Magazine article Foreign Policy

How to Be a Middle East Technocrat: A Look at the Rising Class of Results-Minded Bureaucrats Who Are Finding a New Way across the Islamic World

Magazine article Foreign Policy

How to Be a Middle East Technocrat: A Look at the Rising Class of Results-Minded Bureaucrats Who Are Finding a New Way across the Islamic World

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

THE ARAB WORLD'S fire-breathing guerrillas and military despots get all the attention. But the men who run the region's day-to-day affairs are a different breed. Across the Middle East over the last decade, a new class of technocrats--all in their 40s and 50s, with advanced degrees in law and economics, many from Western universities, and backed by powerful patrons--has risen to power in governments from Syria to Egypt to Palestine, resolutely focused on tackling the mundane problems affecting their societies. And they are achieving surprising success by adhering to three relatively simple rules.

1. PARTY HACKS NEED NOT APPLY. The Middle East's new get-it--done bureaucrats assiduously distance themselves from their ruling parties and official ideologies. Take Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah al-Dardari, who never even joined the Baath Party: In the 1980s, while then-President Hafez al-Assad was cracking skulls to beat back an Islamist challenge, Dardari was studying economics at the University of Southern California. In a country where old-school socialism is still officially enshrined in the Constitution, Dardari has said, "Only market economy systems have ... the ability to adjust and cope with change."

Although they may be charged with important policymaking roles, this bunch shies away from most explicit politicking. In Beirut, Interior Minister Ziad Baroud avoids identification with either of Lebanon's major factions. "I'm on excellent terms with all political groups," he told FOREIGN POLICY. In Palestine, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is not a representative of Fatah, the dominant political player in the West Bank, but a founder of the tiny Third Way party.

2. DETAILS MATTER. This is a group that spends its days searching for practical solutions to the problems of everyday life--not railing against Israel. Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, for example, cut his teeth as minister of telecommunications--a role he prepared for at Montreal's McGill University, where his 1983 Ph.D. thesis explored the difficulties that the Arabic language posed for software development. Nazif went on to become the driving force in the deregulation of Egypt's information-technology sector. As prime minister, he has taken e-government to a new level by starting a pilot project that uses "smart cards" to collect information on consumer purchases, allowing the government to target food subsidies to Egypt's poorest citizens and reduce government waste and corruption. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.