The Middle East in a Globalized World
Papers from the Fourth Nordic Conference on Middle Eastern Studies, Oslo 1998
Edited by Bjørn Olav Utvik and Knut S. Vikør
About this volumeIs globalization an inevitable development that the Middle East must only adapt to, for better or for worse? An opportunity to join the global village? Or is it an imperialist strategy that denies the peoples of the developing world a chance to realize their potentials? Is the cultural influence of globalization only one-way, from the North to the South, or is the Middle East also a producer of a globalizing discourse? These are the kinds of questions that the articles in this collection raise. The answers do not speak with one voice, but their concern is the same, to place a critical focus on the process of globalization in the Middle East, but also to see the Middle Easterners as actors and not just as victims in the process.
Globalization can as many such 'topical' concepts have many meanings. In one type of discourse, it is equivalent to the spread of, on the one hand, liberal values, democracy and respect for human rights on a universal arena that can no longer accommodate 'particularist' restrictions on these rights; in other words, a result of the disappearance of the 'two-polar world' with the fall of the Soviet Union, and its replacement by a one-polar system with the USA and Europe as its centre. In a reverse of this discourse, globalization means the imposition of cultural values from the West and North on the South and East, and the inherent destruction of the values, positive as negative, that were specific to these regions and societies.
In another type of discourse, globalization is primarily an economic term, where the agent for change is partly the collapse of closed and protectionist state economies in most or all countries of the Third World, and partly the active policies of global economic actors such as the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, and others, who make economic liberalization and the removal of any remains of 'socialist' or even social economic policies a requirement for the economic aid these countries need to survive. For some, a necessary but traumatic restructuring brought about by the fallacy of socialist economics, for others a conscious plan for the economic world domination of those who now hold the reins of economic power.
It is not the aim of this book to present a final answer to these, basically political, questions of what globalization means and whether it is good or bad. It is rather our aim to try to look at what it means from the side of the Middle East, both in terms of politics and economics; in terms of discourse and conceptions of themselves and of the 'other'. In other words, to look at the Middle East as not only the receiving end, but also the acting end of the bargain, in various aspects and conceptions.
The contributors of this book thus approach the topic from different angles and methodologies. The Egyptian philosopher Hasan Hanafi opens the field by posing some questions about the nature of the concepts of 'the Middle East' and 'globalization'. They are not innocent terms, but reflect power relationships; they serve to alienate the Arab and Islamic worlds by posing a 'one-polar' world order, dominated by the west. But the Islamic world was always open to the external world and had its own globalization, so we should instead look for a globalism from the periphery.
Pinar Bilgin picks up this thread, and looks at the history of the concept 'Middle East' and its changing definition, at some times including only the Persian Gulf, at others the region from Egypt to Kenya. Looking at alternative concepts of regional security definition, like the 'Arab Regional System' or the 'Mediterranean region', he suggests the 'Muslim Middle East' as the most apt to describe the structure in question.
Rania Maktabi looks at the conceptualization of political categories within the states, by comparing citizenship and pluralism in three countries of the Arab East. She questions the hypothesis that religious and ethnic pluralism necessarily promotes the development of a liberal democracy. Rather, what happens is that citizenship becomes enmeshed with confessionalism, with a more complex relationship between the group identity and the identification as a political actor and citizen as a result.
Ahmad Jiyad looks at the economic aspects of globalization, by a comparative study of the strategies chosen by the countries of the Arab Gulf based on the concept of 'human development' and to what degree the policies chosenin part as the result of pressure of outside agencies such as the World Trade Organization and of the need to attract foreign investmenthas benefited development on a broader scale. He finds that the results have in fact often been negative, but since globalization as such cannot be avoided, what is needed is to redraft the 'social contracts' between the state and the economic actors of these countries, so that the latter can at least survive, and hopefully draw the benefits of globalization.
This group of papers thus looks at the political and economic aspects of the current world development. Another group looks more at the development of a global discourse among the actors. Jonas Otterbeck focuses on how the 'Middle East' itself has become a problem for non-Middle Eastern converts to Islam in Scandinavia, and in particular women. For them, the 'Middle East' has in many ways a negative connotation, and in their presentation of Islam they favour a 'globalized' construction that is freed from the images of backwardness that the 'Middle East' mostly conveys in Sweden.
Amr Hamzawi looks at the relation from the other side; how the concept of the Western world changes in Egyptian public discourse in times of stress. He looks at three cases, one historicalthe French occupation of Egypt in 1798and two modern, the case of some students who were accused of Satanismi.e. taking orders from the West, Israel, etc.and the views on the Fayed family and Princess Diana in the Egyptian popular press, how it changed from Doudi's 'courtship' to the accident where the princess and her lover lost their lives.
Susanne Dahlgren looks at perceptions of gender roles among urban young people in Yemen, and how 'traditional' value systems relate to 'modern' and globalized perceptions of gender. While some of them see conflicts here, others merge the two systems easily.
These papers then primarily discuss the relationship between the West and the Middle Eastern discourses. A third group discusses aspects of the Arab and Islamic world as the producers of cultural values. Two discuss the nature of the 'intellectual' in the nahda period and today, in the case of Tetz Rooke through the intellectual autobiography of the Syrian author Muhammad Kurd 'Ali and the debate it sparked, for Lene Kofoed Rasmussen, on how the Egyptian feminists of the twentieth century became self-aware intellectuals.
Rooke finds that Kurd 'Ali, while writing in the 'modern' category of autobiography, in fact uses many of the literary features of the classical adab essay, borrowing style and sometimes even anecdotes from al-Jahiz, Ibn al-Muqaffa' and others. Thus his autobiography has often a didactic more than a chronological purpose, and includes whatever he finds relevant, whether or not it is related to his own life history.
Kofoed Rasmussen criticizes the conception that the early twentieth-century women publicists in Egypt did not think of themselves as 'intellectuals'. They clearly did so, and as a group of professional middle-class and educated women did not differ markedly from their male counterparts. She then draws the lines to the women intellectuals of the Islamist movement of the 1990s.
Knut Vikør looks at the modernity of the Islamists from another angle. When the 'application of the Shari'a' is a key element in the Islamist discourse, how can this be achieved in a system of territorial nation-states when God's law is universal and global? The classical system of Islamic law was a prime example of globalization, by its independence from the individual state structures and anchor in a universal 'civil society'. The Islamists are turning this upside down, by linking the law and its formulation in a modern ijtihad to the state, an 'Islamic state' but realistically covering only a section of the umma. This must produce problems of legimitacy when and if it comes closer to realization.
Finally, Mark Sedgwick looks at the most public evidence of the process of globalization, the Internet, and shows how Muslim and non-Muslim groups in the West, bound by the ideology of 'Traditionalism', use the Internet and are influenced by it, in founding links and global communities between individuals that might earlier have succumbed in isolation.
This book emerged out of the Fourth Nordic Conference on Middle Eastern studies, with the same theme as the book title, held in Oslo in August 1998. It does not present a final answer to whether globalization is good or evil, whether it must be unidirectional or can be bi-directional, but it presents some issues that may inform the further development of the process of global integration, and hopefully also how the 'south'the Middle Eastcan become an active part in producing cultural and economic values for the global world, and not just be the passive recipient of influences from outside.
Oslo / Bergen May 2000
BJØRN OLAV UTVIK / KNUT S. VIKØR
(From the Introduction)
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