The failed emergence of Egypt, Turkey and Iran

Published on Pambazuka News, by Samir Amin, June 21, 2012.

These three Middle Eastern nations have not succeeded in their attempts at emergence due to meddling by imperialist powers and the lack of capacity to challenge them. These three Middle Eastern states should normally have been found in lists of today’s ‘emerging’ states. They have each attempted, in the past, to modernise as a response to the challenge from Europe. Egypt attempted this under Pacha Mohamed Ali of the nineteenth century, as well as under Nasser. In Ottoman Turkey the Tanzimats (a reorganisation aimed at modernising the state) and later endeavours during the time of Ataturk (1920-1945) can be seen as the same, while Iran began with its revolution in 1907, and later the reign of Reza Palavi (until 1979).  

These were, in their own manner, leaders in modernising transformation of capitalist peripheries in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. However today none of these three states could reasonably be called ‘emerging’, not in the same way as China, South Korea, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina and others. The three states of focus are all important, in their own right, and also have similar populations of around 80 million people.


… Emergence and Lumpen Development: *

There can be no emergence without state politics, resting on a comfortable social bloc, which gives it legitimacy, capable of constructing a coherent project an inward looking national productive system. They must at the same time ensure the participation of the great majority of social classes and that these groups receive the benefits of growth.

Opposing the favourable evolution of an authentic emergence is the unilateral submission to the requirements of the implementation of global capitalism and general monopolies which produce nothing other than what I would call ‘lumpen development’. I will now liberally borrow from the late Andre Gunder Frank, who analysed a similar evolution, albeit at a different time and place. Today lumpen development is the product of accelerated social disintegration associated with the ‘development’ model (which does not deserve its name) imposed by the monopolies from the imperialist core on the peripheral societies they dominate. It is manifested by a dizzying growth of subsistence activities (called the informal sphere), otherwise called the pauperisation associated with the unilateral logic of accumulation of capital.

One can remark that I did not qualify the emergence as ‘capitalist’ or ‘socialist’. This is because emergence is a process associated with complementarity, while at the same time conflict, of the logic of capitalist management of the economy and the logics of ‘non-capitalist’ – and potentially socialist – management of society and politics.

Among the experiences of emergence, some cases merit special mention as they are not associated with the processes of lumpen development. There is not a pauperisation among the popular classes, but rather progress in the living standards, modest or otherwise. Two of these experiences are clearly capitalist – those of South Korea and Taiwan (I will not discuss here the particular historical conditions which permitted the success of the implementation in the two countries). Two others inherited the aspirations conducted in the name of socialism – Vietnam and China. Cuba could also be included in this group if it can master the contradictions which it is currently going through.

But we know of other cases of emergence which have been associated with lumpen development of a massive nature. India is the best example. There are segments of this project which correspond to the requirements of emergence. There is a state policy which favours the building of an industrial productive system. Consequently there is an associated expansion of the middle classes and progress in technological capacities and education. They are capable of playing autonomously on the chessboard of international politics. But for a grand majority, two thirds of society, there is accelerated pauperisation. We have therefore a hybrid system which ties together emergence and lumpen development. We can highlight the link between these two complementary parts of reality. I believe, without suggesting too gross a generalisation, that all the other cases that are considered emergent belong to this familiar hybrid, which includes Brazil, South Africa, and others.

But there exist also, and it is most of the other Southern countries, situations in which there are no elements of emergence as the processes of lumpen development occupy much of the society. The three countries considered here (Turkey, Iran, Egypt) are part of this group and it is for this reason that I declare them non-emergent and the projects of emergence abandoned.

In Turkey and Egypt submission to the comprador economic model, geostrategic alignment with the United States, lumpen development and pauperisation, and the increase in reactionary political Islam, trap the societies in a downward spiral. This is because the more a society succumbs to lumpen development; the more susceptible it is to political Islam. In Iran the duo of lumpen development and control of society by the Mullahs relegate the country to the same downward spiral. Despite the political conflict with Washington, there has not been a rupture with the pursuit of a political economy analogous to that of a comprador state. It is therefore more necessary than ever to rid oneself of the illusions of transition led by the local exercise of power by political Islam.

There is a prevailing media discourse, that is extremely naïve, that contends that” the victory of political Islam became inevitable because Islamic self-identity dominates the reality of our societies, and it is a reality that some had rejected, and thus this reality imposed itself on them.”

However, this argument completely ignores another reality, namely, that the de-politicization process was deliberate, and without it no political Islam would have been able to impose itself on these societies. Furthermore, this discourse argues further that “there is no risk from this victory of political Islam, because it is temporary, for the authority emerging from it is doomed to failure and thus the public opinion will abandon it”. This is as if the Brotherhoods are those who accept the implementation of the principles of democracy even if it works against their interests!

However, the regime in Washington adopts, apparently, this discourse, as well as the public opinion there, which is manufactured by the media. And there is an ensemble of Egyptian and Arab intellectuals who also became convinced by this discourse, apparently, perhaps opportunistically, or because of lack of clarity in thought.

But this is a mistake. Let it be known that political Islam, in the supposition of taking over the governments, will continue to impose itself if not “forever”, at least for a long time (50 years?). Let us not forget the case of Iran for example. During this phase of “transition” other nations will continue their march of development, and so we will find ourselves eventually in the bottom of the list. So I don’t see the Brotherhood primarily as an “Islamic party”; it is first a reactionary party, and if it managed to take the government, is represents the best security for the imperialist system. (full long text).


* Lumpenbourgeoisie is a term used primarily in the context of colonial and neocolonial elites in Latin America, which became heavily dependent and supportive of the neocolonial powers. It is a hybrid compound of the German word Lumpen (rags) and the French word bourgeoisie …

* Book: Lumpen bourgeoisie, Lumpen development: dependence class and politics in Latin America, by Frank, Andre Gunder, Berdecio, Morion Davis – translated from Spanish, published by Monthly Review (New York) 1972, on Kenyatta University Library, (Homepage);

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