It would be not merely simplistic but quite wrong to think that in the fourteenth century Ibn Khaldun described the characteristics of an objectively underdeveloped country.
He was studying medieval structures which slowed down or blocked social, political, and economic development It was only several hundred years later that these structures combined with outside influences to facilitate colonization, and colonization determined the appearance of the phenomenon of underdevelopment.
Ibn Khaldun was not studying a major localized event such as an invasion and its aftermath; he makes no systematic distinction between the character of the Maghreb before and after the crisis.
But he does make a methodical analysis of the permanent political and social structures that characterized North Africa.
They argue that the crisis was the result of the gradual invasion of North Africa by nomadic Arab tribes from the east, first the Beni Hilal and then the Beni Solayn. Ibn Khaldun gives no methodical account of the underlying causes of this destructive phenomenon.
The describes a series of upheavals and crises, and several unsuccessful attempts to establish a centralized monarchy.Provided that they are analysed with care, the most important and original features of Ibn Khaldun's work can now be seen as a major contribution to the study of the underlying causes of underdevelopment.It must, however, be stressed that the relationship between the work of the Maghrebian historian and underdevelopment is far from straightforward.The modern historians who established this theory left aside all the facts that did not support it.Yet both the facts and the information provided by Ibn Khaldun are often in complete contradiction with the “Arab invasion” thesis.In the excerpt below, Lacoste shows how Ibn Khaldun's work refutes the myth of the "Arab invasions [of the Maghreb] of the eleventh century," despite the uses to which it has been put by the authors of the myth.Many contemporary historians and specialists in North African history give the impression that the major interest of Ibn Khaldun's work is that it provides us with a complete explanation of the crisis that put an end to the social and economic development of the Maghreb. Julien, the most famous specialist in North African history, the Hilalian invasion was “the most important event of the entire medieval period in the Maghreb.” It was, he writes, “an invading torrent of nomadic peoples who destroyed the beginnings of Berber organization — which might very well have developed in its own way and put nothing whatever in its place.” does not provide a systematic account of this crisis, the effects of which were still visible in the fourteenth century.Taken out of context, this much-quoted passage does appear to provide a sound basis for the “Arab invasion” thesis.But what are we to make of the following statement from the same author?As we shall see, Ibn Khaldun is quite right to classify them together.We are not, then, dealing with “nomads,” “Bedouins,” or “Arabs” but rather with groups having similar political and social structures though very different “ways of life.”Ibn Khaldun does make a methodological distinction between two major groups which are usually referred to as “Arabs” or “Bedouins” and “sedentary groups” respectively.