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A Marshall Plan for the Middle East?

by Cornelia Beyer *

Kurzzusammenfassung: Der sogenannte "neue" Terrorismus ist auch ein Resultat von Armut, besonders relativer Armut. Für den Nahen und Mittleren Osten lässt sich zeigen, dass die hier vorfindbare relative Armut zu Terrorismus führt. Daher muss Armutsbekämpfung ein wichtiges Ziel im Kampf gegen den Terrorismus sein. Nur wenn die zugrunde liegenden Ursachen von Terrorismus effektiv beseitigt werden, wird man dem Problem gerecht werden können. Die Autorin plädiert daher für einen "Marshall-Plan" für den Nahen Osten.

Transnational terrorism is a result of poverty, not only absolute poverty but also relative poverty. With regards to the Middle East – where most of the “new terrorism” is rooted – we can therefore speak of structural violence. Pamuk describes the economic side of the picture: The growth rate of per capita income is strongly negative since the 1970ies relative to the Western world. This might be a cause for frustration with the general population. Also the relative position of the Middle East vis a vis the Western world has developed in this direction: whereas the general national income in the 19th century made up for 49% of the general national income of the West, it is nowadays at 20%. These developments do contribute to frustration which leads to violence. The absolute poverty thesis holds true for Iraq, for example:

Between 1980 and 2001, the total value of Iraqi oil exports amounted to about $192.2bn. Exports in the 1980s totaled about $123.8bn, and $68bn in the period 1990-2000. In 2001, the value of oil exports was estimated at about $14.8bn. However, even with such a huge inflow into public finances generated by oil rent (and not including other domestic economic activities), the Iraqi economy has experienced continuous deterioration since 1980. In terms of GDP per capita, Iraq may be classified as one of the few Least Developed Countries (LDCs). Such a conclusion obviously has important economic, political, and social implications as far as the remedies for dealing with the Iraqi crisis are concerned. (http://mees.com/postedarticles/finance/iraq/a46n19b01.htm).

And for the time after 2003:

A study conducted by the ministry in coordination with the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations Development Program [UNDP] shows that 20% of the population is affected by poverty (http://www.greenleft.org.au/2006/655/7501).

Also Halliday describes the Middle Eastern economic debacle:

„[T]he Middle East was scoring very poorly on the other most visible index of international economic performance, its ability to attract foreign direct investment (FDI): the Arab world and Iran were almost entirely outside of the flow capital to developing countries that marked the 1990s. Of a total world FDI in 1999 of $900 billion, $200 billion of which went to developing countries, the region, Israel apart, attracted around $8 billion. On the basis of one calculation, in income terms the population of the Middle East and North Africa had, in the early 1990s, per capita annual income little more than a tenth of that of the European Community: $2,124 as against $20,738. If Israel and the oil-rich GCC countries were factored out of the figure, the former figure fell to $1,489. On index after index, the region was not just behind but falling further behind not only Europe but also significant parts of the developing world” (Halliday 2005, 265)

However, there is an obvious economic success story: the story of oil trade. But, the oil money generally does not reach the poor and needy in the region:

“As late as the early 1970s, only a few small countries with a large oil production, notably Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, had a surplus in their current account and accumulated funds abroad. In 1973 and after, there was an explosion in oil prices and revenues; in 1978 revenues were nearly $100 billion, in 1980 they were $200 billion, and, even after the recent decline in output and prices, they are still well over $100 billion.” (Issawi 1995, 52)

“For their part oil-producing states used money not for an intelligent or managed economic interdependence of the region but for political purposes, often arbitrary or short-term, through military purchases, and through subsidies to friendly states and client movements. … Per capita incomes in some countries might been at high or medium levels in the 1970s and early 1980s in particular; but this apparent growth was largely due to oil revenues, directly earned or reallocated by interstate-flows. These oil revenues too were in long-run real decline, particularly when rising population, as in Saudi-Arabia, was taken into account.” (Halliday 2005, 265)

