Dependent Neoliberalism: How Gulf Capital is Reshaping Amman and Rabat

By Hannes Baumann
Submitted to Session P5008 (Neoliberalism in the City, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Jordan; Morocco;
Political Economy;
LCD Projector without Audio;
The oil price boom 2001-2014 washed billions of “petrodollars” into the coffers of Gulf Arab monarchies. The “recycling” of these funds had a different quality compared to the 1970s oil boom because a significant portion was invested in other Arab states, rather than just industrialised countries. Gulf corporations were investing in sectors such as finance, real estate, construction, or telecommunications. This is part of what Hanieh called “Gulf capital”. Political economists of the Middle East must therefore look beyond the “rentier states” to the circulation of Gulf capital across the Arab world.
In order to understand the politics of Gulf investment in nonoil Arab states I compare Gulf-financed urban megaprojects in non-oil Arab states. I compare the public spaces produced by the Bouregreg project in Rabat and the Abdali project in Amman: While Abdali was purged of the initially planned national library and university, Bouregreg added a Zaha Hadid-designed “Grand Theatre”. If both these urban spaces are produced by neoliberal capitalism, then what accounts for the appearance or disappearance of cultural landmarks? Why does Gulf capital make a theatre appear in one place, while a university disappears in another?
Drawing on Evans, I explain this variation with the politics of the “triple alliance” between state, local capital, and foreign (Gulf) capital. Political scientists usually classify both Jordan and Morocco as oil-poor absolute monarchies. Despite similar political economies, key differences explain the public spaces produced by Abdali and Bouregreg: The Moroccan monarchy is politically more centralised around the “makhzen”, it has a more diversified economy and foreign investor base, and the Moroccan businessman-monarch plays a more direct role in the economy than his Jordanian counterpart. Mohammad VI is thus in a stronger position vis-à-vis Gulf investors than Abdallah II. This affects patterns of rent-creation and rent-sharing but also the type of public space that is being produced in the megaproject.
The paper is based on field research in both Amman and Rabat. This is part of a wider project which also includes Solidere (Beirut) and Rawabi (Ramallah/Birzeit). Apart from Evans and Hanieh, I draw on Marxist critiques of neoliberal urbanism and on Poulantzas’ concept of the “internalisation” of foreign capital. The integration of Arab states into circuits of Gulf capital results in dependency on the Gulf not only for the production of these spaces but even for consumption. Dependent neoliberalism creates commodified urban spaces.