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"The Pulse of the Arab Street"

The Middle East Initiative's Kuwait Foundation Visiting Scholar, Mohamad al-Ississ, speaks at the two-day workshop at the Harvard Kennedy School.

"The Pulse of the Arab Street"

Conference Proceedings

May 5, 2014

Author: Zeina Shuhaibar, Program Assistant, Middle East Initiative

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: Middle East Initiative

 

The Middle East Initiative supported “The Pulse of the Arab Street,” a two-day workshop led by HKS Professor Ishac Diwan from April 3-4, 2014. The objective of the workshop, organized by the Economic Research Forum (ERF) and Silatech, was to provide a platform for discussing the political economy of transformation in the Arab world. The workshop convened a team of researchers with a deep understanding of the region and its specificities, who seek to fill an existing gap in rigorous, quantitative, evidence-based research on the political economy of contemporary Arab societies.

Three years into the transition following the political upheavals in the Arab world, the new rulers in several countries are facing daunting challenges. These include a difficult democratization process and deteriorating social and economic conditions. In most cases, there is little understanding about the ongoing transformations taking place in society, which complicate policy-making further.

Here are summaries of selected papers that were presented at the workshop:

 

"Diffusion of Dissidence in Arab Public Opinion"
Mohamad Al-Ississ and Samer Atallah

Using public opinion data collected in seven waves of opinion polling, the authors seek to answer the main research question, "Did dissidence in public opinion diffuse among Arab countries before and after the 'Arab Spring'?".  They also answer the question of how did the diffusion dynamics change during the 'Arab Spring'. Through a series of statistical analyses, the authors find strong empirical evidence of diffusion across the Arab World in economic inclusion and well-being but not in political inclusion.

 

"Perceptions of Public Welfare and Political Mobilization in the Middle East: Preliminary Evidence from Egypt and Tunisia"
Melani Cammett and Nisreen Salti

The authors examine attitudes towards social sectors and labor markets disaggregated by socioeconomic status, focusing on Egypt and Tunisia.  By disaggregating country data on public attitudes by socioeconomic class, the authors find that the middle class, as measured by income, education and professional status, held particularly negative attitudes towards education and labor market prospects but were no more or less dissatisfied than other socioeconomic classes with the health sector prior to the Arab uprisings. These findings suggest that the middle classes in both Egypt and Tunisia, which have shown to play an integral role in the protests, were especially aggrieved by their increasingly limited prospects for social mobility. The findings of middle class disaffection with education and labor market prospects specifically are then compared to data on middle class attitudes from other countries in the region.

"Exclusion and Dissent: Explaining Political Action in the Arab World"
Raj M. Desai, Anders Olofsgård, and Tarik M. Yousef

The authors explore varying forms of mobilization and political actions attributed to different socioeconomic groups during the "Arab Spring" uprisings, and argue that the most marginalized social groups such as the poor, the employed, and the youth, which had historically been excluded from civic life, suffered from a lack of credible systemic influence and therefore stronger motivation to take on more costly forms of dissenting action.

 

"Loyalty and Exit from the Authoritarian Economy: What Public Attitudes Towards Regime Distributive Politics Can Tell Us About Contention During the 2011 Uprisings"
Anya Vodopyanov

The author examines the motivations of mass protesters in authoritarian states, differentiating particularly between those opposing and those loyal to the regimes. Empirically, the author uses longitudinal data of individuals' economic preferences in Jordan and Syria to find patterns to explain tendencies towards opposition or loyalty.

 

"Bread (Rawls) + Freedom (Sen) = Social Justice? Religion and Economics in the Egyptian Spring"
Mahmoud A. El-Gamal

The author assesses the roles of Islamism and preferences for distributive justice in motivating Egyptians to first overthrow the Mubarak and subsequently the Muslim Brotherhood regimes from power in 2011 and 2013, respectively. The author finds that the primary motivation of most protesters in Egypt was a mass rejection of economic inequalities caused by neoliberal policies, and a willingness to shift to Islamist agendas in order to encourage a more equitable policy approach. The author suggests that a successful policy for Egypt moving forward is one which adopts an equitable social contract that is compatible with Egyptians' religious views.

 

"Between Dictates and Dispensations: Experimental Evidence on Legitimacy and Policy Preferences"
Amaney Jamal, Tarek Masoud, and Elizabeth Nugent

The authors examine the role of religion in Egypt as a rhetorical device to shape attitudes towards policy. Specifically, using a randomized controlled survey conducted in Egypt in November 2013, the authors find no evidence that religious rhetoric is more persuasive than secular rhetoric in shaping political attitudes towards policy issues such as economic egalitarianism, but that scriptural arguments can have a positive effect on promoting more progressive views on female empowerment.

 

"Patterns of Veiling: Some Emerging Correlations from Gallup World Poll"
Ishac Diwan and Jeni Klugman

The authors explore the underlying reasons behind women's choice to veil in Muslim-majority countries, addressing specifically whether there are socio-economic distinctions between patterns of veiling in the 18 countries for which Gallup data is available.  The authors find that the variables of religiosity, education, experience of violence, labor force participation, and income level are all correlated with a woman's likelihood of veiling, but only in the countries where less that 70% of women veil.

 

"Socio-political Attitudes across the World: To What Extent are They Affected by One's Religion, its Importance, Majority Status and Relative Income?"
Jeffrey B. Nugent and Malgorzata Switek

The authors use cross-country data to examine the impacts of an individual's religious affiliation on the individual's social and political attitudes towards the home country. The authors find a wide range of patterns, most notably impacted by the importance of religion in the individual's own life as well as the individual's relative income.

 

"Where Did All the Revolutionaries Go? Public Opinion on Democracy and Order (before and) after the Revolutions"
Mohamad al-Ississ and Ishac Diwan

Using newly available World Value data, the authors seek to trace how the demand for democracy has evolved before and after the uprisings, in both Egypt and Morocco, and how different social and economic groups' democratic ideals were impacted by the rise of a mass movement before the uprisings, and b the difficult economic, political, and security situation after the uprisings.  The authors find that while the rise of the mass movements were mainly driven by modernizing forces among the educated and well to do, in both cases, the uprisings resulted in sweeping social polarizations, and a shift in support for democracy towards poorer social groups that associate democracy with economic redistribution.

“Gendering the Costs and Benefits of the Arab Uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt Using the Gallup Surveys”
Rania Salem

The author uses data from the Gallup Worldwide Research opinion poll survey to determine the effects of gender on how individuals in Tunisia and Egypt perceive the new conditions that have resulted from the overthrow of authoritarian regimes. The study investigates the economic and political indices in these countries and suggests net losses for ordinary citizens of both genders in both spheres. The findings specifically suggest policy and program interventions should target men in the areas of financial wellbeing and corruption, and target women in the areas of law & order and national institutions.

Using public opinion data collected in seven waves of opinion polling, the authors seek to answer the main research question, "Did dissidence in public opinion diffuse among Arab countries before and after the 'Arab Spring'?".  They also answer the question of how did the diffusion dynamics change during the 'Arab Spring'. Through a series of statistical analyses, the authors find strong empirical evidence of diffusion across the Arab World in economic inclusion and well-being but not in political inclusion.

 

For more information about this publication please contact the Middle East Initiative at (617) 495-5963.

For Academic Citation:

"The Pulse of the Arab Street.", May 5, 2014.

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