M. RIAD EL-GHONEMY
SINCE THE 1950s, THE NEAR East region has witnessed two development strategies with contrasting objectives and intended beneficiaries. The first was an anti-poverty scheme designed to benefit poor peasants (fellaheen). Its core was a distributive land reform and large-scale public land reclamation and settlement schemes. These programmes provided subsidized credit and water, and free or low-cost basic social services. In general, agricultural production was not disrupted, the peasants' command over food was enhanced and poverty levels and inequality in living standards reduced quickly. Having dramatically removed the institutional barriers against social progress in the rural economy including the land-based power of rich absentee landlords the 1950s and 1960s were indeed the fellaheen decades from an historical perspective. With a few exceptions in Algeria and Southern Yemen, the institution of private property rights has been maintained, despite controlled land and credit markets and the exclusion, in many cases, of landless hired workers from land ownership programmes.
The second development strategy emerged around the mid-1980s in conjunction with the adopted foreign debt-relief programmes and their imposed conditions with regard to prescribed macrostabilization policy and structural adjustment programmes induced by the powerful Western creditors and designed by the World Bank and the IMF. They provide fiscal and monetary remedies for deep-rooted imbalances in the national economy. The examination of the distributive impacts of these economic reforms indicate adverse effects on the rural poor and the netbuyers of food among small farmers and the increasing numbers of the landless workers, and declining real wages and per caput real income.
There also has been an increase in income gaps and land concentration and in the misery of the new poor who have suffered from the removal of subsidies, inflation, liberalisation of the land market, and from the rapid rise in interest rates. Social imbalance in most countries' development experience has worsened in terms of striking neglect of the two priority areas of health and education, contrasted with the high ratio of the unproductive military spending.
What is most worrying from available estimates is the projected increase in the number of people living in absolute poverty in the predominantly affluent Near East (excluding Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia) from 80 million in 1990 to nearly 110 million in the year 2000.
Given the increasing scarcity of present and future cultivable land in the arid Near East which is due to serious water shortage and the high costs of irrigation, the prospects for the present generation of the rural poor is gloomy if the present trend continues.