Understanding Revolution in the Middle East: The Central Role of the Middle Class
The paper presents the outlines of a coherent, structural, long term account of the socioeconomic and political evolution of the Arab republics that can explain both the persistence of autocracy until 2011, and the its eventual collapse, in a way that is empirically verifable. I argue that the changing interests of the middle class would have to be a central aspect of a coherent story, on accounts of both distributional and modernization considerations, and that the ongoing transformation can be best understood in terms of their defection from the autocratic order to a new democratic order, which is still in formation. I then review what the evidence says in two central parts of the emerging narrative, for the case of Egypt: first,by looking directly at changes in opinion and asking whether these are consistent with the predictions of the theory. And second, by examining the corporate sector before and during the uprisings of 2011 in order to understand better the performance of "crony capitalism", and to evaluate whether it may have affected the incentives of the middle class to defect.
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