Getting Poorer

Why Islamic nations are falling behind

The relatively well-educated men responsible for the September 11 terrorist attacks against the United States were citizens of Muslim-dominated "failed states." They came from nations that possess neither a modern politics responsive to public pressures nor a prosperous economy. It is important that we understand the economic facts behind those failures. Economic conditions contributed not only to the terrorism itself but also to the distressing degree of support for the attacks evident in the Islamic world.

About 70 percent of the global Muslim population lives in fifteen countries. I want to examine the economies of those countries by considering them in three groups. The first group is composed of the six oil-rich nations bordering the Persian Gulf: Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, and-the largest of this group-Saudi Arabia. The countries in the second group are also petroleum-rich, but are not geographically concentrated. They include Libya, Iran, Syria, Yemen, and Nigeria. In my third category are the large Muslim-dominated societies that stand outside of the club of oil producers-for example, Egypt, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Bangladesh.

It is not a surprise to learn that the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of the oil-rich Gulf states averages $12,390, far higher than the global average of about $7,000. But what comes as a shock is that between 1975 and 1999, four of...

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About the Author

Jay Mandle is the W. Branford Wiley Professor of Economics at Colgate University. He is also director of development for Democracy Matters (