Currencies of Power
The summer 2022 issue of Middle East Report, “Currencies of Power,” examines the contemporary economy to highlight how global capital is suffocating the region’s working classes. The authors of issue 303 make a significant contribution to the understanding of how capitalism’s modes of exploitation emerge in geographically specific ways. They do so by analyzing the geopolitics of Arab Gulf investments in the United States, the limitations of Chinese zone-based industrial cooperation in Egypt, the problems with promoting cryptocurrencies to liberate Palestinians and the politics of Turkey’s expansion of consumer loans. Several articles focus in on the often precarious lives of informal workers like the indispensable local fixers for Egyptian media production companies who film on location in Cairo and the Sudanese who must cope with crisis and revolution as they migrate to Lebanon and back in their search for ways to support their families. Finally, a book review looks at the history of the Egyptian Labor Corps and the array of coercive forms of labor control that made the expansion of capitalism in the Middle East possible.
Issue Editors: Shana Marshall, Najib Hourani and Hesham Sallam with Guest Editor Kevan Harris
On September 27, 2022, Iranian musician Shervin Hajipour posted a song to his instagram compiled of tweets from Iranians detailing the reasons they are protesting. The song quickly went viral across social media. Within days of the video’s release, Shervin Hajipour had been arrested, and the original post was taken down. But like the Persian protest songs of the past, albeit in digital form, the video continues to circulate and resonate in digital and physical space. Zuzanna Olzsewska translates the song from Persian into English and discusses its significance amidst ongoing demonstrations in Iran. [Photo: Iranians protesting the death of Mahsa Amini on a street in Tehran, October 1, 2022. Getty Images.]
Özlem Kayhan Pusane argues that the Kurdish question in general, and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in particular, will occupy a critical place on the Turkish political agenda in the run up to the summer 2023 presidential and parliamentary elections. After the leader of Turkey’s main opposition party publicly validated the beleaguered and oppressed HDP as a legitimate political actor, other opposition parties signaled their willingness to grant the HDP a more central role in Turkish politics. While the broader political atmosphere in the country is conducive to such a change, considering that all sides need Kurdish votes for victory in 2023, there are major challenges ahead.
The Egyptian military’s massacre of nearly 1,000 supporters of deposed president and Muslim Brotherhood leader Muhammad Mursi at Rabaa al-Adawiyya square in August 2013 continues to reverberate. Abdullah Al-Arian explains the massacre’s long-term impact on the Muslim Brotherhood movement and Egyptian society. He shows how President Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi’s regime continues to use the memory of Rabaa along with the extreme violence initiated by the massacre to extinguish Egyptians’ revolutionary ambitions, discredit opposition to its iron grip on state and society and silence dissent to its decimation of social welfare.
Many movies, television shows and advertisements film on location in the busy and crowded streets of Cairo. Mariz Kelada explains with ethnographic detail the complex and multilayered work of production assistants, fixers and sub-fixers to create the right conditions and relationships for filming in diverse neighborhoods and navigating inevitable tensions. Despite their precarious status as informal workers, she makes the case that their labor is integral to the formal system of media production in Egypt.
Could the use of Bitcoin allow Palestinians to escape Israeli control over the economy and money in the West Bank and Gaza Strip? Hadas Thier examines the arguments of the crypto enthusiasts and finds serious problems with their vision of liberation via Bitcoin. Thier talks to political economist Sara Roy, whose scholarship on de-development in Gaza is being used by some Bitcoin boosters, about the real roots of Palestinian oppression and why cryptocurrencies are not the solution.
State-sponsored credit campaigns are not a new strategy for Turkish governments but the low-interest consumer loans that were extended to almost 7 million people in the first months of the Covid-19 pandemic surpassed all earlier financial inclusion programs. Inviting masses into the financial sector amid stagnating or declining real wages and expecting people to reinvent themselves as entrepreneurs or small-scale investors were the main pillars of the project. It did not, however, solve the problems faced by low-income groups, women and minorities. Ali Rıza Güngen examines the state’s shifting approach to debt and the consequences for borrowers.
One of MERIP’s signature issues over the years has been the question of Palestine and the Arab-Israeli conflict—partly because of its intrinsic interest but largely because so much myth and cant clouds the mainstream media coverage of this subject that independent analysis is particularly necessary. This primer by Joel Beinin and Lisa Hajjar is a good place to start in understanding what is at stake as events unfold.
(Photo of Israeli separation barrier by Alfonso Moral.)