The US Federal Reserve Bank recently reported that over one third of the wealth in the United States is currently held by only 1 percent of all families. And in recent years, it seems, concentration has actually been increasing. Wealth, and the power that goes with it, is in the hands of the very few, though largely invisible in everyday existence.
Looking at wealth and power in the Middle East, we confront not invisibility but distortions of another sort: images of ostentatious and undeserved wealth piled up by modern pirates — corrupt heads of state, venal merchants, and parasitic speculators and middlemen. Beyond the media, in World Bank reports and underground Communist tracts alike, any mention of an entrepreneurial, production-oriented Middle Eastern bourgeoisie has been as scarce as water in the Arabian desert. Still less was anyone inclined to discuss such a thing as an organized class of capitalists in the region. But like it or not, a bourgeoisie seems to be on the scene and growing fast. In this issue we take a look at the new economic and social power of this class, as well as personal histories of some of its members. Many questions remain. How large is this class and how fast is it growing? What are its cross-national links in the region and beyond? There appears to be a common denominator — a strong state which provides conditions for the class to grow and then later takes a more passive role in an “open door” era. But the relationship of the new bourgeoisie to political power is unclear: Monarchies and the military remain at the helm of state in most of the region’s countries. This issue of Middle East Report is only the beginning of a larger inquiry and we welcome comments and future editorial contributions on the topic from our readers.
When reflecting on the astonishing wealth assembled by a few families in the Middle East or the United States, we are painfully reminded of the lack of resources that MERIP daily faces and the opportunities that we must let pass as a result. Thanks to the generous outpouring of support since our appeal in early July, we have been able to continue our most basic work, but we still are well short of our goal for 1986. By the end of December we need to raise over $12,000 more on our regular appeal, a small sum by the standards of the wealthy but a very large and very critical sum to MERIP. To raise it, we need 10 more Pacesetters giving $250 or more, 40 more Sustainers giving $100 or more, 30 more Associates giving $50 or more and about 100 contributions of less than $50. MERIP maintains its integrity and independence through such active support from its readers and that support has never been more important than now. To the many readers who gave for the first time or who increased their giving this year, we say special thanks. To those who have not yet given and those who are considering making another gift, we ask that you send a contribution soon.
The mass media in the United States responded with unprecedented amnesia to revelations of a government disinformation campaign last August on Libya. Bob Woodward, who broke the story in early October in the Washington Post, reported that “the Reagan administration launched a secret and unusual campaign of deception.” The government had planted stories in the major media about Qaddafi’s terrorist plans and US steps to overthrow him, Woodward reported. Adm. John Poindexter, Reagan’s national security adviser, outlined the campaign, based on suggestions from the State Department, in a secret memorandum. Reagan signed a version of the Poindexter memo in the form of a Presidential Directive in mid-August. Ten days later, a planted story appeared in the Wall Street Journal. Eventually, false and misleading news put out by the government was reported in almost all the major press and broadcast media. Was this really as “unusual” as Woodward makes out? The stories on the disinformation campaign seem as deceptive as the campaign itself. “If journalists were lied to, that’s simply not right,” said the president of the Associated Press. Dozens of other media executives and commentators echoed the theme. But not a single story mentioned previous government fabrications about Libya, purveyed uncritically by the media, or such obvious precedents as the Gulf of Tonkin incident.
When the US bombed Libyan cities last April, it claimed it had “positive proof” of a Libyan connection to the terrorist attack on a Berlin disco in which one US soldier was killed. No proof was offered. No evidence of any kind has since been made public and it seems that none exists. Yet the media has not bothered to investigate the story or to consider its implications. Stars and Stripes, the daily paper for US enlisted men and women, interviewed Manfred Ganschow, chief of Berlin’s Staatsschutz police and head of the German investigation, on April 28, more than three weeks after the disco bombing. Ganschow told the reporter: “I have no more evidence that Libya was connected to the bombing than I had when you first called me two days after the act. Which is none.” When asked about the “positive proof” that the US government claimed to have, Ganschow responded, “I can’t speak for the politicians.” “This seems to be a highly political case,” commented the reporter. Replied Ganschow, “I’ll go along with that.”