The Underlying Causes of Stability and Unrest in the Middle East and North Africa: An Analytic Survey
May 21, 2012
The Burke Chair is issuing a new, expanded edition of its overview of The Underlying Causes of Stability and Unrest in the Middle East and North Africa: An Analytic Survey. This analysis is available on the CSIS web site at http://csis.org/files/publication/120514_MENA_Stability.pdf
The current series of crises in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have many causes, and causes that that vary sharply by country. The political dynamics of these crises, however, are only part of the story. An examination of the broader demographic, economic, and security trends in the MENA region shows how critical these factors are in shaping public anger and discontent. They also show the critical role of governance, social change, and justice systems in shaping and dealing with each nation’s problems, and how difficult it will be to deal with these underlying causes in less than a decade.
The charts and tables on economies, per capita incomes, populations, and population growth rates warn that few current regimes are likely to survive the forces of change, and that most revolutionary regimes will fail as well.
Flawed as many of the data on MENA states now are, it is clear that their primary problems are not “legitimacy” in terms of how their governments are chosen, but rather “legitimacy” and effectiveness in their ability to govern and deal with the broad structural problems that cause popular unrest. While it is clear than many surviving regimes show little ability to cope over time, it is equally clear that “revolutions” that lack both the ability to produce a political consensus and the experience to govern are unlikely to do better.
At the same time, the charts and tables show just how many variations exist in basic data on factors such as the size of given economies, per capita incomes, populations, and population growth rates. They include comparisons of efforts to provide summary scores on factors including governance and justice systems. Some of these comparisons speak for themselves in showing how untrustworthy such systems are as a substitute for looking at the details of how given countries do or do not meet the given challenges.
The analysis is often a warning that countries, intelligence experts, members of international institutions, NGOs, and area experts need to do a far better job of developing basic data on the causes of instability. Far better data are needed in key areas like unemployment and underemployment, income distribution, the efficiency of the state sector, barriers to growth and economic development, the size and function security forces and police, and quality of governance.
Several related Burke Chair studies provide additional information:
- The Gulf Military Balance describes the overall military balance affecting the security of Gulf oil and gas exports. It is available on the CSIS web site at http://csis.org/files/publication/120518_Gulf_Military_Balance_2012.pdf
- US and Iranian Strategic Competition: The Conventional and Asymmetric Dimensions provides a detailed analysis of the range of threats Iran poses to the secure flow of exports through the Gulf. It is available on the CSIS web site at http://csis.org/files/publication/120221_Iran_Gulf_MilBal_ConvAsym.pdf
- US and Iranian Strategic Competition: The Missile and Nuclear Provides a detailed analysis of the threat Iranian long-range missiles and nuclear programs, and the risk of preventive war and an Israeli-Iranian nuclear arms race, pose to the secure flow of exports through the Gulf. It is available on the CSIS web site at http://csis.org/files/publication/120222_Iran_Gulf_Mil_Bal_II_WMD.pdf.