Why Is The Middle East Underdeveloped? Exploring the Historical Roots of Today's Problems

Jun 23, 2003
Mercatus Center


Timur Kuran
Professor of Economics and Law, and King Faisal Professor of Islamic Thought and Culture
University of Southern California

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Despite the blessings of vast oil reserves, the economies of the middle east remain mired in poverty.  This poverty, besides making life difficult for millions on a daily basis, also makes the region a source of global instability.  Tackling this  poverty, therefore, is paramount for policymakers interested in promoting global stability and encouraging economic development.

In order to tackle the problems associated with middle eastern poverty we must first understand its historical and cultural roots.  What are the origins of Islamic economic practices?  How effective have they been?  Are they compatible with modern economic activity?  How are they fitting into today's modern economy?  Answers to these kinds of questions will help policymakers interested in bringing economic development to those in the middle east.

Timur Kuran's teaching and research draw on multiple disciplines, including economics, political science, sociology, psychology, history, and legal studies.  Kuran has written extensively on Islam and the Middle East, with an initial focus on attempts to restructure economies according to Islamic teachings. Since the mid-1990s he has turned his attention to the conundrum of why the Middle East, which once had a standard of living higher than that of Europe, subsequently fell behind, including economic production, technological creativity, democratization, and military strength.