Arab East Development and the United States, 1942-1949: Case Studies
The centerpiece of America's economic policy in the Arab East was economic development. Corporate officials, especially those in the oil industry, placed development high on their agenda. Middle East development figured prominently Britain's postwar plans as well. Among the economic and political elites of the Arab East, the desire for development--and its anticipated socioeconomic and political rewards--intensified during the 1940s. Arab rulers came to view development as a way to attain nationalist goals while maintaining their own wealth and power.
By the 1940s, Arab East intellectuals and political leaders viewed development from several perspectives. One approach embraced liberal capitalist economic doctrines and questioned Islam's value and effectiveness in achieving economic growth. Some adherents of this perspective identified imperialism as the cause of underdevelopment, while others saw a combination of causes--including imperialism, stagnant socioeconomic institutions, lack of capital, illiteracy, and undeveloped resources. Regardless of the source of underdevelopment, these Westernists agreed that the Arab East had to adopt the techniques and systems of the industrialized nations in the West. Disagreements arose over how to achieve Westernization--some urged an immediate and complete separation from Islamic tradition, others suggested a more gradual break. Westernists included Charles Issawi of Egypt, Charles Malik of Lebanon (and most of Lebanon's Christian bourgeoisie), Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri-es-Said, and the Wafd party of Egypt.( 1)
Conservative Islamists rejected the Westernist argument and asserted that Islam best facilitated and stimulated capital accumulation and economic progress. The movement to revitalize Islam was a conscious choice made by some Arab elites; a choice made in opposition to foreign intervention. Theorists such as a M. Hamidullah and Sayyed Abulala Maudoodi contended that the Islamic economy was closely tied to Islamic politics, culture, and moral code. Islam provided a "unique blue-print for the structure and growth of society." It combined the virtues of private enterprise with an equitable distribution of wealth, while avoiding the evils associated with capitalism and socialism.( 2)
The advocates of an Islamic economy spoke and wrote in generalities; they offered few specific programs for economic