The Arab World's Uncomfortable Experience with Globalization

Article excerpt

The Arab World's Uncomfortable Experience with Globalization

Review Article by Robert Looney

Globalization and the Gulf, by John Fox, Nada Mourtada-Sabbah, and Mohammed alMutawa. London, UK: Routledge, 2006. 287 pages. Index to p. 298. $35.95.

Islam and the Moral Economy: The Challenge of Capitalism, by Charles Tripp. Cambridge, UK and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006. ix + 201 pages. Bibl. to p. 224. Index to p. 229. $75 cloth; $27.99 paper.

The Threat of Globalization to Arab Islamic Culture, by Mohamed El-Shibiny. Pittsburgh, PA: Dorrance Publishing Co., 2005. xi + 113 pages. Notes to p. 117. Bibl. to p. 119. $15 paper.

The globalized world faces two contradictory trends. While a globalized market opens the prospects of unimagined wealth, it also creates new vulnerabilities to political turmoil, the danger of increased income inequalities, and cultural change. As might be expected, the acceleration of globalization beginning in the 1990s stimulated a flurry of studies on its causes and effects by academics and activists alike. Most notably, Joseph Stiglitz's Globalization and Its Discontents (W.W. Norton, 2003) and Dani Rodrik's Has Globalization Gone too Far? (Institute for International Economics, 1997) combines with populist works such as Naomi Klein's No Logo (Picador, 2002) to highlight the problems and shortcomings of neoliberal globalization. It was inevitable that these criticisms would attract a response from its defenders. Two of the most credible efforts to date at redefining the benefits of globalization are Why Globalization Works (Yale University Press, 2004), by the financial journalist Martin Wolf, and In Defense of Globalization (Oxford University Press, 2005) by the economist Jagdish Bhagwati. Countless other studies have joined the fray to debate the pros and cons of globalization.

Globalization has also spawned a rash of books and articles focused on its impact in the Middle East/North Africa region. Following Clement Henry and Robert Springborg's pathbreaking Globalization and the Politics of Development in the Middle East (Cambridge University Press, 2001), the current wave includes the three books under review. While each addresses the challenges brought on by globalization, few generalizations are possible. Clearly "globalization" is a meaningful albeit ill-defined concept that connotes different things to different people. In this sense, these new contributions reflect the diverse literature on globalization.

In the West, globalization is largely viewed in economic terms - the free movement of goods, services, labor, and capital across borders. Although it does not constitute a new phenomenon, globalization is often seen as the inexorable integration of markets, nations, and technologies to an unprecedented degree. In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, however, globalization has often been discussed in largely ideological terms. It has been promoted by a few, such as King 'Abdullah of Jordan, but more often attacked as a new version of imperialism. Critics have pointed to a number of related dangers, all of which they see as part of a real or potential threat to their political, economic, and cultural independence. One thing is fairly certain, regardless of how one measures it: The MENA region as a whole remains one of the least globalized regions in the world.

The exception is the Gulf states, where globalization is proceeding at a break-neck speed. No part of the world has come into the global market more rapidly and with more change in material abundance than the oil states along the Arabian Gulf. Within two generations, the peoples of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman have turned small desert towns and seaports into urbanized states. The now overwhelmingly ultramodern Gulf societies have grown exponentially. Based on the rapid and designed development, all of which has been achieved since the advent of globalization during the 1970s, the Arabian Gulf provides the laboratory par excellence to assess and fine tune the theories of globalization. …