For 20 years leading up to the uprisings of 2010-2011, Egypt and Tunisia suffered the ill effects of neoliberal economic reform, even as the international financial institutions and most economists hailed them as beacons of progress in the Arab world. For ten years preceding the revolts, workers and civil society organizations led a burgeoning protest movement against the liberalizing and privatizing trajectories of the Mubarak and Ben Ali regimes. Then came the uprisings, which brokered the possibility of not only new political beginnings but also alternative economic programs that would put the needs of the struggling middle, working and poorer classes first and at least constrain, if not abolish, the privileges of a deposed ruling class.
Early each morning, dozens of workers from Jaba’ walk up a narrow set of stairs with trash strewn on either side to reach a bus stop on Highway 60, which bisects the West Bank on its way from Nazareth to Beersheva. As they climb the stairs, the workers pass a tunnel that once allowed villagers convenient access to the highway, but which has been blocked by limestone boulders, dirt and rubble since the intifada of the early 2000s. At this bend in the road, nine miles northwest of Jerusalem, much of the horizon is defined by the 20-foot high concrete separation wall.
In Nador, a regional capital located on the Mediterranean Sea at the eastern end of the Rif Mountains in Morocco, coffee shop talk often turns to the relationship with the capital city, Rabat, a five-hour car ride or a nine-hour train or bus ride to the west. Nadoris are sensitive about their status as residents of an underserved province that they believe the government disdains. But recent, locally driven economic development is also a source of pride for the region.
“We should make it up to the peasants,” Muhsin al-Batran, erstwhile head of the economic affairs unit in Egypt’s Ministry of Agriculture, told the official daily al-Ahram two months after the toppling of Husni Mubarak in 2011. “Make it up” — why? And what is it that needs to be made up?
With intensity unknown since the second intifada and at a daily cost of $12 million to the Hebron economy alone, Israel is cracking down on the West Bank in its search for three missing Israeli settler youth. The result is a growing Palestinian chorus: Stop Israeli-Palestinian “security coordination.”
The grinding war in Syria brings new horrors with every passing week. The death toll and the number of displaced people continue to soar, as more areas of the country are reduced to rubble. This month, two additional issues with dire long-term consequences have been gaining attention: the possible drought affecting the northwest and the entrenchment of a war economy.
From 1990 to 2003, Iraq languished under comprehensive UN sanctions that prohibited foreign trade. When sanctions were finally lifted, many economists and pundits, as well as Iraqis themselves, hoped for a rapidly expanding economy, brisk reconstruction and a return to prosperity. They have been sorely disappointed.
For obvious reasons, coverage of the uprising and internal war in Syria has been dominated by the terrible human toll. An estimated 60,000 Syrians (or more) have been killed, with tens of thousands more scarred bodily and emotionally by the violence. As of the end of February, over 3 million Syrians are either internally displaced or refugees in neighboring countries.
In Egypt these days, there seems to be a lot less of what Egyptians call “lightness of blood,” the easygoing bonhomie for which, in one of those stereotypes with a large grain of truth, the country is renowned. The quick-witted jocularity is diminished, the laughter muted. Instead, everywhere you turn, there is a palpable sense of ihbat, of being weighed down.
With the civil war in Syria past the point of no return, the country’s economy is undergoing unprecedented shrinkage. Inflation is running rampant. Purchasing power is plummeting as the value of the Syrian pound falls against the US dollar.
Damascus and Aleppo, the main economic hubs, are badly affected, but the country’s eastern and northeastern regions are also in dire straits.
In September 2012, declining living standards ignited a firestorm of street protests and strikes in the West Bank. The immediate spark was a sharp increase in fuel prices, alongside an increase in the value-added tax (VAT) rate. It seems that the protesters had a message for Palestinian Authority (PA) policymakers: It is no longer acceptable to blame all of Palestine’s economic woes on Israeli occupation. Demonstrators were demanding that the PA manage the economy better, the occupation notwithstanding.
Adam Hanieh, Capitalism and Class in the Gulf Arab States (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).
Renewed conflict along the border between Sudan and South Sudan follows a predictable pattern, says MERIP editorial committee member Khalid Medani in an interview with KPFA radio.
For many months, the streets of downtown Ramallah, seat of the Palestinian Authority (PA), have literally been heaps of earth. Workers have labored intensively to replace water and sewage pipes, repave roads, lay beautiful carved stones at roadsides and install thick chains along the edges of sidewalks in order to better separate pedestrian and automotive traffic. Shopkeepers have been told to reduce the size of their storefront signs; specially designed electricity poles jut skyward. Not every town resident is impressed. As they navigate the mounds of dirt, cynics joke: “The PA is covering the road to self-determination in asphalt.” “We have the sewers; all that’s left is the sovereignty.” “The streets of Ramallah are paved with white stones — who needs Jerusalem?”
Timur Kuran, The Long Divergence: How Islamic Law Held Back the Middle East (Princeton, 2011).
Readers looking at the title of Timur Kuran’s new book might be forgiven for thinking it had come from some pre-Orientalism time warp where it was still possible to make essentialist generalizations about Islamic law and Middle Eastern backwardness. And they would be mostly correct.
A fashionable description of the Islamic Republic of Iran is “garrison state,” a concept that originated in the West in the early 1940s. In a garrison state, the ruling elite is mainly composed of “specialists in violence,” and military bureaucrats dominate the social and civil spheres. In Iran’s case, the term is meant to refer to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and its rise in the state apparatus. After World War II, however, a group of social historians revised the consensus concerning the social effects of war. Observing the total mobilization of society in wartime, scholars such as Richard Titmuss noticed an increased effort by Western governments to reduce inequality.