Koenraad Bogaert, Globalized Authoritarianism: Megaprojects, Slums, and Class Relations in Urban Morocco (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2018).
Willingly or unwillingly, by choosing this book’s title, the author and his publisher picked a daring fight with Larry Diamond and his fellow editors of a recently bundled collection of essays titled Authoritarianism Goes Global. The argument, which Bogaert provokes with some relish, revolves around the notions of transitology and post-democratization in general and about the persistence of authoritarianism in the Arab world in particular.
It may seem odd for a book focusing on “megaprojects, slums, and class relations in urban Morocco,” as the subtitle specifies, to connect with as abstract a debate as the anatomy of Arab authoritarianism, and yet, Bogaert emphatically argues that such large-scale urban renewal is eminently connected with illiberal democracy and authoritarian rule. Moreover, the author makes a strong case that anyone interested in political change and Arab democracy should read and think about neoliberal urbanism as a new method of authoritarian power.
Globalized Authoritarianism Explained
Bogaert brilliantly illustrates how deeply neoliberal globalization and authoritarian rule are entangled in Morocco. His demonstration starts with the observation that MENA scholars have tended to neglect the global situation, in particular the role the region has played in propagating neoliberalism and global capitalism. Instead of paying attention to “capitalist globalization,” MENA scholarship has been “overshadowed by two dominant traditions of transitology and post-democratization” (p. 29).
On one hand, Bogaert maintains that transitologist or authoritarian perspectives do little to advance our understanding of politics in Morocco–and MENA in general, mainly because such theories tacitly advocate preferred pathways of future development. On the other hand, the book argues that post-democratization prisms obfuscate or simply ignore important dynamics of urban change and political economy. By contrast, analyzing transformations in Moroccan metropolitan areas reveals trends of uneven capitalist development that inscribe such changes in a more complex, global pattern of neoliberal reconfiguration and transformed practices of authoritarian power.
Thus, the book’s title should not be taken to mean that authoritarianism has spread globally in the geographic sense suggested by Larry Diamond–and others. Rather, Bogaert’s title urges attention for the fact that state authoritarianism in contemporary Morocco is thriving thanks to its embrace of neoliberal government, economic globalization, and global capitalism. His book illustrates this alliance of globalization and authoritarianism by advocating a radical rupture in the way we analyze politics: from an a-spatial perspective–as in transitology or post-democratization–towards a spatial view of politics.
Grounding Globalization: How Urban Change Reveals Neoliberalism
Inspired by critical scholars like the late Doreen Massey, Anna Tsing, or Aihwa Ong, Bogaert pleads for a spatial view of politics that offers tools “to transcend this false opposition between persistent authoritarianism and democratic transition.” Such a spatial view of politics helps to debunk the “simplistic correlation between democratic transition and market liberalization” (p.35) and provides “an understanding of uneven development in the Arab region (…) as the result of political processes that cannot be separated from the outside world” (p.36). Finally, this spatial view of politics implies abandoning the search for a single global future. Instead, it looks at the global connections and ensuing struggles involved in placemaking by highlighting that processes of change are “very dynamic and open ended” (p.37).
The main contribution of this spatial approach of politics is the use of urban development as a political prism. In other words, the city becomes a method to analyze politics. This allows identifying in tangible detail the humans and non-humans who make up and advance the causes of “neoliberalism” or “the regime,” i.e., the scholarly concepts we read about in the literature on MENA but which often remain hard to pin down. In short, a spatial view enables us to point fingers at actors and locations that bring about, sustain, and perpetuate globalization.
It should not surprise, then, that Bogaert perceives globalization “mainly as projects” that locate and ground the phenomenon of neoliberalism. The book analyzes several of the mega-projects that have come to define Morocco’s “urban revolution” of the past two decades. Transformations of the cityscape and rural-urban relations highlight how neoliberalism is being accomplished on a constant basis, crafted as it is by state and non-state actors alike.
