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.

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

Maintaining Security Cooperation with the PA Shouldn’t Require Ignoring Its Support for Terror

In accordance with legislation passed last year, the Israeli government has begun to deduct from the tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA) an amount proportional to what the PA pays to terrorists and their families. Last year, a similar law went into effect in the U.S., suspending all payments to the PA so long as it continues its “pay-for-slay” policy. The PA president, Mahmoud Abbas, has retaliated by refusing to accept any tax revenue collected by Israel—raising concerns that the PA will become insolvent and collapse—while insisting that payments to terrorists and their families are sacrosanct. To Yossi Kuperwasser, Abbas’s behavior amounts to mere extortion—which has already worked on the Europeans to the tune of 35 million euros. He urges Israel and the U.S. not to submit:

Abbas [believes] that influential Israeli and European circles, including the security establishment, view strengthening the Palestinian Authority, and certainly preventing its collapse, as being in Israel and Europe’s best interests. They will therefore give in to the pressure he exerts through the creation of an artificial economic crisis. . . .

[T]he PA leadership’s insistence on continuing wage payments to terrorists and their families, even at the price of an artificial economic crisis, shows once again that . . . the Oslo Accords did not reflect a substantive change in Palestinian national aspirations or in the methods employed to achieve them. . . . If paying wages to terrorists (including the many terrorists whose attacks took place after the Oslo Accords were in force) is the raison d’être for the PA’s establishment, as Abbas seems to be saying, . . . one cannot help asking whether Israel has to insist on maintaining the PA’s existence at any price.

True, Israel cooperates on security issues with the PA, but that serves the interests of both sides. . . . The short-term benefits Israel gains from this security cooperation, [however], are of less value than the benefits enjoyed by the Palestinians, and worth even less when measured against the long-term strategic damage resulting from Israel’s resigning itself to the constant incitement, the promotion of terror, and the political struggle against Israel carried out by the PA. Israel should not do anything to hasten the PA’s breakdown, because it has no desire to rule over the Palestinians and run their day to day lives, but it also should not feel more obligated to the PA’s continued existence than do the Palestinians themselves, thereby leaving itself open to continuous extortion.

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More about: Israeli Security, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority, Palestinian terror