Nowadays world is characterized by increasing of the material demands of the society. In last 200 years the humanity consumes more and more natural resources in all over the world. That leads to exhaustion of the lands and more intensive pollution. The countries where the consumerism took its start presented the most developed level of economy. The USA is one of them. This country is one of the well-known consumerists in the modern world. The US cultural popularization spread the phenomenon of consumerism all over the world and induced it in such countries as India, Russia, Saudi Arabia and many others countries on the Middle East and Africa. It also should be stressed, that such countries and their nations pertained to the most thrifty and economical in the last few decades. The further economical development and passing to the market economy changed the polity and social system of those countries which also leaded to the popularity of consumerism among people. This paper is dedicated to the study of the approach of the Middle East society to consumerism, through the analysis of the history of establishment of the Middle East society, the global social changes that reflected on the social system of the region and the most vivid instances of consumerism on the example of the society of Saudi Arabia.
The notion of consumerism has been studied by many scientists during last decades. Thus, the definition of this notion vary, this one is the most common: “Consumerism is a social and economic order that is based on the systematic creation and fostering of a desire to purchase goods or services in even greater amounts” (Stearns, 2009. p. 582).
As it seen from the definition, the consumerism is mainly a phenomenon which is inherent for the society of the country. The society of the Middle East countries is generally studied in the connection with Islam. Local culture is the mix of different epochs that changed one another in the flow of history:
The earliest civilizations, Mesopotamia as well as the civilizations of the Levant, Persia, and Arabian Peninsula. However, it would be the Arab Caliphates of the Middle Ages, or Islamic Golden Age, that would first unify the entire Middle East as a distinct region and create the dominant ethnic identity that persists today. The Turkic Seljuk, Ottoman and Safavid empires would also later dominate the region (Stearns, 2009. p. 582).
Than Ottoman Empire took this land under control up to the end of the World War I. The region was partitioned into several independent countries, which signalized the start of the modern history of Middle East.
Starting from the 1914, the countries of Middle East started to develop independently and in their own way. Nevertheless, there were a lot of other countries that fell under the British control. Thus, Iran, Pakistan, Qatar were still under the control of one of the European leader in consumerism. The use of natural resources was still controlled by the British government.
The Second World War put the end to the rule of the last empire, which was British. The rest of the Middle East countries got independence. The revolutions and mass rivals immediately stressed such countries as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq which led to the decline in living standards and reduce of the purchasing power of the nation. Nevertheless, the establishment of pro-western Israel in 1948 and Palestine problem also played a crucial part in the establishment of consumerism trend in the society of Middle East.
In a few years after the end of World War II, the two main substates, the USA and the USSR fell into a conflict which was called The Cold War. The struggle of two political systems greatly influenced on the political and social life of Middle East too.
During the Cold War, the Middle East was a theater of ideological struggle between the two superpowers: the United States and the Soviet Union, as they competed to influence regional allies. Moreover, among many important areas of contention, were, first, the desires of the superpowers to gain strategic advantage in the region, second, the fact that the region contained some two thirds of the world’s oil reserves in a context where oil was becoming increasingly vital to the economy of the Western world (Stearns, 2009, p.590).
Thus, the rich deposits of oil and other strategic goods predetermined the further success of consumerism in Middle East. Apart from this, the region became a competitive area for the most developed economics and thus a firepoint in modern world. The USA constantly tried “to divert the Arab world from the Soviet control” Throughout the 20th and into the 21st century, the region has experienced both periods of relative peace and tolerance and periods of conflict and war. Current issues include the US Occupation of Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”. (Stearns, 2009, p. 595).
The constant wars, national segregation and social instability led to the poverty in many countries of that region. Thus, the phenomenon of consumerism is hardly possible for the society of Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Gaza sector and Palestine. But it is an inherent part of life for the ruling social circles of the country. Nevertheless, the states of OPEC made their national fortune on the independent use and access to the oil deposits. As a result, such countries as UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others rank the top place among the richest countries in the world.
According to the World Bank‘s World Development Indicators database published on July 1, 2009, the three largest Middle Eastern economies in 2008 were Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran in terms of Nominal GDP. In regards to nominal GDP per capita, the highest ranking countries are Qatar, the UAE Kuwait and Cyprus. (Stearns, 2009. p. 599).
Paying attention to these facts it is possible to make a conclusion that , the society of the Middle East enjoys one of the highest level of the GDP per capita, which significantly rises the purchasing power and thus the consumerism of the society.
Saudi Arabia is known by the wealth of its leaders and sheikhs. But recent economic researches manifest the fact that the whole country is consuming more and more resources from year to year.
The spread of consumerism in Saudi Arabia is a consequence of a complex of global and local factors. Commercial television and the internet, marketing strategies, relentless and manipulative advertising, urbanization, and proliferating shopping centers, are all components of globalization promoting emulation of the Western consumerism lifestyle. The national government subsidies and give-aways during the oil boom years due to increased national income, absence of taxes, public job availability, emerging middle class, liberal import policies, increased female participation in family purchase decisions, a burgeoning youth market, and increased per capita income have also enabled Saudi Arabia’s transformation into a consumer society. (Stearns, 2009, p.600).
Saudi Arabia is the bright example of the change of the state economics which was initially based on agriculture and then was transformed in the industrial country which main income depends on the extraction of oil and other exhaustible natural resources. The constantly rising income and improving of the living standards together with the popularization of Western lifestyle provoked the abrupt bound of consumerism in the country.
The Globalization and modernization have significantly changed the world during the last century. The world globalization started from the colonization of New World by the Europeans. The process of simple enrichment on the colonized countries served as a base for developing of consumerism in the societies of the colonizer-countries. With the flow of time the consumerism started to spread to the former colonies and to the developing countries. Middle East joined to the Western consumerism after the break of Ottoman Empire and getting under of the European economies. After World War II many Arabic and other Middle East countries passed from agricultural economics to that based on the consume of oil. The market economy brought fast development of the personal demands of the society which resulted in the establishment of consumeristic societies in the row of the Middle East countries.
Stearns, N. Peter. (2009). World History in Brief: Major Patterns of Change and Continuity. New York: Amazon.