In the first of two main case studies, Bogaert analyzes “innovative modes of neoliberal statecraft” (p.126) through the physical reconfiguration of the estuary of the Bouregreg River. This prestigious project–covering six thousand hectares of land spanning the twin cities of Rabat and Salé, which, moreover, were connected by the award-winning Hassan II bridge as part of the redevelopment–is aimed at branding the Moroccan capital as “an upcoming model, a traveling project that borrows its inspiration from the apparently limitless and futuristic optimism of global cities such as Dubai, Beijing, and Mumbai” (p.125).
The assumption of a universal knowledge and technical know-how not only links up Rabat to all corners of the globe, but it also enables the author to highlight strategies of profit maximization, “privatization and even dispossession” (p.143). Indeed, Bogaert documents how neoliberal globalization generates less intuitive dynamics, such as the marginalization of local public authorities as well as civil society actors. This process, also analyzed in monographic format by Hicham Mouloudi clearly shows how less influential, i.e., poorer, residents are often disregarded or not integrated into the project in a valorizing way.
Furthermore, Bogaert’s spatial view of politics has the major benefit of making abstract things observable. The state is theorized here as complex, evolving, grounded, localized, and an assemblage of power i.e., not as monolithic, fixed, rigid, abstract, or remote. Tellingly, Bogaert refrains from designating the Moroccan regime as the makhzen (as most analysts do) but, rather, he points out how the Moroccan state should be conceived as holding relational power “articulated through agencies” (p.95) such as the Agence d’Aménagement de la Vallée du Bouregreg (AAVB), a financially autonomous state body established by royal decree (dahir).
Grounding Globalization: How Urban Change Reveals Democracy
The spectacular change in public infrastructure the country has witnessed–from (air)ports over tramways to megamalls, museums, and marinas–is not only illustrated in considerable detail here (the book includes seventeen black-and-white photos), it is also well contextualized and analyzed in substantial depth. As said, Bogaert focuses in particular on the transformation of the Bouregreg Valley and on the Villes Sans Bidonvilles (Cities Without Slums) initiative, launched in 2006 and 2004 respectively. However, all along the way, he also provides crisp analysis of many other major projects (Casablanca Marina, Casanearshore, Tanger Med). As such, this book brings together in an accessible format the dramatic developments and academic research on the socio-economic transformations in Morocco which, are widely seen as defining features of the reign of King Mohammed VI, enthroned in 1999.
The country’s urban change has been concomitant with a fundamental shift in social policy, another notable characteristic of the current monarch, sometimes branded as “the king of the poor.” Bogaert challenges this image and shows how, on the contrary, King Mohamed VI can also be construed as a king of the rich: “the primary capitalist of the country” (p.253) who has been instrumental in aligning positions with Morocco’s wealthiest entrepreneurs. More fundamentally, Bogaert takes issue with those who have interpreted apparently progressive policies on social inclusion and poverty alleviation as signs of democratic openings.
The book analyzes the National Initiative for Human Development (INDH, after its French acronym) and the resettlement of slum dwellers to illustrate how the “reinvention of social policy” is not the start of a democratic transition but, rather, how it should be understood as the mutation of authoritarian rule. What we see, Bogaert asserts, is “the qualitative transformation of authoritarian government” (p.168) by embedding it in efforts to make society more receptive to globalization. Bogaert posits persuasively that authoritarianism is not on the decline but, rather, that it is being fundamentally re-invented and re-shaped in line with neoliberal principles dictated by free market competition, including the promotion of “responsibilization” and “participation.”
In particular, Bogaert shows how strategies targeting urban informality reveal new techniques of governance using methods of sovereign power to reinforce state control over the urban space. Importantly, such “sovereign city planning” (term borrowed from Mariana Valverde) is not only an instrument to generate economic growth and capital accumulation for private developers. The crucial point is that neoliberal urban megaprojects do little to advance the democratic rights of ordinary citizens and even less to dismantle the monarchy’s traditionally extensive powers. Quite the contrary, the administrative and physical re-engineering of Greater Casablanca served to build new mechanisms of executive authority–embodied most visibly by strengthening the wilaya (governorate) as subnational institution and by erecting majestic buildings like the Hassan II mosque or new prefectural palaces. Moreover, slum upgrading in Morocco is analyzed here as technology of power whereby the Villes Sans Bidonvilles initiative is exposed as a technique of security–thus unpacking neoliberalism as a practice shaped by the Foucauldian concept of biopower.
