Oil and the rentier state in the Middle East

Authored by: Thomas Richter

The Routledge Handbook to the Middle East and North African State and States System

Print publication date:  November  2019
Online publication date:  November  2019

Print ISBN: 9780367358877
eBook ISBN: 9780429342486
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter examines the impact of hydrocarbons in the region. Oil income was used for state building as a result of nationalizations and the oil price boom of the 1970s. Oil goes through booms (1973–86, 2007–14) and busts (1986–2004) correlating with state building surges and periods when states were weakening. Thus, Hydrocarbons also shaped the form state building took. Regimes tend to be more autonomous from and less accountable to society since they do not depend on taxes; but they are also weak organizationally, flabby since they do not need to develop resource extraction mechanisms to fund the state. Economic policies are often inefficient in the use of resources. Rent also deters democratization and sustains authoritarian rule: Rentier states combined with large dynastic ruling families are especially resistant to change. Transfers of income in aid or remittances to the oil-poor regional states reproduced some of the rentier effect region-wide. The concentration of hydrocarbons in the region therefore goes some way to explaining the coexistence of weak states with durable authoritarian regimes.

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