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You are in: Home > Middle East Studies > Arab Political Demography


Arab Political Demography
Population Growth, Labor Migration and Natalist Policies

Revised and Expanded Second Edition

In the series: Demographic Developments and Socioeconomic Policies in the Middle East and North Africa

Onn Winckler

Onn Winckler is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Middle Eastern History and the Head of the Multi-Disciplinary Studies at the University of Haifa. He is the author of Demographic Developments and Population Policies in Ba’thist Syria, and co-editor of Modern Syria, as well as the author of a book on Jordanian demographic developments.


Revised and Expanded Second Edition

Written specifically for classroom and student use, with more than 35 tables and figures, this book sets out the political demographics of the Arab countries. In this revised and expanded second edition the author updates all the data; adds analysis on North African countries; and discusses the phenomenon of intra-Arab labor migration and its socioeconomic-political impacts.

List of Tables, Figures and Charts
Preface and Acknowledgments
List of Abbreviations

Introduction: The Methodological Framework of Arab Political Demography 1
The Emergence of “Poor” and “Rich” Arab States
The Concept of Political Demography

1 Sources for Demographic Research of the Arab States
An Overview of Demographic Records in the Arab Countries
Case Studies in the History of Demographic Records
The “Flickering” Nature of the Saudi Arabian Demographic Data
The “Missing” Ethno-Religious Composition of the Arab Countries
The Lacuna of Accurate Employment Data
The Research Implications of the “Informal (Hidden) Economy”
Summary and Conclusions

2 Beyond Expectations: Arab Population Growth in Retrospect
Introduction: Worldwide Population Growth in Retrospect
The Demographic Transition Theory and the Arab Countries
An Historical Examination of Population Growth in the Arab States
The Revolution of Mortality Rates in the Arab Countries
Summary and Conclusions

3 “Jobs for the Boys (and Girls)”: The Emergence of the Employment Dilemma
The Consequences of the Young Age Structure
Arab Employment Developments in Retrospect
The Increase in Disguised Unemployment and Underemployment
Unemployment as a Differentiating Factor between the Arab Countries and the Developed Countries
Summary and Conclusions

4 The “New Arab Demographic Order”: The Intra-Arab Labor Migration

The Theoretical Framework of International Labor Migration
The GCC Development Strategy following the “Oil Boom”
The Subsequent Rapid Growth of Foreign Labor
The Unique Gulf Labor Migration Pattern
The GCC Labor and Immigration Policies: “From Encouragement through Limitation to Surrender”
Evaluating the GCC Immigration and Employment Policies
The Labor Emigration Policy of the Arab Labor-Exporting Countries
Was it Worth It? The Cost/Benefit Balance of the Intra-Arab Labor
Migration for the Labor-Exporting Countries
Summary and Conclusions

5 Between Pro-Natalism and Anti-Natalism in the Arab Countries
The Attitude toward Population Growth in Historical Perspective
The Various “Population Policy” Definitions
An Historical Examination of the Western Natalist Perception until the Mid-Twentieth Century An Historical Examination of the Natalist Policies of the Arab Countries
Evaluation of the Family Planning Programs in the Arab Countries
“Direct” or “Indirect”? The Contribution of Family Planning Programs to Fertility Decline
Why Tunisia and Lebanon?
Summary and Conclusions

6 Summary and Conclusions: The Emergence of the “Arab Demographic Catch 22”

Appendix 1: Key Economic Indicators for some Arab Countries, 2005


“This volume should be required reading for understanding the demographic challenges the Arab World confronts to achieve much desired long-term economic growth and political stability.” Regional Studies

This volume makes a valuable contribution to the Arab population policy literature by tracing the evolution of population policies in the Arab countries and by describing the factors that led to changes in these policies.” Studies in Family Planning

“Onn Winckler has been for a number of years a leading light in the field of demographic studies on particular Arab countries.” David W. Lesch, Professor of Middle East History, Trinity University, Texas

“This book is must reading for scholars and policy makers concerned with the Middle East, and offers a model for regional demographic studies elsewhere.” Dale F. Eickelman, Professor of Anthropology and Human Relations, Dartmouth College