Furthermore, Bogaert argues that the programs of urban development and social housing are projections of a new hegemonic order–one underpinned by neoliberal and non-democratic principles–that show, above all, that the ruling class is not interested in the slum population per se. Rather, ruling elites are interested in power over that slum population as a way of foraying into the economic opportunities of so-called poverty capital, aiming to transform slum inhabitants into consumers. Most significantly, perhaps, the participatory modalities of decision-making of the “beneficiaries” of these programs are limited and tightly controlled. In fact, Bogaert argues, that pivotal decisions are “taken without the slum dwellers’ input and not open for negotiation” (p.242). This conclusion is corroborated by recent research on slum governance in other settings.
Overall, Bogaert sharpens our understanding of authoritarian rule by demonstrating how investor-friendly megaprojects as well as poverty alleviation policies become key tools for the “construction of a new political narrative and the establishment of political legitimacy” (p.253). The book, based on the author’s 2011 doctoral dissertation, is well organized–in three main parts [I. Neoliberalism as projects II. (State-)Crafting Globalization III. Transforming Urban Life] and six chapters, all in a compact 250 pages. The result is a neatly laid out, commendably edited text, with welcome cross-references, didactic recaps, and very few typos–your reviewer encountered only three minor ones (p. 68, 71, and 193). The book culminates in a forceful conclusion that sharpens the overall argument. In the remainder of this review, I highlight two main strengths of the book, two notable weaknesses, and two ingredients for further thought.
Strengths: Rolling Back, Rolling Out Neoliberalism
Political history provides a solid background throughout the book. This helps tremendously in presenting the emergence of neoliberalism in Morocco as a gradual process. For example, by recalling the Moroccan state’s priority in the 1950s and 1960s to invest in rural development and agriculture, Bogaert documents how “the palace saw a stable rural-landowning class as one of the foundations of its power base” (p. 63) in order to explain how informal expansion of the city was neglected for decades. As a continuation of this assessment, the author traces back the emergence of globalization in Morocco to two key dates, namely the 1981 food riots triggered by the IMF’s structural adjustment plans, on one hand, and the Islamist suicide bombings of May 2003 in Casablanca, on the other hand. This background is essential because designating projects as neoliberal initiatives “only makes sense if one takes into consideration (…) what these projects reacted against” (p.249).
This histoire longue also helps to understand the neoliberal turn in Morocco as a dynamic process facilitated by two mechanisms. First came a phase of roll-back neoliberalism whereby the state’s control over the economic sphere was dismantled; located in Morocco roughly from the early 1980s up until the start of the alternance process in the 1990s. Second was a phase of roll-out neoliberalism whereby the state introduced new modes of regulation and new forms of state power; located in Morocco as starting in 1998, with the invited entry of opposition forces into a new political landscape.
One advantage of paying attention to such long-term chains of citizen actions and subsequent policy reactions is that it helps to re-cast the Arab uprisings of 2011 as cyclical expressions of confrontation between individuals yearning for socio-economic justice on the one hand, and forces producing uneven development and new forms of dispossession or authoritarian rule on the other.
Weaknesses: Pessimist Prospects for Proletarians?
Marxist and Foucaldian perspectives are dominantly present and explicitly assumed throughout the entire narrative (e.g. p.176-181). Readers well-versed in these theoretical debates will find this intellectually stimulating. For example, there are paragraphs (p. 230) where Bogaert skillfully demonstrates how contemporary Marxist and Foucauldian lenses enable readers to dissect a program like the Cities without Slums and its underlying relations of power–both as to how power is exercised and how the economic infrastructure determines outcomes.
