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University of Southern California

1. Saleh, Mohamed. Essays on the new economic history of the Middle East.

Degree: PhD, Economics, 2012, University of Southern California

This dissertation introduces economic theory, modern microeconometric methods, and new microdata sources to the study of the economic history of the Middle East. In particular, it examines an intriguing phenomenon in this field: the stylized fact that non-Muslim minorities are better off, on average, than the Muslim majority in many countries of the Middle East. ❧ The Introductory Chapter provides an overview of the research questions and the findings of the dissertation. It also describes the contribution of the dissertation to the general economics literature as well as to the field of economic history. ❧ Chapter 1 describes the digitization project of two nationally representative samples of the 1848 and 1868 Egyptian censuses from the original manuscripts at the National Archives of Egypt, and introduces an application of the data in the field of Middle Eastern economic history. These censuses are perhaps the earliest in the Middle East and among the earliest in any non-Western country to include information on all segments of society on a wide range of demographic and socioeconomic variables. ❧ Chapter 2 employs this new data source to examine the impact of state-led modernization on the socioeconomic differentials between religious groups. Over the nineteenth century, Egypt embarked on one of the world’s earliest state-led modernization programs in production, education, and the army. I examine the impact of this ambitious program on the long-standing occupational differentials and occupational and educational segregation between Muslims, Christians, and Jews. The major finding is that the modernization program did not attenuate the occupational gap or the occupational and educational segregation structure between religious groups, because it did not focus on providing access to skills to the unprivileged Muslim majority. ❧ Chapter 3 examines the impact of the transformation of elementary religious schools (kuttabs) into public modern primary schools in 1953 on the educational differentials between religious groups in Egypt. Using several new data sources, the individual-level census records from 1986, the village/urban quarter-level census records from 1897 to 1986, and the official schooling reports from 1907 to 1969, I find that the educational reform reduced the literacy gap between religious groups by the end of the twentieth century. ❧ Chapter 4 attempts to answer the question: Why are local non-Muslims minorities of the Middle East better off, on average, than the Muslim majority? It traces the origins of the phenomenon in Egypt to the imposition of the poll tax on non-Muslims upon the Islamic Conquest of the then-Coptic Christian Egypt in 640. The tax, which remained until 1855, led to the conversion of poor Copts to Islam to avoid paying the tax, and to the shrinking of Copts to a better off minority. Using new data sources that I digitized, including the 1848 and 1868 census records, I provide both econometric and qualitative evidence to support the hypothesis. Advisors/Committee Members: Costa, DoraNugent, Jeffrey B. (Committee Chair), Boustan, Leah (Committee Member), Easterlin, Richard A. (Committee Member), Miller, Donald Earl (Committee Member).

Subjects/Keywords: poll-tax; conversion; religious minorities; Copts; modernization; occupational segregation; Middle East

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APA (6th Edition):

Saleh, M. (2012). Essays on the new economic history of the Middle East. (Doctoral Dissertation). University of Southern California. Retrieved from

Chicago Manual of Style (16th Edition):

Saleh, Mohamed. “Essays on the new economic history of the Middle East.” 2012. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Southern California. Accessed May 08, 2021.

MLA Handbook (7th Edition):

Saleh, Mohamed. “Essays on the new economic history of the Middle East.” 2012. Web. 08 May 2021.


Saleh M. Essays on the new economic history of the Middle East. [Internet] [Doctoral dissertation]. University of Southern California; 2012. [cited 2021 May 08]. Available from:

Council of Science Editors:

Saleh M. Essays on the new economic history of the Middle East. [Doctoral Dissertation]. University of Southern California; 2012. Available from: