The Vulgar Marxism of Middle East Analysts

Nov. 29 2018

If economic growth and development can take hold in the Middle East—goes an argument heard often from policymakers, pundits, and even casual observers—the region’s problems will evaporate. To Steven A. Cook, this argument is simply a variation of Karl Marx’s belief that there is “an underlying economic cause for every political phenomenon.” Cook notes that the Egyptian protestors who began the 2011 uprising did not simply demand bread, but “bread, freedom, and social justice”:

Despite mounds of evidence [to the contrary], the U.S. policy community has been generally slow to recognize the shortcomings of [its] half-baked economic determinism. The reasons for this are both obvious (there is a glaring need for economic development in the Middle East) and mundane (foreign-service officers have a fairly good sense of what they need to do to help countries develop their economies). . . . U.S. officials have devoted resources to economic development in friendly countries in the region . . . because they tend to believe in the “fat and happy” theory of politics. If people benefit from the system, they are unlikely to rise up against it. [But] this is not always true. Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria are cautionary tales of countries that experienced (uneven) growth and [then] became unstable. . . .

Take, for example, the case of Turkey under the Justice and Development Party (AKP). President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been successful for so long because he . . . has a vision that encompasses a broader spectrum of issues in addition to prosperity. And, of course, it helped that Turkey clocked high economic growth for a good portion of the 2000s. But the other components of AKP’s transformative agenda—allowing people to live their religious identities more freely, the establishment of Turkey as a regional power with broader ambitions, and an uncompromising nationalism, to name a few—were also critical to the party’s longstanding success. . . .

The counterexample to Turkey is Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt. . . . From the perspective of U.S. policymakers at the time, the fact that Mubarak appointed an economic policy team of self-declared reformers who were empowered to pursue neoliberal policies was a positive development that would finally put Egypt on track for sustained growth and stability. [But] Mubarak’s failure to articulate a positive, moral, uplifting future that Egyptians could believe in meant it was hard to rally anyone to his defense at the first sign of trouble. The folks who tell you that the economy is paramount would have predicted a different outcome.

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Egypt, Karl Marx, Middle East, Politics & Current Affairs, Turkey

“Ending the War in Yemen” Would Lead to More Bloodshed and Threaten Global Trade

Dec. 13 2018

A bipartisan movement is afloat in Congress to end American support for the Saudi-led coalition currently fighting the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. With frustration at Riyadh over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, reports of impending famine and a cholera outbreak in Yemen, and mounting casualties, Congress could go so far as to cut all funding for U.S. involvement in the war. But to do so would be a grave mistake, argues Mohammed Khalid Alyahya:

Unfortunately, calls to “stop the Yemen war,” though morally satisfying, are fundamentally misguided. . . . A precipitous disengagement by the Saudi-led coalition . . . would have calamitous consequences for Yemen, the Middle East, and the world at large. The urgency to end the war reduces that conflict, and its drivers, to a morality play, with the coalition of Arab states cast as the bloodthirsty villain killing and starving Yemeni civilians. The assumption seems to be that if the coalition’s military operations are brought to a halt, all will be well in Yemen. . . .

[But] if the Saudi-led coalition were to cease operations, Iran’s long arm, the Houthis, would march on areas [previously controlled by the Yemeni government] and exact a bloody toll on the populations of such cities as Aden and Marib with the same ruthlessness with which they [treated] Sanaa and Taiz during the past three years. The rebels have ruled Sanaa, kidnapping, executing, disappearing, systematically torturing, and assassinating detractors. In Taiz, they fire mortars indiscriminately at the civilian population and snipers shoot at children to force residents into submission.

[Moreover], an abrupt termination of the war would leave Iran in control of Yemen [and] deal a serious blow to the global economy. Iran would have the ability to obstruct trade and oil flows from both the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab el-Mandeb strait. . . . About 24 percent of the world’s petroleum and petroleum products passes through these two waterways, and Iran already has the capability to disrupt oil flows from Hormuz and threatened to do so this year. Should Iran acquire that capability in Bab el-Mandeb by establishing a foothold in the Gulf of Aden, even if it chose not to utilize this capability oil prices and insurance costs would surge.

Allowing Tehran to control two of the most strategic choke points for the global energy market is simply not an option for the international community. There is every reason to believe that Iran would launch attacks on maritime traffic. The Houthis have mounted multiple attacks on commercial and military vessels over the past several years, and Iran has supplied its Yemeni proxy with drone boats, conventional aerial drones, and ballistic missiles.

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at The Hill

More about: Iran, Oil, Politics & Current Affairs, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen