Faculty Sponsor: Dr. Mindy Adnot
I reviewed public opinion and actual statistical data on governance in various countries in the Middle East and North African (MENA) region to gauge Arab satisfaction with their existing governments and their outlook towards democracy. In his last column before he was assassinated by the Saudi Arabian government, journalist Jamal Khashoggi wrote about the lack of freedom that Arabs have in the region: “A state-run narrative dominates the public psyche…The Arab world is facing its own version of an Iron Curtain, imposed not by external actors but through domestic forces vying for power.” Approaching the 10-year anniversary of the start of the Arab Spring, I want to see if Khashoggi’s words held true.
The information I used to study the Arab region can be divided into two categories: data on public opinion and indices measuring governance and quality of life. The Arab Barometer is a comprehensive survey that provides the largest source of data on the views of citizens in the MENA region, with topics including politics, education, public media, and human rights. I used this data to create visuals on public opinion towards government and their views towards democracy. For analyzing governmental performance, I looked at the following datasets: The Corruption Perception Index (CPI), The Human Development Index (HDI), The Democracy Index, and The Worldwide Governance Indicators Projects (WGI). All these datasets provide a general view on governmental corruption, quality of life, and policy success in the region. For all datasets, I focused on seven MENA countries: Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine (when data was available), and Tunisia.
Results showed that public opinion aligns with the actual indices used. Many Arabs lack trust in their government officials because of high corruption. This makes sense given that the seven MENA countries have low CPI and Democracy Index scores. According to the WGI, the majority of Arab countries do not have an effective government, however, the HDI shows that their quality of life is around the international average. Lastly, despite the low scores on the Democracy Index, democratic ideals are extremely high among Arabs.
In summary, my findings show that the messages and ideas promoted during the Arab Spring are still very much present in today’s MENA region. Pro-democratic forces will continue to fight for more individual liberties in the Arab world in hopes of creating a more sustainable democracy.