Competition for economic development helped fuel the Arab Spring, says Dany Assaf in The Globe and Mail

How Competition Helped Fuel the Arab Spring

May 05, 2012

As we pass the first anniversary of the Arab Spring, we still have questions about these historic convulsions. Why did the Arab Street finally rise up, in a region that has seen more than its share of strongmen, rhetoric and big ideas rooted in socialism, religion, pan-Arabism and everything in-between? What was the fuel for the sparks of ignition?

As a business person who has travelled extensively in the Middle East and as a competition lawyer who has seen how competition forces change, I have a different perspective on the intertwined factors leading to the Arab Spring.

Based on my observations, the initial fuel for change was the now infamous competition for economic development that largely began in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, then spread throughout the Persian Gulf as each country competed for leadership in one sphere or another. This intense regional competition also set the stage for progressively escalating social expectations throughout the Arab world. Over the past couple of decades, young Arabs finally had the prospect of a bright future in the United Arab Emirates, a modernizing Arab country.

The fact that Arab youth could dream of emigrating to another Arab country and have rewarding careers was an unprecedented development. Until then, the only escape from the hierarchical and corrupt economies they lived in was to find a way to the West. The impetus to look for opportunities outside the West accelerated post-9/11 as the opportunity to emigrate to the West dwindled for many Arabs. But economic growth in places such as Dubai, with a culture that welcomed and accommodated hundreds of thousands of people from every corner of the globe, allowed them to see what an Arab country was capable of economically and socially under the right conditions. These experiences were even more stark when compared to their lives in countries such as Egypt, Libya and Syria.

Read the full commentary here.

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