Economic Development and Political Reform
The Impact of External Capital on the Middle East
by Bradley Louis Glasser
Cheltenham, U.K. and Northampton, Mass.: Edward Elgar, 2001. 147 pp. $70.
Reviewed by Patrick Clawson
Middle East Quarterly
The partisans of engagement with problematic regimes argue that the more prosperous a society, the more open it will be. Glasser presents evidence to make exactly the opposite argument for the Middle East. Not only do Middle East states with more resources avoid political and economic reform but he argues that reform comes only as a result of crises induced by insufficient resources.
But Glasser's evidence is weak; it is by no means clear that external windfalls (oil and aid) explain why the Middle East lags behind much of the world in market-oriented reforms and democratization. For example, he contrasts the reforms in Turkey and Morocco with their absence in oil-rich Kuwait and aid-rich Egypt. But this is not accurate. Kuwait has implemented considerable political and economic reform; its parliament has real authority; and foreign firms are being invited into the oil industry. Even Egypt has finally undertaken economic reforms after years of promising to do so: the budget deficit is modest, subsidies are largely gone, several large public enterprises have been privatized, and government regulations are becoming more transparent and less restraining. Meanwhile, the reform process in Turkey has been slow and that in Morocco even slower.
The principal factors explaining which states implement economic reforms and democratization appear to be political, not economic—specifically, governments which reform are more concerned about the welfare of the ordinary citizen while governments that do not are more concerned about preserving the power of the present elite. That reality escapes Glasser, who accepts the leftist myths so common among his fellow university professors (he is at Brooklyn College). He argues that promoting the private sector and rolling back government intervention eviscerate "the power of the popular, working, or ‘disadvantaged' sectors." Contrary to his claim, it is in fact, the anti-market regimes, like those in the hard-line states cited above, where the poor and ordinary workers fare worst.
Related Topics: Middle East politics | Patrick Clawson | Winter 2002 MEQ
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