The Arab World Facing the Challenge of the New Millennium
by Henry T. Azzam
New York: I.B. Tauris, 2002. 240 pp. $59.50.
Reviewed by Scott Lasensky
Council on Foreign Relations
Middle East Quarterly
Azzam, a new breed of Arab entrepreneur and economist, concerned more with growth than with grievance, has come out with a striking new book calling for far-reaching structural economic reform and acknowledging the bankruptcy of the militant Islamic platform: "Faith cannot be a substitute for political realities and economic prosperity." Heavy on data, his book is more a reference or a primer than a manifesto or treatise. Still, along with the United Nation's recent Arab Human Development Report, Azzam's study is a must-read for anyone who needs to understand Arab economies.
Rather than hide behind the Palestinian cause, point fingers at Washington, or rail against the evils of globalization, Azzam unsentimentally explains in rich detail and with ample data what is wrong with Arab economies, and he offers clear policy alternatives to make things right: "Governments and individuals need to make economics, rather than politics their central overriding preoccupation."
If for no other reason, Azzam's willingness to initiate a serious internal debate about repairing the failed Arab economies renders The Arab World Facing the Challenge of the New Millennium valuable, especially given the rarity of this approach from Arab voices. But there are other reasons to benefit from this book. Azzam explains how the family business model, so pervasive in the region, limits growth. His proposals for strengthening government and corporate bond markets by placing more emphasis on trading and local markets, while standard doctrine just about everywhere else, are radical tonic for the Arab countries, where banking has long been a protected, privileged, and overly conservative sector. From information technology to financial markets, Azzam explains that economic growth hinges on governments transforming their role from "player" to "referee."
Unfortunately, while Azzam skillfully tells where the economies should go, he does not explain how to get there. Also, as Azzam so energetically advocates the "Washington consensus" and calls for such far-reaching reform, the reader is left with a sinking feeling that his forward-thinking book is too far ahead of the curve. Unfortunately, the publisher says there are no plans to publish the work in Arabic—a pity.
 See "How the Arabs Compare: Arab Human Development Report," Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2002, p. 59-67.
Related Topics: Middle East patterns | Spring 2003 MEQ
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