Inequality, Exclusion, and Dissent: Implications for Youth in the Arab World

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This Discussion Paper has been presented as a part of the workshop called The Social-Economic Situation of Middle East Youth on the Eve of the Arab Spring, hosted on December 8 - 9th, 2012 at the American University in Beirut. Poverty is associated with political conflict in developing countries, but evidence of individual grievances translating into dissent among the poor is mixed. We analyze survey data from 40 developing nations to understand the determinants radicalism, support for violence, and participation in legal anti-regime actions as petitions, demonstrations, and strikes. In particular, we examine the role of perceived political and economic inequities. Our findings suggest that individuals who feel marginalized tend to harbor extremist resentments against the government, but they are generally less likely to join collective political movements that aim to instigate regime changes. This potentially explains the commonly-observed pattern in low- and middle-income countries whereby marginalized groups, despite their political attitudes and high-levels of community engagement, are more difficult to mobilize in nation-wide movements. We also find that arenas for active political participation (beyond voting) are more likely to be dominated by upper-middle income groups who are committed, ultimately, to preserving the status quo. Suppressing these forms of political action may thus be counterproductive, if it pushes these groups towards more radical preferences. Finally, our findings suggest that the poor, in developing nations, may be caught in a vicious circle of self-exclusion and greater marginalization.


Anders Olofsgard, Raj M. Desai, Tarik M. Yousef

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