A Review of the Economic Factors that Led to the Arab Spring [Report]

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The International Labour Organization, along with UNDP, has released a new report detailing the economic conditions that led up to the Arab spring.

The report, Rethinking Economic Growth: Towards Productive and Inclusive Arab Societies, reviews the widespread dependence on the state, private sector failure to create inclusive societies, and wide unemployment in skilled sectors that led citizens to call for societal change.

"The Arab region combined the lowest per capita income growth with the lowest rates of voice and accountability," the executive summary reads. "This meant that citizens had no say in policymaking. Governments remained oblivious to the social impact of economic reforms and demands for accountable systems of governance." 

Read the executive summary (downloadable in the grey box) or click here to download the full report on Wamda. 

Here are some of its key stats:


  • Between 2000 and 2010, the Arab region had the lowest productivity growth of any region except Latin America, with growth lingering at 1.5 and 1.2% respectively in North Africa and the Middle East.
  • Employment growth has been substantial during the same period, averaging 0.7%.
  • Most employment gains have been in the service sector, with a 10 per cent increase in the employment share of services in the last twenty years. 
  • Male employment grew by 89 per cent and female employment by 126 per cent from 1991 to 2010. 
  • However, only one in four Arab women is in the labour force (26 per cent) compared to a world average of 51 per cent.
  • Arab female youth unemployment rate is the highest in the world (37 per cent regionally, 48 per cent Middle East, and 34 per cent for North Africa and also the GCC).

Job Quality

  • The share of Arab workers in vulnerable employment has declined by 20 per cent., but the share of women in vulnerable employment compared to the share of men in vulnerable employment in the region is the highest in the world and has increased in the last 20 years. 
  • Despite large increases in GDP, little is trickling down to the population; wage share of GDP declined drastically by one-fifth in the Middle East and one-third in North Africa, which is much more than the global standard.


  • At the secondary school level, the gross enrolment rate has risen from just over 20 per cent in the 70s to nearly 70 per cent today (from 4 million to 30 million students). 
  • The youth literacy rate is now 92 per cent in North Africa and 99 per cent in the Middle East and the Gulf Cooperation Council.
  • Female education has almost caught up with male education and in some countries, there are more females than male university students, the ratio being as high as 7:3 in some GCC countries.   
  • Today, the total student population is almost 80 million. One in every four Arabs is in school.
  • Unemployment has less to do with a “skills shortage” and more with the lack of demand for better educated and more skilled workers. 

Social Protection

  • Pensions in the Arab region cover only one third of workers and are as low as 8 per cent in Yemen, and current pay-out structures are no longer viable. 
  • Health insurance has not been commensurate with the high levels of economic growth.
  • Now, things are changing; pensions in the GCC have been increased on average by more than 50 per cent since the start of the Arab Spring. In Egypt, minimum pensions increased by 15 per cent, in Algeria by 30 per cent, and in Morocco, almost 70 per cent.

A sustainable solution: 

The report recommends several aspirational agendas that the government could implement to institute societal reform, but we'll leave you with the recommendations for employers' organizations. The ILO recommends 

  • Reinforce the policy role: act as bridge between private sector and public officials
  • Be more inclusive: speak for all sectors of the business community, large and small 
  • Reach out to civil society actors and trade unions 
  • Be visible: Use the media and communicate effectively 
  • Credibility is critical: act as a truly representative voice for business, without fear or favor. 

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