Institutional Roots of Authoritarian Rule in the Middle East: Civic Legacies of the Islamic Waqf

40 Pages Posted: 13 Jun 2014

See all articles by Timur Kuran

Timur Kuran

Duke University - Department of Economics

Date Written: June 12, 2014


In the pre-modern Middle East the closest thing to an autonomous private organization was the Islamic waqf. This non-state institution inhibited political participation, collective action, and rule of law, among other indicators of democratization. It did so through several mechanisms. Its activities were essentially set by its founder, which limited its capacity to meet political challenges. Being designed to provide a service on its own, it could not participate in lasting political coalitions. The waqf’s beneficiaries had no say in evaluating or selecting its officers, and they had trouble forming a political community. Thus, for all the resources it controlled, the Islamic waqf contributed minimally to building civil society. As a core element of Islam’s classical institutional complex, it perpetuated authoritarian rule by keeping the state largely unrestrained. Therein lies a key reason for the slow pace of the Middle East’s democratization process.

Keywords: Middle East, Ottoman Empire, Turkey, Arab world, Egypt, Islamic law, sharia, waqf, democracy, autocracy, civil society, political participation, collective action, coalition, corporation, foundation, trust, institutional change.

JEL Classification: N9S, H10, H4

Suggested Citation

Kuran, Timur, Institutional Roots of Authoritarian Rule in the Middle East: Civic Legacies of the Islamic Waqf (June 12, 2014). Economic Research Initiatives at Duke (ERID) Working Paper No. 171, Available at SSRN: or

Timur Kuran (Contact Author)

Duke University - Department of Economics ( email )

213 Social Sciences Building
Box 90097
Durham, NC 27708-0204
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics