International Journal of Middle East Studies


Ibn Khaldun on Economic Transformation

Dieter Weissa1

a1 Department of Economics, Freie Universität Berlin, Boltzmannstr. 20, 14195 Berlin, Germany.

A number of Arab countries have been exposed to structural adjustment programs. Under the guidance of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, these programs are aimed at making various kinds of Arab socialist and mixed-economy regimes more “market-friendly,” a policy that started in the 1950s and 1960s in countries like Algeria, Tunisia, Syria, and Egypt. Considering the mounting social tension that results from continuing population growth, urban agglomeration, and unemployment, it would be naive to expect—with Fukuyama—an “end of history” as most countries try to adopt market regimes and to strengthen civil society and parliamentary democracy. As Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406) well knew, economic and social change is a never-ending process. In the search for viable and sustainable strategies it may be stimulating to consider the insights of this great scholar of the Arab world who wrote 600 years ago.


Ibn Khaldun was born in Tunis into an influential clan of South Arabian origin with substantial influence in Islamic Spain and, after the fall of Seville in 1248, in north-western Africa. He was exposed to the turmoils of his time. He held his first position in 1352 at the court at Tunis at the age of 20 and then went on to high political, administrative, diplomatic, and judicial posts in the service of various rulers in the Maghrib, Spain, and Egypt.