Morning Brief

A scope for Defensive Developmentalism in the MENA region

Defensive Developmentalism in the MENA region was aimed at preventing European assimilation, but ended up in class polarization.
Published by
Central Office
on April 16, 2023
on April 16, 2023
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State building, capacity increasing, and strategic deterrence were topics of concern for the Ottoman bureaucracy in the late 19th century.

Defensive modernization or defensive developmentalism became the main politico-economic strategy in the 19th century through which many political leaders in the MENA region tried to reorganize the state administratively through numerous reforms aimed at centralizing decision-making (Chalcroft, 2016, p. 54). These transformations were to take place amid concerns about Europe's advanced military, economic and administrative capabilities, as well as the fear that the region will be gradually assimilated by European powers (Anderson, 1987, p. 5). Therefore, the European proximity advanced the plans for what Anderson called ``relatively protected position in time and space`` that the regional leaders sought in an attempt to consolidate their strategic autonomy from Europe (Anderson, 1987, p. 5). The defensive modernization was thus the instrument to achieve this ``protected position``.

The main characteristics of the process of state-centralization and empire-building in the Middle East through defensive developmentalism are represented by the strengthening of the bureaucratic apparatus, the strengthening of military forces, the centralization of taxation and the formation of an efficient tax collection system that supports not only the bureaucratic and administrative apparatus, but also the military forces, land and legal reforms, building infrastructure and increasing the process of industrialization (Anderson, 1987, p. 2) (Chalcroft, 2016, pp. 54-56). John Chalcraft states the example of the Ottoman Empire which during the 18th century was decentralized and had various models of sovereignty within it. Following the Ottoman defensive developmentalism throughout the 19th century, the empire was ruling with centralized administrative, fiscal and juridical apparatuses by the early 20th century (Chalcroft, 2016, p. 55). These characteristics of state-centralization and empire-building in the MENA led to the integration of the region into an economic system dominated by European forces. These economic changes created winners and losers as members of some classes were to be advantaged to the detriment of others (Burke, 1991, p. 26). As part of the economic integration with Europe, the port cities of the region, such as Tangier, Alexandria, Beirut and Izmir have grown strongly compared to other inland cities, an aspect that has favoured many merchants (Chalcroft, 2016, pp. 55-56). Unfortunately, on the other hand, the same economic integration disadvantaged the peasants who could not adapt to the new changes (Burke, 1991, p. 26). Moreover, through defensive developmentalism, the centralized authority increased its control over the countryside and raised the taxes which burdened the peasants. These winners and losers caused riots within society as the discrepancies between social classes deepened (Burke, 1991, p. 26).

In conclusion, behind the process of state-centralization and empire-building is the fear of the regional states in MENA not to be assimilated by European neighbours with a higher military and administrative capacity. Through defensive developmentalism, MENA regional leaders sought to strengthen their autonomy from Europe but economic integration with the same bigger neighbour that followed this process created discrepancies within societies and led to tensions between the winners and the losers of defensive modernization that affected the survival of the central administration of the state/empire whose aim through defensive modernization was to consolidate its own legitimacy.



John Chalcraft (2016). “Millenarianism, renewal, justice, rights and reform, 1798–1914.” In Popular Politics in the Making of the Modern Middle East. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lisa Anderson (1987), The State in the Middle East and North Africa, Comparative Politics, 20:1, pp. 1-18.

Edmund Burke III, “Changing Patterns of Peasant Protest in the Middle East, 1750-1950,” in Peasants and politics in the modern Middle East, Kazemi, Farhad, and Waterbury, John, Florida University Press, 1991

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