On the Role of Human Development in the Arab Spring



This essay traces the effects of human development on political change, focusing on the events of the Arab Spring. Over the past generation, the Arab world experienced rapid progress in human development outcomes, including declining child mortality, extended schooling, and increasing status of women. These development gains penetrated most Arab states and subpopulations. The pathway from human development to political mobilization rests on three interlinked propositions. First, basic human development led to a significant increase in population needs and expectations, creating new policy challenges and reducing public dependency on regimes. Second, human development and new information technologies created new opportunities for political protest. Finally, the collective realization of human development gains resulted in new values conducive to regime change. Each proposition builds on theories of human capital accumulation over the life course that isolate the human dimension of national development. I provide provisional support for these pathways through cross-regional comparison and evidence from specific populations and sub-populations. I highlight the need for new study designs and datasets that further test this model.