Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

First Advisor

Andy Baker

Second Advisor

David S. Brown

Third Advisor

Joseph Jupille


The ongoing revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa represent a turning point in the political systems of these predominantly Muslim countries. This dissertation argues that the variation in the type of the social movements these populaces adopted is partly a function of their social policies. I contend that the relationship between resource abundance and government tax revenues is not as straightforward as posited by the rentier state theory. Instead, social expenditures are lower in resource-rich countries, and different types of taxes move in opposite ways. Together with the social expenditures argument, the findings on the taxes suggest that the rentier state theory needs significant modifications of causal links. Finally, in order to explain what drives the level and the timing of social spending in the MENA region, I introduce a new concept, electoral fraud, to the equation. During and around fraudulent elections, incumbents boost social expenditures in order to circumvent the potential negative reactions from their electorate. These spikes in social expenditures tend to stick for a long time after the elections, due to the institutional arrangements established to implement them. All these above factors play a role in the initiation of the Arab Spring. The citizens who benefited from generous social programs throughout the 1980s and 90s have been frustrated with the retrenchment of their safety nets. Given the findings of this thesis, it is no surprise that the revolutions did not occur in the oil rich states of the region, with the exception of Libya. Since oil-rich countries spend less on social provisions and do not necessarily tax less than their oil-poor counterparts, they were not affected as much by the economic austerity measures sweeping the region, and therefore did not experience high levels of social protest. On the contrary, Tunisia and Egypt, two resource-poor countries with relatively high levels of social provisions went through significant levels of retrenchment, and therefore experienced the revolutions toppling their decades-old dictators.