‘Economic reform’ since the 1980s

The political corollaries of a political project

Authored by: Eberhard Kienle

Routledge Handbook of Middle East Politics

Print publication date:  April  2020
Online publication date:  March  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138047631
eBook ISBN: 9781315170688
Adobe ISBN:


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Largely following prescriptions by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, ‘orthodox’ economic reforms in the Arab countries have affected economies, as well as politics, other policies and polities. However, implemented by authoritarian rulers, macroeconomic stabilization, structural adjustment and their avatars have prompted economic transformations that fail to meet the expectations of many of their advocates. Politically, the austerity measures associated with stabilization have not always led to an increase in repression. Conversely, adjustment—with its heavy dose of economic liberalization—has not prompted anything like political liberalization or even democratization. In the best of cases, economic reforms have entailed various forms and degrees of ‘authoritarian upgrading’ that consolidate rather than liberalize unaccountable autocracies. Elsewhere, though, they have further accentuated authoritarian rule. Partly fed by economic reforms and related discontent, the 2011 protests have only in Tunisia initiated a still precarious transition to electoral democracy.

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