Labor

Sudanese Migrants’ Labor in Times of Economic Crisis and Revolution

“I have worked so much,” Hamze told me, laughing, “It’s all the same.” Hamze grew up working on his parents’ land in Gezira, two hours south of Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. Gezira is known for its fertile land and irrigation-based agrarian production but, like many...

Rethinking Informal Labor Through the Lens of Film Production in Cairo

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.

Currencies of Power

The summer 2022 issue of Middle East Report, “Currencies of Power,” examines the contemporary global economy to highlight how the tightening noose of global capital is suffocating the region’s working classes. MERIP has always been dedicated to issues of justice in the Middle East and North Africa—in Palestine, for gay and trans people and for victims of US imperialism and its dependent dictatorial regimes. But when it began in 1971 MERIP was also committed to a materialist political economy perspective and Marxist frames of analysis. Articles covered regional relations with the Soviet bloc and the (often largely symbolic) socialist features of the postcolonial Arab governments.

Rethinking Informal Labor Through the Lens of Film Production in Cairo

Mariz Kelada 07.26.2022

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.

Putting Workers on the Map

When the first issue of MERIP Reports was published in May 1971, discussions of labor relations and workers were common in the New Left circles from which its editors emerged but were nearly invisible in debates about the Middle East and North Africa among American...

Labor Organizing on the Rise Among Iranian Oil Workers

Oil workers in Iran have been striking since June 19, 2021, leading some observers to ask whether protests are becoming routine within the existing political system or are a prelude to a bigger uprising. The authors explain what makes these strikes remarkable, why Iran’s neoliberal policies pushed workers to organize and how the state and society are reacting.

The Politics of Commemorating the Abolition of Slavery in Post-Revolutionary Tunisia

In 2019, eight years after the Arab Spring uprisings, President Béji Caïd Essebsi declared that Tunisians would commemorate the abolition of slavery on January 23 each year. It was on this date in 1846 that the then-governor of Ottoman Tunisia, Ahmad Bey, signed a decree authorizing enslaved Black people to request manumission certificates. Dating back to the medieval period, this region—like other parts of the Mediterranean and the Muslim world—had relied on the work of African as well as European enslaved men and women.

Understanding Race and Migrant Domestic Labor in Lebanon

The dire financial and political crises in Lebanon have made migrant domestic workers even more vulnerable to abuses of the kafala system of sponsorship. Kassamali explains the history of this labor system in Lebanon and the intersecting roles of race, class, nationality and gender in the hierarchies it produces.

Remembering Slavery at the Bin Jelmood House in Qatar

Memories of enslavement are often silenced and yet suffuse everyday life in the Gulf. As governments across the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries memorialize a maritime, pre-oil Indian Ocean past as part of their nation-building projects, the Bin Jelmood House—a museum in the heart of Doha—stands as a potentially subversive space. The museum forces visitors and Gulf residents to reckon with slavery and the exploitation of labor, in the past and present. Yet the larger context around the museum begs the question: How are national imaginaries produced and deployed in the international arena through museums and heritage projects and do they illuminate or obscure historical and contemporary injustices?

Understanding Race and Migrant Domestic Labor in Lebanon

The dire financial and political crises in Lebanon have made migrant domestic workers even more vulnerable to abuses of the kafala system of sponsorship. Kassamali explains the history of this labor system in Lebanon and the intersecting roles of race, class, nationality and gender in the hierarchies it produces.

Who is “Indian” in the Gulf? Race, Labor and Citizenship

How do race and racism operate in the Gulf? Neha Vora and Amélie Le Renard closely examine how the term “Indian,” as it is used in the United Arab Emirates, refers to much more than national origin. They trace the role of colonialism, capitalism and the state in creating “Indian” as a racialized category in contrast to an imagined pure Gulf Arab identity. Attempts to police the boundaries between citizens and non-citizens obscures the Gulf’s truly multicultural and multiracial history and present.

