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
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.
With Lebanon’s crumbling power sector in crisis and unable to meet even a fraction of demand, the government and reformers offer competing visions for how to fix it. Zachary Davis Cuyler delves into the country’s currently dire financial and energy situation, the proposed solutions and their implications for the ruling elite and the increasingly impoverished Lebanese people.
The Club (Kulüp), produced by Netflix, is set in the mid-1950s among the cast, crew and management of a trendy nightclub in the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul. In addition to the use of Ladino, the language of Turkey’s Jewish population, the show uniquely represents Istanbul’s minority populations, their contributions to cultural life and their experiences of persecution. James Ryan elucidates these unusual characteristics that distinguish the show from a typical Turkish soap opera and provides fascinating context to its real-life historical elements.
Genocide, Historical Amnesia and Italian Settler Colonialism in Libya—An Interview with Ali Abdullatif Ahmida
In the late 1920s, the Italian fascist regime implemented a campaign of ethnic cleansing in eastern Libya to create more land for Italian settlers and quell armed resistance to colonization. Ali Abdullatif Ahmida’s new book, Genocide in Libya: Shar, a Hidden Colonial History, examines this forgotten case of settler-colonial violence. Jacob Mundy talks to Ahmida about the genocide, the kind of research methods he had to develop to uncover this history and its present-day relevance.
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.)