Monday, January 05, 2009

Feeding the Arab World

In a recent issue of the Middle East Review of International Affair, Elie ElHadj predicted that the coming decades would see a food crisis in the Arab world. He's right that becoming self-sufficient in food isn't an option, something the Gulf states have begun to realize during the past year. They've taken to buying land in India and Latin America. What Elhadj doesn't go into is the broader economic problems faced by the region. When I was preparing for my interdisciplinary Middle East course last semester, I was stunned by just how much the economies of the poorer Arab states depend on forms of rent and remittances from migrant labor. The region's historic comparative advantage, its location, has led to a thriving re-export industry in places with little business regulation and minimal corruption, but I don't see Cairo or Damascus emerging as a modern-day free port anytime soon. Internal trade isn't that important simply because all the Arab countries manufacture the same stuff. We're looking at some serious basket cases.

(Hat tip: Joshua Landis)



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