The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Political Economy of Arab Uprisings

  • Adeel Malik
Reference work entry


This article frames the political economy of the 2011 Arab uprisings as a failure of the Arab development model, especially its inability to support an independent and competitive private sector. Based on a distorted legacy of intervention and distribution, this development model is structurally incapable of reconciling aspirations with economic opportunities. The contradictions associated with this development model are particularly apparent in the region’s labour-abundant economies, where a shrinking resource envelope has led to an erosion of the social contract, resulting in a scaling back of public employment and welfare services. Worryingly, the space vacated by a shrinking state has not been filled by a vibrant private sector. This article analyses the crisis of the Arab state through the lens of an under-developed private sector. In much of the Arab world the private sector acts as an appendage of the state. Businesses tend to survive either when they are too close to the state, such as crony capitalists, or too far, which is the case with informal firms. While private sector development remains an important imperative, it is not simply a function of technocratic policy reform. Relieving greater competitive space for the private sector requires a political concession that grants autonomy to independent businesses and relaxes barriers to regional trade. I argue that an independent merchant class is difficult to visualise without connected regional markets.


Arab economies Private sector Regional economic cooperation Rents 

JEL Classifications

O10 O53 P26 R11 
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Assad, R. 2014. Making sense of Arab labour markets: The enduring legacy of dualism. IZA Journal of Labour and Development 3(6). doi:10.1186/2193-9020-3-6.Google Scholar
  2. Cammett, M., and I. Diwan. 2014. Conclusion: The political economy of the Arab uprisings. In A political economy of the Middle East, 3rd ed., ed. A. Richard and J. Waterbury. Boulder: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  3. Cammett, M., and N. Silti. 2014. Perceptions of public welfare and political mobilization in the Middle East: Preliminary evidence from Egypt and Tunisia. Paper presented for the workshop on ‘The Pulse of the Arab Street’, Université Paris-Dauphine, 11–12 October 2014.Google Scholar
  4. Diwan, I. 2013. Understanding revolution in the Middle East: The central role of the middle class. Middle East Development Journal 5(1): 30.Google Scholar
  5. Diwan, I. 2014. Fifty years of fiscal policy in the MENA region. Unpublished draft, Economic Research Forum, Cairo.Google Scholar
  6. Diwan, I., P. Keefer, and M. Schiffbauer. 2013. The effect of crony capitalism on private sector growth in Egypt. Working paper. Harvard Kennedy School, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
  7. Hertog, S., M. Valeri, and G. Luciani. 2013. Business politics in the Middle East. London: Hurst Publishers.Google Scholar
  8. Malik, A. 2014. A requiem for the Arab development model. Journal of International Affairs 68(1): 95–115.Google Scholar
  9. Malik, A., and B. Awadallah. 2013. The economics of the Arab Spring. World Development 45: 296–313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Rijkers, B., C. Freund, and A. Nucifora. 2014. All in the family: state capture in Tunisia. World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 6810.Google Scholar
  11. Saudi Gazette. 2014. 11 October.Google Scholar
  12. Shui, L., and P. Walkenhorst. 2010. Regional integration: status, developments, and challenges. In Trade competitiveness in Middle East and North Africa: Policies for export diversification, ed. J.R. López-Cálix, P. Walkenhorst, and D. Ndiameé. Washington, DC: World Bank.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Adeel Malik
    • 1
  1. 1.