The Middle East’s Lost Decades

Development, Dissent, and the Future of the Arab World

Ramzi Boudina / Reuters

Since the 9/11 attacks, the Arab world’s relative economic, social, and political underdevelopment has been a topic of near-constant international concern. In a landmark 2002 report, the UN Development Program (UNDP) concluded that Arab countries lagged behind much of the world in development indicators such as political freedom, scientific progress, and the rights of women. Under U.S. President George W. Bush, this analysis helped drive the “freedom agenda,” which aimed to democratize the Middle East—by force if necessary—in order to eradicate the underdevelopment and authoritarianism that some officials in Washington believed were the root causes of terrorism. Bush’s …