|Maldevelopment - Anatomy of a Global Failure (United Nations University)|
|4. complexities of international relations: Africa's vulnerability and external intervention|
The Arab and African region is perhaps the empty belly of the entire world. The region at the moment seems scarcely able to respond positively to the challenges of the crisis. The gross Euro-American neo-colonialism to which Africa is subjected, its break-up into national states, manipulation by the authorities in situ of the ethnic, religious and other heterogeneities make the continent extremely weak. In the Arab world, corruption associated with oil revenues the illusory 'compensatory' factor of neurotic recourse to 'specific character' - including religion - have deferred the unitary and socialist plan to the Greek calends. An uneasy balance of marginalized regions, abandoned to famine and despair (the Sahel for example) and poles of limited 'prosperity', associated with oil or mining royalties and their redistribution, is not an impossible prospect.
Since the remote time of the 15th century, the Mediterranean has been the centre of the regions of the old world to the west of the Indian and Chinese continents. Since the conquest of Alexander the region has borne the common imprint of Hellenism.
These were the foundations on which the Mediaeval Christian and Islamic universes were built. During a millenium we have here a constellation of interlocking societies enjoying cultural and ideological organic links and technological and trading exchanges sufficiently voluminous to be described as a system. Some of the constituent elements of capitalism (exchange and commodity capital' free wage labour, private property of land and enterprise) appeared in the region at an early stage and at certain moments - notably the first centuries of Islam and the period of the expansion of the Italian cities (from the 12th to 15th centuries - went so far as to form segments of that system, to the degree that it is possible to see the 'Mediterranean system' es the prehistoric forebear of the modern capitalist system.
The thesis of unequal development in the birth of capitalism is based on this contrast between the advanced (Italian and Arab) Mediterranean - that has become a handicap - and the backwardness of the European feudal periphery, that was to become an advantage in the birth of capitalism.
The Renaissance marks a qualitative break with the past, since it is then that the scattered ingredients of proto-capitalism crystallize to produce a new coherent social system, that of capitalism. By the same token the relation between power and wealth is inverted: until the Renaissance wealth had always depended on power, henceforth economic wealth would determine the content of political power. Likewise the old metaphysical ideological constructs (Hellenism, Christianity and Islam) coherent with the demands of a system based on the tribute-paying mode of production, would give place to a new political construct and a new kind of universalist aspiration. At the same time, the Renaissance saw the centre of gravity of the new capitalist world shift from the shores of the Mediterranean to those of the Atlantic. The former periphery of the Mediterranean system - north-west Europe - became the centre of the new European and Atlantic capitalist world system.
The Mediterranean region was in due course peripheralized in the development of the capitalist system. Its Arab southern shore would be colonized while the belated formation of the bourgeois national state in Italy and the Balkans would leave clear traces of underdevelopment. The Mediterranean ceased to belong to its bordering countries but became a geostrategic region for others, dominated by a hegemonic power, Britain, then the United States, or disputed by their rivals, Germany then the USSR.
The change created a new situation. Europeanism called the tune, since it was associated with the formation of the new capitalist and European centre, although it was henceforth impossible to separate the two aspects of the one reality. An avatar of Christendom? The creed, of Mediterranean and Oriental not to say Egyptian - origin, spread into the barbarian North where it flourished, while it faded out and gave place to Islam to the south of the inland sea. The new reality of Europe seeks its supposed roots and ideological justifications in the ancient Mediterranean world that nurtured it: from the Renaissance rediscovering Greece and Rome to contemporary talk in EEC Europe making Athens the cultural capital of Europe, there is no shortage of such a quest for origins. But it is interesting to note here that these supposed roots are sought exclusively in the regions of the Mediterranean area that have remained Christian. Recognition of the role of Egypt and Islam is left to rare specialists; an appeal to popular feeling here would be regarded as almost indecent.
The crystallization of the Arab nation was a product of reaction to the new challenge, nothing to do with the challenges of the previous centuries, even allowing for that of the Crusades. The Arabization and Islamization from the Atlantic to the Gulf are undoubtedly earlier, and so an Arab nation was fully in existence in the first centuries of Islam, then in its first glory. Evidence, too, of this region's lead over feudal and fragmented Europe: the centralization of surplus by the class of warrior merchants, the alliance of the cities they led and the Khalifate, to keep control of communications and the countryside, are the foundations of this nation. Yet it later decayed, with the decline of the great trade and the call for the help of the Turkish barbarians of Central Asia. The Ottoman reunification did not halt the process, but even to some extent accelerated it. Hence the renaissance of the Arab nation would come in dual reaction to the European challenge and Ottoman domination. This renaissance began early, since the threat of European advance was quickly felt in the 18th century, that is only a century or so after the gap first came into being. On the other side there was very quickly a consciousness of the danger of an Arab renaissance. The unrelenting hostility of Europe to Mohamed Ali's attempt to modernize the Nile Valley, to raise the dignity of and free the Arab Mashreq (in the first half of the 19th century) has turned into a constant feature of the West's strategy towards Egypt. The hegemonic powers of the capitalist centre-Britain in the 19th century, the United States nowadays - have always deemed it essential to their predominance to maintain Egypt in such a ruinous condition that it could not become the pivot of a revived Arab nation, that is, a genuine partner in the worldwide capitalist system. The plan of creating an artificial European state in Palestine to undermine such a possibility, was dreamed up by Palmerston in 1839, a score of years before Zionism even took shape.
Did not colonization, a recent (19th century) phenomenon, open a definitive divide and turn the Mediterranean into a frontier zone of the main confrontation of our time: between North and South? For colonization wrought inequalities of economic development considerably more reprehensible than in the past, difficult to reverse except by recourse to a diametrically opposite perspective to that of the expansion of the world capitalist system from its outset. Colonization has also revealed a moral and political contrast, and given the religious dimension (of Christianity and Islam) a weight it did not have in the past and one now capable of nurturing fanaticism.
It is clearly understood that as the hegemonic centres of the worldwide capitalist system lie outside the Mediterranean region, the Sea ceases to be the centre of its world to become a geostrategic zone for others. From the destruction of Napleon's fleet at Trafalgar, until 1945, Britain dominated the Mediterranean - which provided her shortest route to India. This was reluctantly ceded, after the Second World War, to give way to the era of the 'American Mediterranean'.
After the Second World the European Mediterranean countries, with the exception of Yugoslavia and Albania, were absorbed into Western reconstruction under the aegis of the United States, then gradually integrated into the EEC largely subject to the dominant forces of transnationalization. And if they do show economic take-off, their future development is bound up with that of their European associates and subsequently to the evolution of the developed capitalist centres as a whole. As for the Arab states, they have tried to reconstruct themselves as bourgeois national states without any success so far.
This dual evolution has dug the Mediterranean ditch so deep as to make it the frontier of North-South confrontation. In such circumstances the possibilities are wide open. Either the popular social forces will impose reconstruction within the unity of the Arab world, in the framework of a strategy that, in the nature of things, will be delinked from the logic of the overall expansion of transnational capital; on the best hypothesis this reconstruction would be part of a peaceful transition towards a polycentric world. For this Europe would have to distance itself from the Atlantic alliance and view with favour the Arab revival. Or the drifts already under way would continue and the confrontations grow more acute. The Europeans would then be in danger of pursuing a chimerical plan of an imperialist revival, with the aim of hitching the Maghreb, Iike Turkey, to their wagon, while Egypt and the Mashreq would be abandoned to the regional hegemony of the Zionist state.