What triggered the Middle Eastern revolts in 2011?
The economics of Arabellion

Syrian historian Nasser Rabbat argues that the Arab Spring resulted mainly from social imbalance and the misery of large sections of the population within the Arab world. Moreover, as long as economic inequality persists, these states will continue to be plagued by instability

No-one can be in any doubt that the revolutions of the Arab Spring have developed to become sectarian in nature, at times extremely so. This is not, however, to forget that their causes and motives were and are mainly socio-economic. This realisation is not only essential when analysing what triggered the Arab Spring revolutions. It is also, and this is even more important, prerequisite for locating possible solutions that will really get to grip with the problems.

Analyses have been circulating recently about the sectarian nature of the many uprisings and wars in the Arab world, from Iraq to Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain, Yemen, Sudan, and others, but that doesn’t explain everything. The interpretations and conspiracy theories all coalesce around the contention that external interference in the wars of these beleaguered countries is the main reason why people are losing their lives fighting each other and destroying their own countries in their quest to control them – with foreign help, naturally.

Overshadowed by sectarianism

It is not disputed that there is a clear and obvious sectarian dimension to these conflicts, nor that internal and external sponsors exploit such sectarian, and to a lesser degree, ethnic differences in the way they intervene in these conflicts and in the way they pick their local proxies. But the rise of sectarianism, which seems at times to supplant all other differences, should not distract us from other important factors which continue to play a fundamental role in precipitating these conflicts and in stoking the embers when they die down. First and foremost is the economic dimension.

The economic dimension is vital, not just to understand the background to the current wars in the Arab world, but also to understand recent history. After all, it is history that gave rise to these wars, which have led to schisms, the squandering of resources and a sense of inequality among large segments of Arab society. On occasion, all these things have come together, for historical reasons which can and should be analysed alongside the sectarian divisions in these countries.

Protests over rising food prices in Jordan on 1 February 2018 (photo: picture-alliance)
Dynamics and scope of socio-economic uprisings: social protests in Jordan recently led to the overthrow of the government. In January 2018, demonstrators in Amman took to the streets on a massive scale as the price of bread and petrol, taxes on cigarettes and the cost of Internet access increased. Recently the price of petrol went up for the fifth time since the beginning of the year, while electricity bills have risen by 55 percent since February. Prime Minister Hani Mulki was ultimately forced to resign

Until recently, the Alawites in Syria, the Kurds in northern Syria and Iraq, the Shia in Lebanon and Bahrain, the Zaydis in Yemen and the Christians in Sudan were impoverished and neglected by their national governments. They were subordinate to other sects which generally occupied higher economic positions and enjoyed more than their share of state resources, by hook or by crook.

Social deprivation: a catalyst for revolt

Circumstances vary from country to country. Modern Arab states are the product of different population distributions, but social and economic imbalances have gnawed away at their foundations since their inception. The response to these inequalities and the lack of services can be seen in popular uprisings, military coups and armed conflicts, which have occasionally succeeded and often failed, as seen most recently in the "Arab Spring".

More on this topic

Comments for this article: The economics of Arabellion

Not bad at all! I wonder what does the author think of the section of the Sunni Syrian bourgeosie that stayed loyal to the regime or chose passivity? Do not class and sect overlap? Could we include "fettered or uneven development" within the region as well as globally? Whereas UAE and Qatar, for example, have been incorporated in the international finacial circuit of capital, other countries have been neglected by the very same capital.

Nadeem05.10.2018 | 14:43 Uhr

Looking at the revolutions from the perspectives of revolution and counter-revolution, shouldn't we name the counter-revilutionary forces that have played a crucial role in the balance of forces?

Ndeem05.10.2018 | 14:47 Uhr