David Frum

02.27.13

What Do Arab Spring Protestors Want Most?

A street vendor walks with his cart in the town centre of Sidi Bouzid on December 11, 2012 where the fruit seller Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire on December 17, 2010, an act which sparked the revolution that ousted Tunisian ex-dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and ignited the Arab Spring. (KHALIL/AFP/Getty Images) ()

According to Hernando de Soto in the Wall Street Journal, it's all about basic property rights:

Research in the region conducted by my organization, the Peruvian-based Institute for Liberty and Democracy, has found strong evidence that the Arab Spring revolution was rooted in a desire for what in the West would be called a market-based economy. Arabs and others may not always use that phrase, but their desire for the economic security that comes with property rights and other rights is a force that the foes of individual freedom will not easily overcome. The challenge is to harness that force by offering people of the region the legal protections and security that are the bedrock of all successful economies.

Recall the catalyst of what became the Arab Spring: the self-immolation in January 2011 of Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian fruit vendor protesting the expropriation of his merchandise. According to our estimates, more than 200 million people throughout the Middle East and North Africa depend on income from operating businesses or occupying property in the informal economy—without the protection of the rule of law.

That means the entrepreneurs who want a legal system with property rights like those in the West outnumber al Qaeda membership in the region, often estimated at up to 4,000 core activists, by a ratio of about 50,000 to one.