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Middle East and Africa

Male, Young and Educated. Profile of the Arab Demonstrator

A boy confronts the Egyptian Military Police south of Tahrir Square [Alisdare Hickson / Flickr]

After the uprisings of 2010-2011, protests have become a constant in various Arab countries. What are the demographic factors that determine participation in demonstrations? A quantitative analysis of the data gathered by the Arab Barometer identifies three main indicators: gender, age and level of education

This article was published in Oasis 31. Read the table of contents

Last update: 2021-08-29 21:32:54

 

After the eruption of the 2010-2011 uprisings, protests have become a constant in various Arab countries. What are the demographic factors that determine participation in demonstrations? A quantitative analysis of the data gathered by the Arab Barometer identifies three main indicators: gender, age and level of education. This contradicts the common narrative portraying the uprisings as movements composed by the poorest social groups against the richest.

 

Since the end of 2010, when the first street demonstrations erupted in Tunisia following the self-immolation of a young street vendor, the periodical occurrence of protest movements in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has been one of the region’s most recurrent features. In 2011, initial hopes for peaceful democratic transitions rapidly transformed into fears of increasing instability, civil wars, and Islamist takeovers.[1] For this reason, in the subsequent years part of the international community has supported—or simply turned a blind eye to—attempts by several of the region’s most powerful local regimes to stabilize the authoritarian status quo and forestall further instability.[2] However, such attempts have had limited success. Over the last decade, new waves of protests have continued to erupt, culminating in mass movements in 2019 that ended the decades-long presidencies of Omar al-Bashir (in Sudan) and Abdelaziz Bouteflika (in Algeria), and shackled the long-established political status quos in Lebanon and Iraq.

 

This paper aims to provide a rare example of quantitative investigation of the characteristics of protest participation in the Arab world over the last decade using the data provided by surveys collected in the third and fifth waves of the Arab Barometer. The time elapsed between these two waves—the first was collected in 2012 but refers to protests occurring in 2011, and the second was collected between the second half of 2018 and the end of 2019[3]—covers almost a decade since the Arab Spring began. Specifically, this paper analyzes the role of the demographic parameters included in the surveys as determinants of protest participation and their evolution from 2011 to 2019 with the aim of depicting a demographic profile of protesters from the region.

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