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Why didn't the states of the Arabian peninsula industrialize around the time that Europe and East Asia did? Was it simply a lack of accessible natural resources? Why not import coal?

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Europe and East Asia didn't industrialize at the same time. In all of East Asia, probably the first country to Industrialize was Japan, and that didn't happen until the right around the beginning of the 20th century, nearly a century after the process started in Western Europe.

So really you have to compare with Europe. The big advantage here was simply one of demographics; both sheer numbers and growth.

In 1815 all the Arab states together had about 13 million people. There were perhaps about 6 million more Arabs living in the Ottoman empire (The empire had a respectable 25 million, but most of those were Turks or Balkan Europeans). This is barely more people than were living in the same area 500 years earlier. Supplying goods to that cultural area in the same way they were supplied in the 1300's was probably not much of a strain.

In that same period of time, Europe's population (not counting Russia, which is kind of a special case) exploded from about 67 million (roughly 5 times the Arab states) to nearly 200 million. Keeping 200 million human beings clothed, heated, and fed every year simply required new more efficient methods of weaving, heating, and farming.

(Population numbers taken from The New Penguin Atlas of Medieval History and The Penguin Atlas of Recent History, both by Colin McEvedy.)

  • Thanks, I think this is a convincing answer, necessity being the mother of invention. – ATaylor May 17 '13 at 11:47
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    The pop growth was a result of industrialization (and other advancements), not the opposite. – Anixx May 17 '13 at 14:25
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    I would argue that Japan begun their industrialization in the 1860's after the Meiji Restoration, and by the 20th century had modern cities with lightning, tram ways, etc. They even built their own steel warships. – Evil Washing Machine Feb 4 '14 at 0:24
  • @Anixx is right. The reason Europe grew is because industrialized agriculture, textiles, and maybe other industries supported a large growth of population. At least, that is what I've read in numerous articles about the industrial revolution. The reasons for the IR (just in Europe) are disputed btw. If I had to guess, I would guess that Arabia and surrounding regions have a lot of inhospitable terrain (desert) that makes it impossible to grow a lot of food. – DrZ214 Oct 9 '16 at 23:49
  • I believe this is the right track of thought. Why did Europe industrialize when it did and not earlier or later?Was it shipping, warfare, exponential scientific growth, plague, etc? – paulj Dec 3 '20 at 16:00
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Saudi Arabia encompasses large deserts, and industrial goods have a low "value to weight" ratio. The goods that are likely to be shipped across such deserts have a high value relative to their weight, such as cinnamin, silk, and precious metals.

At the time of the Industrial Revolution (in Europe), most people of Saudi Arabia were still nomadic. People who are nomads are not likely to build factories to "industrialize."

Also, at the time of the industrial revolution, the Hejaz, or the most advanced parts of Saudi Arabia along the Red Sea, was directly under Ottoman rule, rather than being part of the "vassal" state known as Saudi Arabia.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Saudi_Arabia

Only in modern times has Saudi Arabia had a commodity, oil, that makes it worth industrializing.

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    But the Arabian peninsula is just a small part of the Arab world. What about the rest of it? – Felix Goldberg May 19 '13 at 14:08
  • @Felix Goldberg: Here, it says that "the original homeland of the Arabs is the Arabian Peninsula." en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arab_world The rest of the "Arab World" is actually a hodgepodge of peoples including the Arabs. And the OP specifically said, "Arabian peninsula" in the first line. – Tom Au May 19 '13 at 17:36
  • Yes, but we are assuming he is asking about the 16th-17th-18th century here. Otherwise, why not ask why didn't the Byzantines industrialize? – Felix Goldberg May 19 '13 at 17:40
  • @Felix Goldberg: The OP tagged it with 20th and 19th centuries. That's about as clear as you can get. – Tom Au May 19 '13 at 17:42
  • Good point... otoh, the OP also assumed Europe and E.Asia industrialized at the same time. And he has "Arab states" in the title. Actually, the question is a bit too confusing. – Felix Goldberg May 19 '13 at 18:15
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Imperialism mainly. Egypt's attempt under Mehmet Ali was crushed by Britain and France, and the Ottoman Empire was saddled with 'free trade' treaties and concessions that made even the first stages of industrialization impossible. Other Arab regions were either colonized early on (e.g. Algeria and Tunisia) or were too impoverished and sparsely-populated (e.g. the Arabian Peninsula).

By the end of WWI nearly all Arab countries were occupied by Western powers, who installed elites that had little interest in industrialization. The military regimes that overthrew them in places like Egypt and Syria tried to make reforms, particularly agrarian reforms, but the wars with Israel and Cold War geopolitics generally frustrated their efforts at industrialization. Armies then became vehicles for vicious sectarian or tribal dictatorships. After that came the neoliberal era, where regimes ceased to even give lip service to economic development.

During that time, Saudi Arabia used its enormous oil revenues to build a modern infrastructure with generous social welfare programs, but its efforts at industrialization were very limited and frustrated by the 'resource curse' which made its currency too strong and its labour uncompetitive.

Afaf Lutfi El-Sayyid Marsot's A Short History of Modern Egypt offers a good treatment of Egypt and the Ottoman Empire in particular.

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