Gramscian Perspectives on Current Transformations in the Middle East

A panel on 'Gramscian Perspectives on Current Transformations in the Middle East'

Brecht De Smet
Cemal Burak Tansel
  Sheffield University
Sara Salem
  International Institute of Social Studies (Rotterdam)
Roberto Roccu
  King's College London

Type Panel
When Jun 01, 2016
from 09:36 AM to 09:36 AM
Contact Name
Contact Phone +32496784370
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Panel proposal for the Thirteenth Annual Historical Materialism Conference, London 2016 Gramscian Perspectives on Current Transformations in the Middle East This panel investigates the enduring relevance of Gramscian categories such as hegemony, passive revolution, Caesarism, and the integral state to function as methodological devices for the study of current processes of transformation in the Greater Middle East in general, and Turkey and Egypt in particular. The presentations inquire into the crisis of 'neoliberal' accumulation in the region and its impact on processes of state reconfiguration and subaltern resistance. Moreover, the panelists explore forms of statecraft that seek to deflect and/or incorporate popular demands and discuss their capacity to overcome the limits posed to capital in the region. Centering Class: Gramsci, Elite Analysis, and the 2011 Revolution Sara Salem, Institute of Social Studies, the Netherlands Little work being done on Egypt in the contemporary period looks at class, let alone capitalism, through the lens of elites. With some exceptions, the work that does look at elites tends to focus on well-worn and problematic concepts such as crony capitalism, nepotism, and democratization, and elides discussions about the role of capitalism in producing and reproducing elites. This has continued to be the case after the 2011 revolution, an event which brought to the fore the role of elites in Egypt’s political and economic system. I argue that a Gramscian analysis of the Egyptian ruling class provides us with a more useful way of approaching the question of the 2011 revolution, elites, and class. This approach sees history as a story of different classes and different hegemonies told through the lens of materialism. By outlining both the approaches that dominate the field of elite analysis in Egypt as well as the Gramscian approach that poses an alternative, I show the ways in which capitalism and class are central concepts that must be part of any analysis of the events of January 25 2011, and that their continued exclusion serves to depoliticize the revolution itself. Moreover, I argue that this perspective is also useful not just in analysing revolution but also counter- revolution, an increasingly important topic post-2013. Once widely-praised as a success story of building ‘conservative democracy’, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its democratic credentials continue to receive in-creased scrutiny. This paper problematises the temporal break in the scholarly analyses of the AKP governance and rejects the argument that the party’s governing techniques have shifted from an earlier ‘democratic’ model—defined by a successful ‘hegemony’—to an emergent ‘authoritarian’ one. In contrast, by retracing the mechanisms of the state-led reproduction of neoliberalism since 2003, the paper demonstrates that the earlier ‘hegemonic’ activities of the AKP were too shaped by authoritarian tendencies which largely manifested as legal and administrative reforms. The paper further identifies conceptual shortcomings with the existing literature wherein dualistic understandings of coercion and consent as well as of the ‘economic’ and the ‘political’ have resulted in analyses that failed to recognise the aforementioned tendencies. Neoliberalism as Passive Revolution? Insights from the Egyptian Experience Roberto Roccu, King’s College London This paper analyses the transformations experienced by the Egyptian political economy before and after the 2011 revolution, and asks whether these can be understood as an instance of passive revolution. Suggesting that the latter concept has much more of a contingent applicability compared to other key Gramscian notions such as hegemony, this contribution suggests that it would be inappropriate to see the whole process of neoliberalisation in Egypt as a passive revolution. This is defined here around four criteria. Firstly, a passive revolution is predicated on specific international preconditions effectively demanding an economic restructuring. Secondly, as the dominant class fails to be hegemonic, it relies heavily on state power to carry out such restructuring, which ultimately produces the consolidation of its own ruling position. Thirdly, as it transforms social relations, passive revolution aims at rendering ‘passive’ an emerging yet disorganised subaltern bloc. Lastly, the reforms implemented provide a partial fulfilment and simultaneous displacement of demands articulated by subordinated classes. While the roles of the international and of the state were undoubtedly key to the neoliberal turn in Egypt, the effects that this had on the balance of political forces were altogether different from the one characteristic of passive revolutions. In light of this, this paper concludes suggesting that the Egyptian neoliberal experience is better understood as counter-reformation. The crisis of capitalism and the impossibility of hegemony in post-Mubarak Egypt Brecht De Smet, Ghent University The moment of the 25 January uprising has been rightly framed within a longer process of political protest and class struggle against the backdrop of ‘neoliberal’ economic reform since the 1990s. ‘Neoliberal’ policies have been designed to solve the enduring crisis of capital accumulation in Egypt. The crisis of ‘neoliberalism’ as the logic of the latest phase of capitalism reflects a crisis of capitalism in general. The revolutionary process in Egypt has thrown up demands for democratic reform and social justice that cannot be achieved within the framework of Egyptian dependent, financial capitalism. Elite coalitions striving for hegemony and vying for the consent of the activated masses are inherently instable as they stumble over the insolvable contradictions between, firstly, democratizing the state and repressing popular initiative from below, and, secondly, attracting private capital and guaranteeing social rights. Class rule becomes dictatorship as the top-down fragmentation, pacification, and repression of subaltern actors increasingly replaces the search for their active consent. Yet rather than the triumphant counter-revolution of 2013, the current return of daily, violent dictatorship signals the weakness of the current historical bloc, creating possibilities for militant trade unions and political activists to (re)organize themselves.