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Middle East Economy and PoliticsEssay

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¶ … MENA region is home to some of the richest and poorest countries in the world. For example, per capita GNI of Qatar is $80,440. For a poor country like Yemen, the per capita GNI is $1,070. One of the reasons for such differences is the production of and dependency on oil. Ironically dependency is not the main determiner of wealth in MENA as Yemen, Egypt, and Iraq have high to moderate dependency on oil for profit revenue and are the three poorest countries in MENA. This is due to lack of industrialization. Yemen although recently participating in higher oil production, is one of the least industrialized. Other MENA countries dependent on oil favor less industrialization and cultivation of mega-cities. Megacities are commonplace in several MENA countries.

While megacities seem like a step towards progress and economic development, the majority of these cities from shortage of housing, high population density, polluted air, lack of clean water, heavy traffic, and inadequate sewage. Along with poor city planning, most of the population in MENA countries are very poor with only a few holding most of the country's wealth. With most of the wealth going to a small percentage of the population, they hold a lot of power. This leads to corruption of the government, of the police force, and of politicians. This is why democracy and economic development has remained at a standstill in most MENA countries. Another contribution to income inequality is the major size of the 'informal economic sector' in various MENA nations. These along with the spring of economic liberalization programs in the 1990's has led to a power shift from the government to small groups of economic elites that have close ties with rulers.

Political democratization often means a redistribution of not just power, but of wealth as well. It is no wonder the wealthy groups of MENA countries will never support political democratization. They want to retain their power, influence, and money at all costs. Democracy gives people a voice and demands the money to be redistributed to spark creation of a robust middle class. With the way the wealth is distributed now, it would mean an end to the power of the wealthy elites.

With the majority of the population remaining impoverished it creates a double-edged political effect. Unequal income distribution increases discontent and disillusionment with state policies. (Shambayati)[footnoteRef:1] It also leads to little to no government regulation where income from the elites remains unregulated and untaxed. Work that is available for the impoverished populations comes with poor working conditions and no labor unions. [1: Shambayati, Hootan. "The Rentier State, Interest Groups, And The Paradox Of Autonomy: State And Business In Turkey And Iran." Comparative Politics 26.3 (1994): 307. Web. 16 June 2016.]

Another important factor that impedes economic development in MENA countries is Islamic practices. Islam discourages a rational secular mindset and independent reasoning, but encourages arbitrary rule. Along with this. Islamic inheritance laws divide inherited property among all children, preventing capital accumulation. This is not to say the Muslim world is not wealth because of Islam. It outperformed the non-Islamic world for centuries.

However, war is another reason why the Muslim world has remained economically underdeveloped. With high military expenditures diverting money away from social and economic development, countries like Iraq and Palestine have suffered. Simply put, poor governance and low accountability fueled by uprisings, war, and powerful and wealthy elites has led to economic underdevelopment in MENA. While oil is an important source of income in several MENA states, most of it is automated, leaving little jobs available for people within the country. Furthermore, oil production fuels foreign interest with British and American groups seeking to take the oil from the countries. Along with foreign interest, 'Dutch Disease' takes place making imports cheaper and exports more expensive.

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Oil dependency has created nations in MENA that depend largely on one source for profit. The source (oil) is fully automated and generates vast wealth for a small percentage of the population. This small percentage corrupts the government in order to maintain their power. Islam also plays a role because of the favoring of arbitrary rule. 'Dutch disease' also takes place making it cheaper to import rather than locally produce and export. These are some of the reasons why there is economic underdevelopment in the MENA region. However, looking at is from a purely religious standpoint, Islam and the people's refusal to separate church and state has led to major difficulties. For example, while 85% in each category of a 2006 survey revealed respondents support of democracy in countries within the MENA region, this falls to procedural democracy and not necessarily liberal democracy. This has to do with certain beliefs fueled by Islamic faith. Liberal views like abortion rights, gender equality, and homosexuality are not in tune with the beliefs instilled from Islam. This is why groups like the Muslim Brotherhood win political elections as they represent beliefs in line with the beliefs of Islam.

The Muslim Brotherhood is widely regarded throughout MENA, but especially in Egypt, as one of the most significant and original Islamist activist organizations. Their original purpose was to fight British imperialism but eventually became an international spiritual movement. It main goal changed and became one of building Islamic individuals who will then build an Islamic state. Founded by Hasan al Banna in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood grew in popularity over the decades.

They were to support more radical interpretations of Jihad, and regenerated Egypt social and politically to Islam, using Islam as the guiding force. While they championed for positive social reform, they also championed for Islam to merge into government rule. This is because of their beliefs in the state being created in order to implement Shari'a and the role of the government and the community ruling through Islamic law.

Sharia law has and remains a constraint on state power by delineating boundaries and defining purpose. Under Sharia law, it is difficult to see what laws can be followed if they are made without Islam being the foundation under its creation. This means that although the Brotherhood supports a specific definition of democracy, Sharia and the fundamentals of Islam create hurdles.

Some of these hurdles lie in egalitarian inheritance meaning all children could claim inheritance after parents die leading to a reduced accumulation of wealth. There is little interest in bank loans, and belief in importation of exportation. Islam also forced people to remain in a system that gave them little options whereas the Christians and Jews chose financial options that best suited them. "Likewise, Middle Eastern Muslims fell behind the region's nonMuslims because the latter found it easier, partly as an unintended consequence of Islamic law itself, to overcome the economic handicaps rooted in that stagnation and begin benefiting from advances generated elsewhere." (Kuran 89)[footnoteRef:2] Looking back at the origins of Islam, Islam's economic institutions did not arise all at once during Prophet Muhammad's lifetime. Very little in relation to economic institutions were even mentioned within the Qur'an. It was not until 1000 A.D. there were central Middle Eastern economic institutions firmly in place. That means classic Islamic law has no room for corporations with commercial partnerships typically comprising of one sedentary investor who financed tradition missions executed by one traveling merchant. (Kuran) Ultimately, Islamic law is not well equipped to handle the accumulation of wealth because it was created during a time when economic development was not fully formed. Along with this, the views of Islam are not conducive to the political views of a democratic state. [2: Kuran, Timur. "Why The Middle East Is Economically Underdeveloped: Historical Mechanisms Of Institutional Stagnation." Journal of Economic Perspectives 18.3 (2004): 71-90. Web.]

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Violent nationalist groups like PLO, radical revolutionary groups like Kurdish Workers' Party, and transnational groups like al-Qaeda and 'Islamic State' appear the same, however are very different because of the dissimilar goals and objectives they have. To begin groups like Islamic State (IS) or al-Qaeda exist via exploitation of wars, geopolitical upheaval, and state collapse within the Middle East. They are the groups that pose the biggest threat inside and outside the Middle East due to their increase in membership and power. Unlike the other groups mentioned they use a more militaristic and often violent approach to achieve their means, seeking to disrupt and seize instead of create order and stability.

While al-Qaeda has had its history with bloodshed, IS changed and reshaped the jihadist landscape, using a bloodier and more disruptive strategy than their al-Qaeda predecessors. They are used not only as a means of social mobility, but of also protection and a potential apocalyptic battle with the West. With a majority Iraqi leadership, they are the result of continuous war in Iraq and a desire to turn the tides for those suffering under poverty and tyranny. Created from a sense of victimization across the Sunni Arab world, IS means to unite all Araba regardless of nationality to fight against what they perceive are… [END OF PREVIEW]

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