woensdag 10 februari 2010

The Neoliberalisation of Arab Societies: A Future of Poverty, Inequality and the Survival of Authoritarianism

When we consider the social challenges facing the Arab nation, we usually remain fixated on the most immediate and manifest ones. Moreover, we often also get stuck on processes taking place at the high levels of international relations. Though these levels undoubtedly represent vital Arab issues, we – Arabs living abroad – aren’t usually that aware of another phantom currently wandering across the nation: Neoliberalism. The rise of neoliberalism as an ideology and practice has after all brought about substantial changes in Arab politics and societies. But what do these changes imply for the average citizens in the Arab world? Which perspective do they offer them? Let us first of all begin by unriddling this neoliberalism. Neoliberalism sensu largo refers to a policy and social reality where the ‘market’ replaces the ‘state’ as the manager of society, the economy and politics. In concreto, this implies that some elements of state power are taken over by foreign companies. In some cases the result is the development of so-called Special Economic Zones or other types of Free Trade Zones. However, one can wonder if this doesn’t evoke the deathblow of authoritarianism in the Arab world. Is neoliberalism hence not inducing freedom? Unfortunately not! In a neoliberal politico-economic system states enter partnerships with the private sector. The private and the public remain no longer opponents, but instead become partners in the joint governance of society. They become interdependent and need each other so as to consolidate their respective power bases. Hence, the state itself becomes a stakeholder in investments and thus its responsibility towards its citizens moves away towards international investors. So what does all this entail for the common people in Arab societies? Poverty and a growing inequality. Neoliberalisation leads after all to the creation of different spaces of development which reinforce the already existing socio-economic gap between rich and poor. In Morocco for instance, the state is already well two decades engaged in the creation of a specific context of regularization wherein market mechanisms can thrive easily. The regularization of labour has been adjusted so as to make Moroccan labourers attractive for international investments. These tendencies are f.i. noticeable in the ongoing development projects of the Tanger Free Zone in the upper north or the Casanearshore-project in Casablanca. Such projects lead to a striking spatial inequality whereas ‘enclaves’ are being put up on behalf of international investors and the local rich who strive after unbridled consumption and entertainment. Hence, what do all these ambitious projects offer the common Moroccan man/woman? Nothing … except maybe for some temporal jobs as kitchen staff, servant maid or cleaning staff.
Moreover, in Morocco, the introduction of neoliberalism succeeded to consolidate the already tenacious authority of the monarchy. Like many countries of the Third World, Morocco built up a huge national debt in the 60’s and 70’s. In order to alleviate this debt, it received in 1983 its first Structural Adjustment Program imposed by the IMF. In exchange the Moroccan state had to reduce employment in the public sector, cut off state subsidies (which led to the so-called ‘bread riots’ of the 80’s), privatize government undertakings and liberalize the economy. But did this trimming down of the state cause any loss of monarchical power? Nope, the Moroccan regime succeeded to accommodate to that new politico-economic reality and turned out to become the biggest domestic private investor itself. Its main task has since become the promotion and stimulation of unbridled free enterprise and not the socio-economic development of ‘its subjects’. This neoliberalisation of society is unfortunately a widespread phenomenon in most Arab countries. Hence, the Moroccan and all Arab futures are already marked: domestic and international capital will more and more attempt to colonize public spaces at the expense of the social, economic and political development of the common people. It is hence imperative upon all Arab peoples to bear in mind that a struggle against imperialism necessarily involves resisting neoliberalism as it is one of its hidden though ugliest faces…

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