Particularly the Palestinian territories suffer under economic backwardness (Worldbank), but also Yemen and other countries. It was argued in other cases, that foreign capital and the capitalist mode of production in itself are causes of backwardness: “surplus is extracted from backward countries and is appropriated and subsequently used in the advanced countries.” (Weeks and Dore 1979, 63). This might also be said of the Middle East. Erdal Özmen, Professor of Economics at the Middle East Technical University, stated: “Yes, as an hegemonic imperialist country, the US contributes much to the backwardness of the Middle East”. Weeks and Dore, however, argue that backwardness is attributable to exploitation by one class of another (ibid.). One of the classes involved might be the transnational ´historical block` of Western elites in conjunction with Middle Eastern elites, the other being the Middle Eastern populations. There is further research needed on in how far the West has its share in the backwardness of the Middle East and what can be done about it, what however remains obvious is that the Middle East is indeed backward.

Regarding the economic causes of terrorism the scientific community is divided. For some, economic causes are accepted. Others argue that terrorists most often come from well established families and thus poverty cannot count as a cause. Kitschelt comes to the conclusion that deprivation – for example by non-participation in globalization and thus the exclusion from ist positive benefits – can lead to political mobilization and in the extreme to violence. „For such suffering to motivate mobilization, political ideologues must articulate interests and a broad cultural interpretation that explains to potential activists how deprivations have come about and how to overcome them“ (Kitschelt 2004, 159). The Middle East and the African continent are very much predestined for this kind of violence, as they were in the 1980s and the 1990s the worst performing economic regions. „There is thus no question that the intensity of socio-economic deprivation felt throughout much of the Middle East has become great“ (Kitschelt 2004, 163). Much more than absolute poverty, particularly relative deprivation (or structural inequalities) lead to violence as argued before (Beyer 2006). This is especially to be expected for those societies which are very young and which are not able to provide their young population with chances and perspectives for work and life chances. These societies might be more endangered to be seduced by extremist ideologies.

An international expert group that dealt with causes of terrorism in the year 2005 came to the conclusion that it is never one factor alone that leads to terrorism. So for example, poverty alone is not a cause. Yet combined with rapid modernization and structural inequalities there is a risk for terrorism: „We believe … that poverty is not a cause of terrorism but that rapid modernization and structural inequalities, both national and international, and the culture of resentment and alienation they often breed, are risk factors for terrorism“ (International Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security 2005). Here, a direct connection between economic and psychological factors is established. Rapid economic change oftentimes is perceived as a threat and leads to support for movements that focus on traditional identities.

Therefore, one way to tackle the problem of transnational terrorism – far more effective than military power application - would be to develop a Marshall Plan for the Middle East. Only if poverty as a root cause of terrorism can be diminished, we might be able to address the problem.

  • Beyer, C. (2006), Die Strategie der Vereinigten Staaten im „War of Terror“ (Berlin: LIT Verlag).
  • Halliday, F. (2005), The Middle East in international relations: power, politics and ideology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
  • International Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security (2005), ‘Plenary: Preliminary Conclusions of the working Groups’, [website], , accessed 01. March 2002.
  • Issawi, C. (1995), The Middle East economy: decline and recovery: selected essays (Princeton, NJ : Markus Wiener Publishers).
  • Kitschelt, H. (2004), ‘Origins of international terrorism in the Middle East’, Internationale Politik und Gesellschaft, [website], , accessed 01. March 2006.
  • Weeks, J. and Dore, E. (1979), ‘International Exchange and the Cause of Backwardness’, Latin American Perspectives 6: 62, 62–87.
  • Worldbank (without date), ‘Poverty in the Westbank and Gaza after three years of economic crisis’, [website], , accessed 02. May 2007.
* Cornelia Beyer hat in München, Berlin und Syracuse (USA) Politkwissenschaft studiert und ist zur Zeit wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin an der Universität Tübingen. Sie arbeitet primär zu den Themen Terrorismus, Terrorismusbekämpfung und Global Governance.

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