In countries around the world, the middle class typically serves as a force for positive socioeconomic change, yet that has not happened in the Middle East and North Africa. Instead, many of the region's middle-class residents have grown dependent on their governments for jobs and services. Combined with weak social and economic infrastructures, this reliance on the state has prevented middle-class people from advancing and helping their national economies become stronger.
To alter this, governments must first understand the middle class. There is surprisingly little information on this demographic group in the MENA region. To that end, we surveyed roughly 1,450 middle-class people in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Morocco. Our goal was to gauge their perceptions of economic progress in their home countries, along with their thoughts on the delivery of social services such as education and healthcare, and even more qualitative aspects such as their hopes and aspirations.
The results of our study show that for the most part, the middle class is anxious about core issues such as living standards and job security. They are dissatisfied with the delivery of public services. Many do not believe that their home countries offer them what they need to succeed-leading them to consider emigrating to more promising markets.
There has never been a more critical time for policymakers in the Middle East to focus on empowering the region's middle class. There is a dire need for change, which will come via a set of economic, social, and political policies aimed at developing a large, dynamic, and sustainable middle class. Progress in this region will always be limited if half the population do not feel they have sufficient opportunities to succeed.
When tailoring the policies required, governments cannot focus solely on economic issues. They must keep in mind the inextricable links between cultural advancements and economic progress. For example, when trust in government runs out, social disorder can ensue. Leaders should also ensure that any changes in the region create expanding opportunities for all residents, including women and youth. The strategic agenda most likely to succeed and build a healthy nation is one that balances development across economic, social, and cultural parameters-and meets the expectations of the middle class in order to earn their trust.