Academic journal article Insight Turkey

The Demise of the Authoritarian Bargain in the Arab Middle East

Academic journal article Insight Turkey

The Demise of the Authoritarian Bargain in the Arab Middle East

Article excerpt


Often, what is called 'old' implies uselessness. The cognitive templates it possesses can no longer make sense of the present, or 'new, social reality. One simple way to establish something is now old, or out of use, is to investigate whether, or not, there is a certain degree of mismatch between the presently encountered social, economic or political phenomena and the available stock of knowledge. The Middle East, this paper argues, is certainly not a new place to the extent that the political theater of the region is still the playing field of an unrepresentative elite whose fortune disagrees with the well-being of the larger population.

The communal waves tried, but failed, to alter this resilient status quo--that is true. Nevertheless, they showed to us two things. One is that peoples of this region, especially younger generations, no longer fear pushing strong men from their posts--such as Mubarak or Ben Ali. For once, it seems, Arabs broke free from their predicaments. The other is, as this paper argues, that the post-Arab Spring Middle East is already near to a threshold of change. It will most assuredly pass the threshold once those economic conditions needed for further changes in the political order, come in to force. The only alternative to this is a protracted crisis of authoritarian political economy.

The foremost condition for various Arab countries to overcome this status of limbo is to reconcile economic development with a meaningful degree of cohesion and stability within society. For them to be able to create organic relationships between economy and society, this paper propounds that they first need to divorce from the free market economy sanctified by the IMF or the World Bank. In the last three decades, the myth of self-regulating markets delivered the greatest harm to the Arab societies. Structural adjustment policies, rather than generating optimal allocation of resources, yielded catastrophic market failures, disturbed social equality, and only served the interests of the few in the commanding heights of state and society. Authoritarian elites' false promise of rapid modernization of economies through austerity agendas only created an inapt private enterprise with no ability whatsoever to substitute for the withdrawal of state from areas of social provision. The resurgent authoritarianism in Egypt, for instance, may only hope to contain the associated social grievances, but they are far from diffusing these social tensions.

This article unfolds along the following three sections. The first section deals with authoritarian bargaining. It conceptualizes it as a social contract that previous to the era of market-oriented reforms underpinned the relationship between the repressive elites and their Arab subjects. According to that, the latter was to overlook ongoing political repression so long as material aid flows from the former in the form of subsidies, cheap credits, favors and employment. (1) The second section delves into the historical circumstances that rendered the authoritarian bargain an obsolete accumulation regime. There emerged three reasons that in interaction spelled its ruin. First, the authoritarian bargain for all its popularity among the masses became unsustainable as far as that it completely subordinated the idea of efficiency to a pseudo-socialist welfare agenda. Second is immediately related to the first factor as that escalating growth of population generated an ever-enlarging demand for state-paid employment, subsidies or credits. Finally, these two factors became a pretext for business circles and a second generation of authoritarian elites--i.e. Ben Ali, Assad, Sadat and Mubarak--to enthusiastically join in the waves of the neoliberalism--as did the rest of the World.

This same section will detail out some of the underlying reasons that set the tone towards the Arab Spring. First, the authoritarian bargain did not completely go extinct. …

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