Association Lecture—The Economic Roots of Political
Underdevelopment in the Middle East: A Historical Perspective
Key institutions of the pre-modern Middle Eastern economy, all grounded in Islamic law,
blocked the development of democratic institutions. This talk identifies three mechanisms that played
critical roles. Islam's original tax system failed to produce lasting and credible constraints on governance.
The waqfs (Islamic trusts) founded to provide social services to designated constituencies were politically
powerless. Profit-making private enterprises remained small and ephemeral, hindering the formation of
stable coalitions capable of bargaining with the state. The last two mechanisms jointly delayed the
rise of a civil society able to provide the checks and balances essential to democratic rule.