Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

MAGHRIB: Globalization and Business Politics in Arab North Africa: A Comparative Perspective

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

MAGHRIB: Globalization and Business Politics in Arab North Africa: A Comparative Perspective

Article excerpt

MAGHRIB Globalization and Business Politics in Arab North Africa: A Comparative Perspective, by Melani Claire Cammett. Cambridge, UK and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. xix and 218 pages. Appends. to p. 231. Bibl. to p. 254. Index to p. 265. $85.

Reviewed by Clement M. Henry

Professor Cammett has presented a richly documented analysis of the domestic conditions under which forces of global competition may encourage business groups in developing countries to organize collectively. She has converted her Berkeley PhD dissertation on North African textile and apparel industries into a highly readable account of collective action in Morocco and "business as usual" in Tunisia. The product of extensive documentary research and interviews with over 200 Moroccan and Tunisian business people and other professionals (listed in an Appendix by position so as to preserve their anonymity), her study will be of interest to students of political economy and comparative politics and should be available in an affordable paperback edition. It conveys a subtle appreciation of the conditions under which neo-liberal economic reform may or may not engender collective political capacities of business communities. There are no simple correlations between economic and political liberalization.

Cammett argues that two dimensions of business-government relations shape business responses to the challenges of economic globalization: first, the balance of power between government and business before economic opening to international markets, and second, the degree of concentration of business capital structure. Although the two dimensions could logically entail four possibilities, she focuses on only two: the Moroccan situation of relative balance of power between government and highly concentrated capital, on the one hand, and the Tunisian situation of a government dominating a multiplicity of firms with a dispersed capital structure, on the other. She admits there is a third possibility, namely of government dominance and concentrated capital structure as in pre-democratic South Korea. Countries like Algeria, where Houari Boumediene (1965-1978) promoted a far larger industrial base than Morocco's or Tunisia's would also fit here, albeit with public rather than private capital. The fourth possibility, of dispersed capital and a balance of power, would already presuppose active business associations and/or very weak government (as in Lebanon) to make the balance.

Cammett re-labels the two situations as "close" (Morocco) and "distant" (Tunisia), to convey the idea that Morocco's small number of big businesspeople has historically enjoyed cozy relations with the government administration, whereas the much more powerful Tunisian administration is more distant from large numbers of small entrepreneurs. She relates these different business structures to the respective independence struggles. Whereas the victorious Neo-Destour eliminated large, for the most French colonial, holdings in Tunisia, the Moroccan independence movement incorporated a wealthy Fassi bourgeoisie and finally, in 1973, allowed a decree on the "Moroccanization" of foreign holdings that was amended to enable private Moroccans as well as the administration to gain control. Cammett explains that the original intention of the legislation was nationalization but that "wealthy Fassi families who were 'in permanent residence in the antechamber of the King' successfully lobbied for the amendment" (p. …

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