“The book offers an excellent analysis of the dismal state of data in Arab countries, and how they are manipulated for political and / or economic benefit.” Population, Space and Place

“This book by Onn Winckler is the latest in a series of 14 books or substantial reports he has written on Jordan, Syria, the Gulf States, and Israel-Palestine. It brings together several of the themes recurrent in these books and reports, which address topics such as the political economy of sustained, relatively high fertility in the Arab world and the peculiar geopolitical issues surrounding the migration of workers and their families both within the region and to and from other regions. Given Winckler’s institutional affiliation, the opportunities to conduct first-hand inquiries are limited; so, like outsiders in Europe and North America, he has had to rely on published data or information on websites. He has the added advantage of reading sources in Hebrew and Arabic, some of which are cited in his extensive bibliography. He has done a commendable job tracking down materials, statements of policy, and remarks from leaders. The careful explanatory notes for each page as well as the diligent citation of key sources are a model of academic scholarship and a service to all interested in the modern demography of the Middle East. He deals with his sources country by country at the outset, and I feel sure there are few other researchers in the region able to provide such a comprehensive overview.

The book has an interesting history. Begun as a text for students and designed to be accompanied by a second volume of detailed country case studies, the first volume, issued in 2005, apparently proved so popular that it has now been re-issued in this expanded edition but without the cases. This publication history testifies to the current strong interest in Middle Eastern society and population and to the dearth of solid texts able to provide a coherent interpretation of the region’s demography.
This is a book that scholars of the region’s demography cannot afford to overlook. It contains a mass of useful information culled from a wide variety of sources. It presents some new thoughts on why the region faces a demographic impasse and how countries seem to have missed the demographic dividend because of the timing of improvements in survival and in the decline of fertility.

Although the youth bulge and youth unemployment are severe problems, the book does not
adequately address the very rapid declines in fertility seen recently in Jordan, Palestine, Morocco, and even Egypt, which will eventually produce smaller cohorts of young people. It does draw attention to the need for new theoretical work on Arab demographic transitions, work that has to rise above the explanations often cited as peculiar to the region, such as Islam, wars, and the Arab–Israeli dispute. The region’s demography should be brought within the realm of broader theory and freed from the exceptionalism that forms so large a part of the current literature. Arabs are as strongly motivated as other populations by economic considerations, long and short term, by the institutional frameworks within which they work, and by the values of the communities in which they live. Winckler hints at how elements of such factors might be affecting the demography of the region, but falls short of producing a wholly integrated account of the dynamics of population change in the Arab states. This is no easy task and his book sets the standard for others who seek to synthesize the changes in a very diverse region in which national and local-level particularities pose a constant challenge to the construction of a general theory.” Allan, G. Hill, Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies

“Citing the demographic problem as the most acute socio-economic problem for an increasing number of Arab countries, Winckler examines the connection between demography and internal politics in the Arab countries, inter-Arab politics, and the nature of relationships between the Arab and the developed Western countries. He looks at where Arabs come from, the increase in population since independence in the 1950s, the impact of population growth on unemployment, and the Arab policy of encouraging population growth.” Reference & Research Book News

“Onn Winckler’s Arab Political Demography is a detailed account of the links between political contexts, population dynamics, and macroeconomic conditions in the Arab world. Winckler argues that socioeconomic inequality among Arab countries today is partly a function of the varied approaches that states have taken to confront rapid population growth during the 20th century.

Winckler argues that the failure of many Arab states to confront high rates of population growth have created a demographic, economic, and political Catch 22 in which historically high rates of population growth have impeded the economic gains that ultimately would have led to slower rates of population growth in the region. The strength of this book lies in its detailed account of macroeconomic, demographic, and policy trends and their ecological linkages in the region.” International Journal of Middle East Studies


Publication Details

Hardback ISBN:
Paperback ISBN:
Page Extent / Format:
330 pp. / 246 x 171 mm
Release Date:
March 2009
  Illustrated:   Yes
Hardback Price:
£32.50 / $60.00
Paperback Price:
£32.50 / $30.00

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