In This Review

Economic Policy and Performance in the Arab World
Economic Policy and Performance in the Arab World
By Paul Rivlin
Lynne Rienner, 2001, 237 pp.

American attention on the Middle East tends to focus on either oil or the Arab-Israeli conflict, but it neglects the more mundane issue of economic activity and transformation. Rivlin, based at Tel Aviv University, provides a basic and accessible introduction to recent economic developments in the Arab countries, especially Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Syria, and Tunisia. As in much of the developing world, the 1980s were not good for economic growth in that region. But some leaders attempted hesitant economic reforms, trying to move toward greater reliance on markets and away from the statism of earlier years. Early returns are promising (especially in Tunisia), if not conclusive. However, many Arab countries have been weakened by their dependence on elevated oil revenues or foreign assistance, both of which are channeled through government. Heavy reliance on these sources of foreign exchange and public revenue has reduced the need for tax revenues, which in turn reduces the need for popular support. Instead, prospective entrepreneurs are tempted to engage in rent seeking, which sadly seems to be a surer way to riches than engaging in productive economic activity.