The Prince’s Speech and Activist Grievances in Jordan

On April 3, 2021, Prince Hamzeh bin Hussein of Jordan was confined by the Jordanian armed forces to his home and cut off from outside communication. While many observers speculate about palace politics, Matthew Lacouture delves into the significance of the prince’s statements decrying corruption and economic mismanagement. He shows how Hamzeh’s words echo the grievances of activists as he traces the evolving discourses of labor, youth and popular mobilizations across Jordan.

Labor Activists, the Living Wage and State Law in Iran

Fruzan Afshar 02.9.2021

Fruzan Afshar traces the contested politics and complex law of setting the minimum wage and cost of living figures in Iran. She shows how Iranian labor activists are making innovative use of the state’s labor laws to secure political inclusion and a platform to voice demands.

Palestinian Workers in Israel Caught Between Indispensable and Disposable

Lucy Garbett 05.15.2020

While people around the world are under lockdown, Palestinian workers in Israel continue to labor in the now accelerated construction sector. While Israel’s project of control and expansion exploits their labor, Palestinians are put at greater risk without proper testing, accommodations or healthcare.

Another Brick in the Wall

Zep Kalb 11.2.2017
At ten o’clock in the morning, Thursday October 5, 2017, about 500 teachers gathered in front of the Budget and Planning Office in Tehran. [1] They were joined by thousands of colleagues protesting in front of education offices in a reported 21 cities across the...

Labor and Class in Iran

Paola Rivetti 05.26.2017
Mohammad Maljoo is a Tehran-based economist researching labor issues and the transformation of capital-labor relations in post-revolutionary Iran. Widely published in several languages, Maljoo is also the Persian translator of numerous books on political economy by...

BDS in a Time of Precarity

The University of Toronto is not known as a particularly progressive institution. Like many universities, it has adopted neoliberal thinking and practice, becoming part of Academia, Inc. But two seemingly unrelated events during the 2014-2015 academic year showcased the increasing political activity of the school’s graduate student body.

Palestinian Workers Campaign for Social Justice

On the hot afternoon of April 19, 2016, thousands of workers and unemployed took to the streets of the West Bank city of Ramallah in protest the labor policies of the Palestinian Authority (PA). As the sun beat down on their shoulders, the marchers remained defiant, shouting “Haramiyya! (Thieves!),” as they reached the rally point in front of the Council of Ministers and Ministry of Interior buildings. Organizers from independent workers’ movements, left political parties and women’s committees took turns addressing the crowd from a makeshift platform on the back of a truck. PA police and security forces were deployed, some in riot gear and armored vehicles, but they did not visibly interfere. The demonstration was the first public, collective manifestation of a campaign against Social Security Law 6, ratified by decree on March 9, 2016 by President Mahmoud ‘Abbas.

A Lonely Songkran in the Arabah

The colonization of Palestine began in the late nineteenth century with the First Aliyah, or Zionist immigration, and the establishment of plantations worked by Palestinians under the management of Jewish settler-owners. A generation later, the “socialist” or “labor settlement” wing of the Zionist movement began its ascendance to hegemony via the “conquest of labor,” with the demand that Jewish-owned farms employ the Jewish proletarians who were streaming into the country in the wake of World War I. The battle ended with a commitment of the central Zionist institutions to the financing of land purchases for communal and collective farms (kibbutzim and moshavim, respectively), which would provide a prestigious if not luxurious livelihood for these European worker-pioneers. The new communities prided themselves on their commitment to labor qualified as “Hebrew”—that is, exclusive of Palestinians—and “self-”—that is, rejecting of “exploitative” wage relations.

Whither Iranian Petrochemical Labor?

On November 4, 2012, there were two snapshots of a deeply unequal struggle between labor and capital in Iran—a struggle that had begun two years earlier with a strike of temporary workers at the Mahshahr Petrochemical Complex. In Mahshahr, at the head of the Persian Gulf, Faraveresh, one of the five public-sector companies at the Complex, reached an agreement with the strikers, committing to remove the private middleman who had hired the workers and to sign direct contracts with them as soon as possible.

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