In this issue we consider “new orders” in several senses — orders of hierarchy, orders of magnitude and marching orders. Ray Hinnebusch succinctly notes the underlying theme: the struggle of capital to dominate labor, internationally via the IMF’s “liberalization” leverage and locally (in this case, the Egyptian countryside) via the regime’s deference to the interests of Egypt’s propertied classes.
A powerful consensus has emerged that the economic claims and aspirations of individuals, social classes and entire societies must accept basic and unavoidable readjustments downward. Left unexamined is the assumption that poor and working people must pay the greatest share of the cost. As Argentinian social scientist Carlos Vilas has pointed out in NACLA’s Report on the Americas (May 1992), this “is not due to any technical requirement but to their political weakness…. Structural adjustment may well be inevitable, but who suffers its consequences is a matter of the class nature of policy decisions.”
In the same journal, Argentinian historian Jose Arico observed that “the old concept of imperialism sought to explain phenomena that haven’t disappeared.” The just-released 1993 UNCTAD World Investment Report documents one of these phenomena, the increasing concentration of capital globally. Of some 37,000 multinational corporations, 90 percent of them based in the West and Japan, just 1 percent own half of the $2 trillion of multinational investment worldwide, and the top 20 firms alone control well over half of that. “Liberalization” may no longer be enough in a world where “international production is increasingly determined by factors that go beyond cheap labor,” the report argues, urging countries to “market themselves attractively” and “care less about [the] ownership structure” of multinationals inside their borders.
The Middle East accounts for a small portion of those investments, but the prominence of Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon, Mobil and other oil giants in these top ranks reminds us of the extent to which access to oil undergirds the US-Europe-Japan triad, and why the existing political order in the Middle East assumes such disproportionate attention from the military and national security establishment in Washington.
Readers interested in pursuing the Middle Eastern dimensions of structural adjustment should consult the Review of Middle East Studies 6 (1993). Roger Owen provides an excellent assessment of economic and political reforms in the Arab world and Turkey. Çağlar Keyder probes the contradictory impact of economic reforms on states in the region, increasing their centrality as “responsible interlocutors” between global capital and local societies while simultaneously decreasing their maneuverability. This process, Keyder argues, squeezes the most vulnerable groups, weakens the “national” basis of material reproduction and nourishes the communalist solution profferred by Islamist groups. These are matters to which we shall return in future issues of Middle East Report.