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Middle East


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As in most less-developed countries, economic development in the Middle East since the mid-19th century has been oriented toward production of cash crops or commodities for overseas markets. In the 19th and early 20th centuries these products were agricultural: cotton from Egypt, silk from Lebanon, and grains of various kinds from Turkey, Iraq, and Syria and its neighbors. Since the mid-20th century the main export commodities have been oil from the countries where it is located, and labor from poorer countries where it is not. Apart from the oil industry, however, the region remains largely undeveloped. It remains a net importer of most commodities, including food.

After political revolutions of the 1950s, a form of state control based on the centrally planned model of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was imposed on the economies of Egypt, Iraq, Syria, and South Yemen (now part of the Republic of Yemen). The governments of these countries set economic policy and controlled major industries. Large landholdings were broken up and redistributed, while import controls, government-directed foreign exchange rates, and subsidies on essential foodstuffs were also introduced. The Soviet Union became the main supplier of weapons to these countries. Some of this structure remains in place, but with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and worldwide tendencies toward privatization, forms of Soviet-style government assistance such as food subsidies and easy access to healthcare, education, and welfare has been greatly reduced. Meanwhile, beginning in the 1950s other pro-Western countries such as Iran, Israel, Jordan, and Turkey received financial or technical aid and military supplies from the West.

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