In the first decade of the 21st Century, the middle class expanded across the Middle East, except in Egypt and Yemen, a recent World Bank study concludes.
In Egypt, the middle class shrank from 14.3 percent in the mid-2000s to 9.8 percent by the end of the decade. Only in Yemen was the decline sharper, falling from 17 percent to 8 percent in a decade. By contrast, the percentage of the region’s population considered middle class swelled from 36 percent in the mid-2000s to 42 percent by the end of the decade, according to a World Bank policy research paper.
The researchers assigned middle class status to people living on more than the equivalent of US$4.9 per day in 2005 dollars — a threshold they say left individuals reasonably secure from slipping into poverty.
In the same period, the percentage of Egyptians considered vulnerable to poverty — those living on between $2 and $4.9 per day — shrank from 65.5 percent to 61 percent. The share of people living on less than $2 grew from 20.2 percent to 29.2 percent at the end of the decade, indicating an overall trend of downward mobility.
Across the region, people also became unhappier during the 2000s. Again, Egypt led the pack. In both Egypt and Syria, almost half of the population reported being unhappy with their lives.
The World Bank study depended on household income surveys to determine spending power. These surveys are often the only available data on spending power, but have serious limitations. Self-reported data can be inaccurate, and even correct data fails to account for changes to income over time and geographic differences in purchasing power.
However, the study’s findings correspond with other research indicating that Egypt’s 2011 revolution was fueled by the urban middle class, a group that found itself increasingly vulnerable and dissatisfied in the final years under former President Hosni Mubarak.