ECONOMIC CONDITIONS Doing Business in the Middle East: Politics and Economic Crisis in Jordan and Kuwait, by Pete W. Moore. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004. xii + 190 pages. Appends to p. 198. Bibl. to p. 209. Index to p. 215. $70.
The private sector is the repository of high hopes for political and economic opening in the Middle East, held by locals as well as by international consultants and financial institutions. Pete Moore's new book gives us some idea of what the private sector has accomplished in Kuwait and Jordan. Both are "dynastic" monarchies' whose economies are connected to the global oil market, Kuwait's directly and Jordan's through transfers and fees. Their business sectors provide information about world markets along with investment and employment. Where political parties are officially banned, business associations, as legitimate institutions representing the interests of important domestic constituents, can be critical to exposing malfeasance by state agents. Nevertheless, as Moore makes clear, business represents business interests: while its political activity might promote political opening, this should not be confused with democracy.
Moore's theoretical framework is a "meso-level" approach that incorporates both structural analysis and attention to the intertwined development of the stale and the private sector in each country. Thus it is richer than macro-level frameworks that dismiss or erase local agency from explanations of economic and social development, such as models based on the rentier state or the oil-dependent economy, and equally totalizing micro-level theories of unitary value maximization.2 Consequently, divergences between his two cases are as illuminating as instances where their experiences are similar.
I was fascinated by Moore's account of the development of the Kuwaiti business sector and his explanations of why it is more powerful than its Jordanian counterpart despite similarities in the origins of their leadership and state investment strategies. Kuwait's elite merchants, the chief holders of wealth in pre-modern Kuwait, were the principal antagonists of rulers whose status was no higher than theirs. Until the late 19th century, the ruling Al Sabah were fiscally dependent on the merchants but this changed as imperial powers guaranteed Sabahi access to income-producing properties in Iraq, and paid cash subventions in return for services. Afterward, the merchants organized to assert their autonomy from the state. Under the 1962 constitution, the initial configuration of election districts ensured substantial representation of merchant interests in parliament, but also encouraged alliances with others. Consequently, even though control of the key business association, the Kuwait Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), is firmly in the hands of the merchant elite, Kuwaiti business broadly defined began by, and continues to, present a united front.
Elite also dominated the business sector in Jordan, but there the state sector offered an alternate route to accumulation, making membership in the Amman Chamber of Commerce as much a stepping-stone to social status as part of the insignia of the well-to-do. In Jordan, businessmen were more financially dependent on the state than were their Kuwaiti counterparts. The Amman Chamber depended heavily on member dues, and strove to increase membership to increase its income. …