Authoritarianism and Economic Development in the Middle East
The Middle East scores relatively low in every aspect of development, including human rights, rule of law and war on corruption. The region is considered much more corrupt than other nations in the OECD, implying that the state of things is very bad here. It should be stated that the Middle East, in this case, includes the entire Arab World, as well as Turkey and Iran. As a region, it is supposed to be an economic hub owing to the overwhelming resources that include oil and gas, dates and other desert gems. The region has registered remarkable independent improvements with countries like the UAE and Qatar topping the world’s lists on economic growth. As a block, however, the Middle East remains underdeveloped and it has been attributed to the authoritarian rule that is critically prevalent amongst the states. It is puzzling for many researchers that the entire populace of the region has been comfortable living outside democratic perimeters for such a long period and it has greatly hampered their social development. Current paper investigates the extent of authoritarianism and its negative impacts on the development of the Middle East society.
Authoritarianism in the Middle East
The Middle East in its entirety is made up of Muslims in their majority. It implies that while it may not be the official religion in each state within the region, it is the dominant religion and thus, the Islamic laws and practices influence most of the social norms and expectations. The governments are mostly configured around the Islamic waqf system of private autonomy in the political organizations where the leaders make all the required decisions, determining the direction to be taken by their subjects (Bromley 1994). Such system was intended for smaller units in the historical times, with the leader being like a clan chief or the head of an extended family. However, as the societies grew, the waqf system also grew to become the present day authoritarian rule that continues to persist even after the third wave of democratization. The nations using such system have instead used the mass protests and Western calls and support for democratization to strengthen the autonomy of their governments and exclude the people from decision-making.
It should be noted that the Middle Eastern version of authoritarianism today is actually more sophisticated given the extensive strategizing that the governments had to go through to reach its present state. With the prevalence of globalization as a real concept in the present day, it is surprising that such nations have been able to hold on to their unique ways of living, considering that every other part of the world has slowly implemented the idea of democracy (Jung 2007). From Iraq to UAE and Qatar, as well as Oman and other parts of the region, the concept of authoritarian politics is deeply rooted and continues to consolidate despite efforts by not only the West but also the local citizens and development partners. Authoritarianism could have been considered as the way of life owing to its roots in Islamic laws but the citizens are much more willing to leave their countries if it is the only way for them to experience democracy (Richards & Waterbury 2007). The major attributes of authoritarianism that can be considered to hamper the development in a given region include unequal distribution of national resources, inability to participate in decision-making, unreliability in terms of business industry regulations, protests and uprisings causing political instability, as well as divisions within the society creating social tension.
The Middle East is a wealthy region if speaking about the natural resources with most countries registering some of the highest oil production rates in the world. It means that among other things, the governments could gain much revenue from their oil industry. The irony here is that some of such countries do not even have good schools, roads and hospitals. The living standards are very expensive and the people there are generally poor except for the wealthy few. The benefits of the oil industry are experiences only by people in power thus, leaving the nation to be dominated by the few families at the top. It should be noted that within an authoritarian nation, power is often passed on through families and friends thus, making the development agenda limited to specific regions and industries that are of interest to people in power. With such level of sectarian development, it is easy to figure out why the region is largely behind in developmental achievements. The only people who can influence the development patterns are those in power, and there is no possibility to gain power without being born in one of the ruling families or befriending those in power.
It results in a unique concentration of development within specific regions despite the revenue being sourced from all parts of the country. An example would be Iraq, where money from the oil industry in the Kurdish regions was being used to develop Saddam Hussein’s strongholds to the detriment of the Kurdish people. It led to their desire for cessation and today the battle continues with the Kurds fighting brutally against the larger Iraq’s authority over them (Owen 2004). It should be noted that while it may be normal to divide the revenue from one region to develop many others, the distribution should be equal in order to be effective in national growth and development. The concentration of revenue in one place only makes the less privileged people more negative towards those that are in power and does not benefit the national economy.
In an authoritarian setting, all the decisions are made by the people in power. Within the Middle East, the major assumption is that the leaders are appointed by God and thus, their decisions are mainly right. The problem here is that more often, the decisions made by such leaders are aimed at serving their own interests and the interests of their families. They are not just politicians but also businessmen seeking to expand their financial tentacles through policies that could impoverish the society even more. When considering the decisions made by leaders in the region over the years, it should be noted that among other things there have been ventures like war profiteering among other things that were aimed at making some people rich, while sacrificing the lives of others. With no right to take part at the decision-making process, the common Middle Eastern civilian has no possibility to determine his/her present or future as he/she lives by the mercy of their rulers.
