God's Unruly Friends

I discovered "God's Unruly Friends: Dervish Groups in the Islamic Middle Period 1200-1550" (2006) by Ahmet Karamustafa largely by accident (it was a footnote in another book I had read). The title got me, but it sat on the shelf for a while until I got to it. The book itself is quite short, the text is 102 pages, followed by notes and bibliography. Although (according to the author) little else has been written on the topic, this is a very brief study / introduction. What does the author mean by these deviant dervishes? One lengthy quote:

"Deviant dervishes were thoroughly antinomian in appearance and behavior. They violated all social norms with equal ease and indifference and deliberately embraced a variety of unconventional and socially liminal practices. Perhaps the most potent antinomian feature of new renunciation, certainly the most often cited and criticized, was open disregard for prescribed Islamic ritual practices. The extent to which different groups at different times neglected to fulfill their ritual obligations is impossible to ascertain. Nevertheless, there is little reason to question the accuracy of the reports contained in many sources, hostile and friendly, to the effect that deviant dervishes neither prayed nor fasted. In this context, silence on this issue in sympathetic texts is particularly telling. In Jamal al-Din's sacred biography, for instance, there are only two casual references to ritual prayer, while the hagiography of Otman Baba fares only slightly better in this respect. For its part, the report that Barak Baba's disciples were required to perform prescribed religious practices on pain of forty blows of the bastinado itself reveals the difficulty of enforcing these practices on the dervishes. Moreover, it appears that at least some groups replaced ritual prayer in particular with utterance of simple formulaic expressions. Such was the case with the Qalandars and Abdals of Rum, among whom the utterance of the formula "God is the Greatest" (takbir) clearly had a ritual function and may have come to replace the daily ritual prayer." (p. 17-18) 

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Arab Development Denied

I have covered many critical assessments of development on this blog. However, comparatively few have covered the Middle East and North Africa region. Was pleased to come across "Arab Development Denied: Dynamics of Accumulation by Wars of Encroachment" by Ali Kadri (2015). The region has had diverse historical and contemporary experiences and I found several parts of the book generalized experiences to the "Arab World", which are questionable when one looks into the specifics of countries. The book could have better engaged the heterogeneity of the region. Similarly, the book could have been more empirically grounded, particularly claims of the more recent years for which there is a lot of data. Nonetheless, this is an interesting read, a few notes:

"De-development should not be confused with relative underdevelopment vis-à-vis Western formations or with a delinking of developing formations from the global accumulation process. De-development is the purposeful deconstruction of developing entities. Primarily, it involves stripping by force the working classes in those entities of the right to own and control their resources and use them for their own benefit." (p. 2-3)

"Ever since the rise in oil prices in 2002, all Arab countries, of which the majority are oil producing, have registered steadily positive growth rates of around five percent. However, this 'growth' was hollow and degenerative, like the swelling in the bellies of malnourished people. In point of fact, the uprisings erupted when Syria, Tunisia, Yemen, Libya and Egypt were enjoying record real-growth rates. The chapter criticises existing policies and concludes that in the AW, the resource curse is the curse of the imperialist assault sustained by the Arab working classes, and that an examination into the re-empowerment of the working class within the political process is required." (p. 19)

"For the time being, it appears structurally prohibitive to abandon oil dependency—to 'kick the oil habit'. Persistent dependence on oil is not haphazard; it is defined and reproduced by a consortium of Arab ruling classes and US-headed imperial powers. Assuming that development were to occur, the effects of Arab development on the sway of forces that thrive on accumulation by encroachment and militarism would be significant. This is a war region, in which the state of conflict itself is an input into global accumulation and that the world has come to internalise as a necessity." (p 31)

"The usual sermon-like policy of the WB/IMF is to liberalise, increase the effectiveness of labour, and improve technology… Given such unrealistic assumptions, these formulaic policy measures are tantamount to obfuscation." (p. 43)

"When so many resources escape and imports represent on average around 50 per cent of GDP (2011 figures), the multiplier theory, according to which one dollar multiplies several-fold in the economy, founders. Capital inflows are channelled into raising consumption, especially on the luxury goods of the merchant class as it emulates its foreign counterpart either directly or indirectly by shifting resources away from investment." (p. 43)

