Although most Arab countries remain authoritarian, many have undergone a restructuring of state-society relations. Lower- and middle-class interest groups have lost ground, while big business has benefited in terms of its integration into policy-making and the opening-up of economic sectors that used to be state-dominated. Arab businesses have also started taking on aspects of public service provision in health, media and education that used to be the domain of the state, while also becoming increasingly active in philanthropy.
Among the topics addressed by the contributing authors are: the role of business in recent regime change; the political outlook of businessmen; the consequences of economic liberalization on the composition of business elites in the Middle East; the role of the private sector in orienting government policies; lobbying of government by business interests; and the mechanisms by which governments seek to keep businesses dependent upon them.
The Arab Spring is likely to lead to a more pluralistic political order in the Middle East and this makes it all the more important to understand business interests in the region. They are a segment of society that have often been close to the ancien regime, but will undoubtedly play a pivotal role in a future social contract.