Yet, some such theoretical passages can be tiresome. At least, there are lengthy and arcane sections that risk putting off a readership less familiar with postmodern sociological theory. This is most palpable through the conceptual overload in the book’s discussion of class (p. 113-122). Precisely because class is a polysemic term so eminently associated to Marx, class is a very hard word to re-root conceptually. Although I do see the relevance of this re-specification for the overall demonstration, the final sections of Chapter 3 at times felt like Don Quixote’s tilting at windmills.
More substantially perhaps, is the fact that the book offers little concrete suggestions as to how the urban poor can overcome the evil it describes. Indeed, more militant readers may be left wondering what is in store for the disenfranchised citizens located on the losing end of globalized authoritarianism in Morocco. Although the book contains an interesting discussion (p.218-226) of a unique mechanism to finance resettlement for slum dwellers (an instrument known as FOGARIM which could be inspiring for policy making bodies tackling informal housing, it is quite sparse on recipes for empowering the marginalized in their confrontations with these new modalities of governance.
Is all that can be expected the meek subordination of ordinary citizens to the appetites of neoliberal predators? How can the state, as public actor and despite its own neoliberal tendencies, be forced to defend citizens in a weak socio-economic position to resist the stratagems of private banks and multinational corporations? What means of collective action should be explored, based on the Moroccan experiences, to jugulate the forces of global capitalism and uneven development? One might expect a Marxist analysis like Bogaert’s to review available options, if any. Perhaps, whereas neoliberalism tends to view informal urbanization as a threat, a counter-narrative could investigate to what extent informal urban networks can also work as stabilizing forces, as Denoeux once suggested?
Food for Thought: Can Globalized Authoritarianism Complement Authoritarian Upgrading?
One reaction to the incisive criticism on Moroccan megaprojects developed in this book could be to ask what Morocco would look like if there had been no such interventions over the past twenty years? Would Morocco’s citizens be better off without TangerMed, without Casablanca Finance City and without the first high-speed railway in Africa? This type of questioning is only superficially interesting, however, if only because it remains hypothetical per definition. The fact is that neoliberalism has also reached other sectors of the Moroccan economy, not least higher education and health care.
It is more interesting to quiz the manuscript on its capacity to make theoretical contributions. In this respect, and given Bogaert’s explicit objective to connect his discussion of urban change in Morocco to the academic debate of authoritarian politics in MENA, we should dare to ask how Bogaert’s analysis of globalized authoritarianism really departs from Steven Heydemann’s concept of “authoritarian upgrading,” which Bogaert criticizes (p. 20). Cannot the neoliberal reconfigurations of the Moroccan complexes of power be seen as an update of the regime’s strategies of survival and its authoritarian resilience? On one hand, at least, the impression emerges that Bogaert’s analysis–despite his idiosyncratic theoretical approach–is not altogether that different from the analysis undertaken by, for example, Heydemann and Leenders. Though perhaps unintended, such similarities can create the impression that his book stands in the same line as the (post-democratization) queue it seeks to bypass.
On the other hand, whereas Heydemann’s techniques of governance are mainly situated in the institutional and administrative levels, Bogaert focuses on the political economy. Moreover, it is no exaggeration to say that Bogaert–who also acknowledges several of Heydemann’s insights (p.116)–is more sophisticated than most in the field, especially while analyzing the connections between the political praxis of Moroccan authoritarianism and the political economy commanded by complexes of power surrounding the King. In this respect, it is probably more accurate to say that this book is a welcome addition to the authoritarian upgrading debate by its capacity to illustrate how neoliberal (urban) change and authoritarian politics can be two sides of the same coin.
Because it usefully highlights the often overlooked political economy component of authoritarian rule in an articulate way, this book will complement future thinking on authoritarian resilience. As such, this is an invaluable addition to the budding analysis of governance in Morocco’s neoliberal age.