"Poor performance associated with imperialist assault is not related to Arab oil perse; it is a much broader social phenomenon prevailing wherever imperialism strives for primary-product control by aggressive means. To resolve the debacle, socially, politically and historically specific mediations between capital and labour need to be assessed. WB/IMF policy has (deliberately) overlooked the obvious, which is the ties of Arab merchant classes to US-led imperialism and the war context." (p. 46) 

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Sustainable Qatar


Sustainable Qatar: Social, Political and Environmental Perspectives

Abstract: This open access book provides a topical overview of the key sustainability issues in Qatar, focusing on environmental sustainability from a socio-political perspective. The transition to a sustainable Qatar requires engagement with diverse areas of social-political, human, and environmental development. On the environmental aspects, the contributors address climate change, food security, water reuse and desalination, energy, and biodiversity. The socio-political section examines state strategy and regulation, the place of environmental law and geopolitics and sustainability innovators and catalysts. The human section considers economics, sustainability education, the knowledge economy, and waste management. In doing so, the book demarcates the ways in which the country encounters and grapples with significant challenges and delves into the range of options for future pathways to sustainability in Qatar. Relevant to policymakers and scholars in energy and environment, urban and developmental studies, as well as the arenas of politics, climate change and policy, this book is a landmark collection on environmental policy in the Gulf and beyond.

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Social Dictatorships

What do some non-democratic governments have stronger social protection systems than others? That is the main questions attempted in the book "Social Dictatorships: The Political Economy of the Welfare State in the Middle East and North Africa" (2020) by Ferdinand Eibl (published by Oxford University Press). This book is largely an elaboration of a 2016 doctoral work at the University of Oxford.

Why does the book matter? The author makes a case that little has been done in terms of comparative analyses in the Global South: "...comparative politics has little to offer to explain the divergence of welfare efforts across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). This has to do with a triple neglect. First of all, welfare states have historically emerged in advanced industrialized nations as the culmination of a century-long struggle for social protection. Distributing resources amounting to considerable shares of GDP, welfare states have become a fundamental part of modern capitalism in industrialized societies. As a result, comparative politics literature has seen a proliferation of studies explaining the, in global comparison rather than subtle, differences between Western welfare states, whilst neglecting developing countries." (p. 1-2).

What are the driving forces for greater social protection systems (explained in more detail, but include): "Regime-building elites needs to have an incentive to provide extensive welfare to a broad cross-cutting section of the population. In addition, elites must have the ability to provide welfare, provided a sufficiently strong incentive. Both are necessary and jointly sufficient conditions for a regime to provide extensive social welfare." (p. 6). In other words, "social policies are shaped by the incentives of political elites" (p. 273) and their capacity to act on those incentives.

Argument summary: "Building on the established insight that authoritarian regimes differ from each other as much as they differ from democracies, this study has developed a theoretical model that helps us explain when we should expect the emergence of what I have called social dictatorships or authoritarian welfare states. While acknowledging this important role of political institutions in the everyday politics of authoritarian regimes, the book argues that long-term divergences in social policy trajectories are shaped in the crucible of societal conflict that most often precedes formalized political institutions. In that sense, it stands in a long tradition of macro-sociological research that has emphasized the significance of foundational conflict between societal actors." (p. 279)

Engaging alternatives theories: "... the division of the region into conservative regimes with low welfare provision and populist-progressive regimes with high welfare provision does not work, simply because the numbers do not bear out. While all of the region's labour-abundant monarchies fall on the side of minimal welfare providers, the region's republics divide almost evenly into low- and high-spenders. A large part of this confusion comes from a massive Egypt bias that pervades the study of the Middle East... A second, equally pervasive myth is that welfare provision was gradually rolled back with the advent of neo-liberal political reforms since the late 1970s... My analysis points to two main misconceptions at the origin of this narrative. First, most examples adduced in favour of this reading have been taken from countries that were never high-spenders in the first place, such as Egypt and Syria. As a result, low levels of welfare provision are attributed to neoliberal reforms whereas their main root - coalitional origins and a challenging geostrategic environment - remains obscured. Second, the narrative stems from a lack of consideration for comparative data... While I do not deny the many ills that neoliberalism has inflicted on Middle Eastern countries, I concur with Martinez in emphasizing the 'uneven pathways' of neoliberal transformation in the region." (p. 283) 

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