Civilian participation in national decision making is a key to development because it enables the leaders to note the right choices based on the views and opinions of the common people (Mansfield 2003). It should be noted that while the leaders are living in their heavily guarded palaces, the common citizens have to live on the streets and experience the national problems on a daily basis. They are the ones who are best suited to inform the policies aimed at making their lives better. The leaders live in their own world where money is not a problem and they do not have to risk their lives when they go to the market. They do not understand the dangers posed by car bombers on the streets and suicide bombers in the markets and places of worship. Generally, such nations will continue to be unsafe and underdeveloped until the citizens are given the opportunity to dictate the direction of the policies that seek to develop the nations.
When the people in power are businessmen with large business empires, they seek to own the country through policies that would monopolize the markets and prevent new entrants from playing competition (Gerner 2000). It means that they are likely to support regulations that are aimed at suppressing new businesses unless the businesses are meant to make them richer in one way or another. It means that the business regulations in such nations are issued unexpectedly and are often aimed at specific business ventures in order to take more from them or simply discourage them from doing business. On the one hand, it restricts the market participation thus, enabling the local businesses to flourish. However, it also monopolizes the economy, limiting its growth by ensuring that the businesses are deprived of any problems and are not competitive. In the end, the prices are too high for the common citizens and the poor members of society become unable to afford even the most basic goods. The ability of the large businesses to influence the business regulations not only discourages investors but also limits the growth of the nation’s business industry and its revenue, as well.
Countries that are ruled in an authoritarian fashion always face developing of resistance movements. From 2010, such countries experienced a wave of mass protests and coup attempts that caused destruction in a scale that had never been seen before. From Egypt to Syria and Libya, as well as Iraq, the people came together to protest their political regimes that were sectarian and often oppressive towards the citizens. The brutality of an authoritarian government is also considerably phenomenal seeing as the government is actually supposed to be a protector for its citizens. When there is a wide-spread political instability within a given nation, there will be very little time and resources to invest in national development. The government here spends more time and money repairing the damages caused in the mass protests, looking for ways to counter another possible wave of protests and, in some cases, finding the people who started the protest in the first place. The businesses also shut down for fear of looting and vandalism that are common during mass protests. Such factors hinder the development of the nation where both the public and private sectors fear losses and thus, avoid continuing with their daily activities. In most cases, the international businesses even leave the country for fear of not only their investments but also their lives. Insecurity caused by political instability is a considerably critical factor when dealing with national development.
One of the main conflicts in the present day Iraq is the division between Kurds and Iraqis. When the government is sectarian, that is a common phenomenon in authoritarianism, the marginalized community is likely to revolt against the government. The main community may also rise against the marginalized community as they protect a government that is seemingly effective according to their experiences (Ehteshami 2007). It creates social tension where the nation becomes divided along numerous lines. For example, the poor Iraqis are likely to see the wealthy Iraqis as their enemies given that the government is on the side of the wealthier citizens. With such divisions it is impossible to actualize a development agenda within the country. Each project is evaluated based on which side will benefit, thus implying a need to divide national resources amongst all groups in case the project will succeed. With the sectarianism, however, it is not possible. The government will continue favouring those in positions of power thus, leaving the poor to continue languishing in their poor regions.
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Social tension impedes the growth of domestic and foreign businesses by creating a volatile environment that could spark anytime and culminate into serious clashes. The fact that the people in the society confront implies that they are only waiting for a reason to rise against each other and it is neither good for business nor for the security of the people. Consequently, the region is prevented from development given the inability of the people to work together for security and prosperity.
The Middle East suffers many challenges concerning their development agenda. The governments have been built on the concept of authoritarianism and they continue holding on to it given the safety in familiarity. Despite the efforts of the West alongside with other development partners, such countries remain steadfast in their commitment to authoritarianism. As a result, despite the fact that they may be able to attain relative peace at some point in the future, they will not be able to develop effectively unless they engage in democratization. The present authoritarian rule is limiting to development in many aspects, especially considering its attributes that include unequal distribution of national resources, inability to participate in decision-making, unreliability in terms of business industry regulations, protests and uprisings causing political instability, as well as divisions within the society, creating social tension.
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