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Rebuilding Middle Eastern EconomiesDamaged schools in Afghanistan are being rebuilt, but the pace is slow. Photo: Relief International

Rebuilding Middle Eastern Economies

Ongoing Workshop Series Focuses on Reconstruction of Devastated Economies

By Jonathan Friedlander

The Center for Near Eastern Studies sponsored a research-oriented workshop in Spring 2004 on the problem of rebuilding devastated economies in the Middle East. Participants considered a number of only too familiar situations in Lebanon, Algeria, Iraq, Sudan, Palestine, Yemen and Afghanistan. All of these countries have experienced or are experiencing civil war or something like it. In some cases, economic decline preceded the breakdown of state authority, but in all cases, violence has deepened the economic crisis and prevented economic recovery.

State failure or frailty has opened the political arena to religious extremism which presents both political and ideological obstacles to economic recovery. It is, moreover, debatable whether economic recovery is a prerequisite for political recovery or vice versa - or whether both can be pursued simultaneously. Except for Palestine, all of these countries have recently achieved a modicum of stability. All, except for Lebanon, have a tradition of centralized state control of the economy, albeit not very efficient control. Algeria, Iraq and Sudan can benefit to some extent from oil production, but all will depend to some extent on external assistance - if they can convince the international community that they are worth the risk.

But what strategies, guarantees, commitments and collective arrangements should be adopted in order to bring back these devastated economies? There is little doubt that the structure of national economies, the ethnic division of power, the external sources of assistance, capital and advice will all play a significant role in what now seems to be a long slow process. It appears that the indigenous economic obstacles to political stabilization may have received too little attention, while the effects of a generalized globalization are expected to impact, whether for good or ill, on all peripheral economies in the same way. It would seem prudent to examine both sides of the development equation, when considering how best to rebuild the devastated economies of the Middle East as part of a global effort to achieve regional peace. The purpose of this ongoing workshop is to explore these alternative perspectives and to suggest preferred methods of approaching these problems from practical as well as theoretical points of view.

The second workshop on Rebuilding the Devastated Economies of the Middle East will take place at UCLA in Winter term.

Center for Near Eastern Studies