What is the social contract and why does the Arab world need a new one?

The ‘social contract’ is an idea that dates back to the ancient Greeks, and refers to the implicit agreement among members of a society that defines their relationship with each other and the state. That relationship holds the key to unravelling the puzzle of the ‘Arab Spring.’

To development economists, the uprisings that started in Tunisia and spread to several countries in the Arab world in 2010-11 came as somewhat of a surprise. For the previous decade, almost all the indicators of economic well-being were strong and improving. GDP growth was substantial, at about 5 percent a year. Extreme poverty (people living on $1.25 a day) was low and declining. Conventional measures of inequality, such as the Gini coefficient, were lower than in other middle-income countries, and in some cases declining. In Egypt and Tunisia, the per-capita income of the bottom 40 percent was growing faster than the average. In terms of human development, the Middle East and North Africa region recorded the fastest decline in child mortality rates and the steepest increase in school attainment.