“Resource Curse” in MENA? Political Transitions, Resource Wealth, Econonomic Shocks, and Conflict Riske

Aug. 2, 2011, 3:44 p.m.

The “Resource Curse” in MENA? Political Transitions, Resource Wealth, Economic Shocks, and Conflict Riske by Michael Ross, Kai Kaiser and Nimah Mazaheri  looks at the potential for conflict risk, political stability and reform prospects in relation to a country’s reliance on economic rents.  A rentier system is less likely to be a democracy, and results in opposing political outcomes. According to the paper it is common to have an absence of political inclusivity.  MENA countries rely on oil and the revenues generated by it which explains why “MENA (is the) most or second most undemocratic region of the world since 1960”.  The paper also points out that when an authoritarian regime is overthrown it rarely transitions into a democracy unless a strong independent civil society already exists.  Resource dependent countries typically have a weaker civil society, which typically leads to authoritarian rule.  The paper explores how recent developments may affect change in the MENA region in relation to recent changes due to the Arab Spring.

The contribution of the paper is threefold: first, to examine the quantitative evidence of violent conflict in the region since 1960; second, to provide a nuanced review of the regional case study literature on the relationship between resource endowments, political stability, and conflict risk; and third, to assess how prospective political transitions have implications for the World Bank Group’s work in the region on public sector management and private sector development. The authors find that resources and regimes have intersected to provide stability and limited violent conflict in the region, but that these development patterns have yielded a set of policy choices and development patterns that are proving increasingly brittle and unsustainable. A major institutional challenge for reforms will be to consolidate a requisite degree of inter-temporal credibility and stability in these regimes, while expanding inclusiveness in state-society relations.

The recent ―Arab Spring political upheavals in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have brought heightened attention to the question of whether there are shared characteristics to the region that pose particular challenges for political transitions, development and poverty reduction. The purpose of this paper is to assess the extent to which dependence on resource rents, notably from oil and gas, interacts with political economy factors to produce violent conflict. We focus on documenting the particular empirical patterns for MENA concerning historical patterns of overt conflict, oil-dependence, and political regime typologies, and assess the implications this might have for international development partners such as the World Bank.

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