Economic Development and Political Reform: The Impact of External Capital on the Middle East

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Economic Development and Political Reform: The Impact of External Capital on the Middle East, by Bradley Louis Glasser. Cheltenham, UK and Northampton MA: Edward Elgar Publishing Inc, 2001. vi + 129 pages. Bibl.to p.139. Index to p. 147. $70.

Reviewed by Gawdat Bahgat

Since the mid-1970s, the world has witnessed an impressive global transition from dictatorship to democracy. Almost everywhere ruling regimes have taken significant steps toward political reform and liberalization. This "wave of democratization," however, seems to have missed the Middle East. In other words, the democratic experiments in the Arab world seem to be slower and more stagnant than those of Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Africa. This so-called "Middle Eastern exceptionalism" has prompted students of the region to seek an explanation. Several reasons have been cited including culture, elite coalition, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the international system. In addition, most scholars agree that the nature and dynamics of the political economy of Middle Eastern states are a prominent reason for their lagging behind the global wave of democratization. Among those who have underscored this point are Iliya Harik and Denis J. Sullivan, in Privatization and Liberalization in the Middle East (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1992); Augustus Richard Norton, in Civil Society in the Middle East (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1995); and Rex Brynen, Bahgat Korany and Paul Noble, in Political Liberalization and Democratization in the Arab World (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1995 and 1998).

Bradley Louis Glasser's work, which grew out of his doctoral research at Columbia University, is another attempt to explain the connection between the region's political economy and liberalization. The main focus of the study is on state revenues. Glasser proposes that regimes that receive low levels of exogenous rents are likely to elect center-right coalitions, while those who receive high levels of exogenous revenues tend to favor populist contenders. This hypothesis is examined in four case studies: Turkey, Morocco, Egypt and Kuwait. The time frame of the study is from 1979 to 1986. Glasser chooses Turkey and Morocco as examples of states with low exogenous revenues, Egypt as an example of a "semi-rentier" system, and Kuwait as an example of a state that is highly dependent on external resources. The author does not explain, however, why other countries with similar economic and political conditions are not included in the study. …