This article is about social activism and its relationship to social development in the Middle East. It examines the myriad strategies that the region's urban grass-roots pursue to defend their rights and improve their lives in this neo-liberal age. Prior to the advent of the political–economic restructuring of the 1980s, most Middle Eastern countries were largely dominated by either nationalist-populist regimes (such as Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Turkey) or pro-Western rentier states (Iran, Arab Gulf states). Financed by oil or remittances, these largely authoritarian states pursued state-led development strategies, attaining remarkable (21% average annual) growth rates.1 Income from oil offered the rentier states the possibility of providing social services to many of their citizens, and the ideologically driven populist states dispensed significant benefits in education, health, employment, housing, and the like.2 For these post-colonial regimes, such provision of social welfare was necessary to build popularity among the peasants, workers, and middle strata at a time that these states were struggling against both the colonial powers and old internal ruling classes. The state acted as the moving force of economic and social development on behalf of the populace.
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