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The Political-Economic Conundrum: The Affinity of Economic and Political Reform in the Middle East and North Africa

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For nearly two decades the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has languished in economic stagnation and lassitude. At a time when the logic of market-driven reform and export oriented growth has become nearly canonical worldwide, the MENA region has proven steadfastly unenthusiastic about reform, shutting itself out of the benefits of economic globalization and falling behind most other regions in economic development.

At the same time, the MENA region has distinguished itself by spurning another worldwide trend: democratization. As democracy has spread in Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe, Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East has remained largely authoritarian, experiencing at most only mild liberalizing political reforms. This dual resistance to world trends is intriguing and resurrects the question of the relationship between political and economic reform. Is this dual resistance to reform coincidental? And what does this resistance say about whether and how Western policy makers and aid practitioners should try to link or sequence their efforts to promote political and economic reform in the region?