The Middle East in Transition: Studies in Contemporary History

By Walter Z. Laqueur | Go to book overview

SOCIAL AWAKENING AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT IN THE MIDDLE EAST

by SA'ID B. HIMADEH

PRIOR TO World War I the economic and social structure of Middle East society was basically medieval. Agriculture and animal husbandry were the chief occupations of the people, and industry was of secondary importance. A very large proportion of agricultural production went to satisfy the producers and their families and a relatively small proportion went to market, so that trade was of relatively minor importance.

Rural communities lived largely under a feudalistic system, with land concentrated in the hands of a small absentee landowning class and cultivated by peasants under a system of share tenancy, which could be terminated at the will of the landlord. Like European feudalism, Middle East feudalism made the cultivator a serf dependent in every way upon his landlord; but one of the main characteristics of European feudalism was absent, namely, the personal relationship between the landlord and the cultivator. The effect of Middle East feudalism was to reduce appreciably the productivity of the land and to demoralize and impoverish a considerable proportion of the rural population.

Industry consisted mainly of shop and home handicrafts, with only a small proportion of enterprises using power-driven machines and hired labour. Most of the industries were of an agricultural character; and almost all industrial production was undertaken for local consumption. A number of factors hindered industrial as well as agricultural development: lack of security, poor means of transport and communication, lack of capital, scarcity of mechanical

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