands of different groups within its borders. Increasing amounts of violence, as well as the inability of the central government to maintain control of security across the state (coupled with the spread of ISIS) is evident in citizens’ responses to this poll.

Keywords: Arab Uprisings, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Libua, Morocco, Tunisia, Democracy, Corruption, Employment, Economic Situation, Security, Trust, Social Cohesion

JEL Classification: F5, Z13, Z8

Suggested Citation

Abbott, Pamela and Teti, Andrea and Sapsford, Roger and Tsourapas, Gerasimos, Arab Transformations: Have Expectations Been Met? (October 10, 2017). The Arab Transformations Working Paper No. 13, Available at SSRN: or

Pamela Abbott (Contact Author)

School of Education, University of Aberdeen ( email )

Aberdeen, Scotland
United Kingdom

Andrea Teti

University of Salerno ( email )

Via Giovanni Paolo II, 132
Fisciano, Salerno 84084

HOME PAGE: http://

Roger Sapsford

University of Aberdeen ( email )

Dunbar Street
Aberdeen, Scotland AB24 3QY
United Kingdom

Gerasimos Tsourapas

University of Birmingham ( email )

Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT
United Kingdom

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