The Guardian’s development blog had a very useful post on the catalysing conditions -
Tertiary enrolment – school leavers going to higher education – in Egypt has risen from 14% to 28% since 1990, and in Tunisia from 8% to 34%. Egyptian high school graduates account for 42% of the workforce, but 80% of the unemployed. According to the global employment trends from the International Labour Organisation, Arab countries need to generate more than 50 million jobs in the next decade just to stabilise employment. These conditions have created a large body of disaffected youth, a boiling pot of frustration that is now spilling over at governments that have failed to provide employment opportunities. But the reasons for unrest aren't all economic. Increases in literacy and education, alongside urbanisation and the expansion of the media, have extended political consciousness and broadened demands for political participation. Despite national increases in living standards, the region's repressive, authoritarian regimes are often plagued by corruption and nepotism. Dani Rodrik, a development economist, points out that economic growth does not buy stability unless political institutions mature at the same time. This shows that widely used measures of development such as the MDGs and the HDI are, by themselves, insufficient to determine development priorities: much greater attention needs to be played to inequality, but not only inequality of income.
Middle Eastern countries have had, at least until recently, one of the most equal income distributions in the world. Egypt, for example, registered a Gini coefficient (a measure of inequality) of 32 in 2005, far lower than the 47 achieved by the US in the same year. This suggests that access to gainful employment and acute inequalities in political power also need to be considered. These issues are not unique to the Middle East. But the histories of countries such as Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria demonstrate that as societies transform and urbanise, aspirations grow and people expect more of their governments.
However, economic inequalities within, rather than between, countries are becoming more important as the proportion of middle-income countries grow: research from the Institute of Development Studies shows there is a new "bottom billion" of 960 million poor people – 72% of the world's poor – who live not in low, but in middle-income countries. This is a dramatic change from just two decades ago, when 93% of poor people lived in low-income countries.