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Historical Materialism 18 (2010) 35–76

brill.nl/hima

Khaleeji-Capital: Class-Formation and Regional Integration in the Middle-East Gulf * Adam Hanieh
Zayed University, Dubai ahanieh@gmail.com

Abstract The countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) are most typically understood from the perspective of their position as the world’s key oil- and gas-producing states. This essay explores the largelyoverlooked processes of class-formation in the GCC, and argues that very profound tendencies of capital-internationalisation are occurring alongside Gulf regional integration. The circuits of capital are increasingly cast at the pan-Gulf scale, and a capitalist class – described as khaleejicapital – is emerging around the accumulation-opportunities presented within the new regional space. The formation of khaleeji-capital represents the development of a class increasingly aligned with the interests of imperialism and has important ramifications for understanding the region’s political economy. Keywords Middle East, Gulf Cooperation Council, class-formation, regional integration, internationalisation, political economy.

1. Introduction Ongoing imperialist intervention in the Middle East has made the Gulfregion an important thematic focus within broader political-economy debates. Over the two decades stretching from the end of the Iran-Iraq War (1980–8) to the invasion and occupation of Iraq (from 2003 up until the present day), competing arguments have been advanced to explain the nature of imperialism in the region. Numerous theorists have variously emphasised the region’s importance as a source of oil and super-profits in the context of * The author would like to thank Greg Albo, Sam Gindin, Ananya Mukherjee-Reed, David McNally, Alfredo Saad-Filho, Sabah Al-Nasseri, Anna Zalik, Gilbert Achcar, Rafeef Ziadah, the Historical Materialism editorial board and two anonymous reviewers for valuable comments and criticisms of the arguments made in this essay. © Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2010 DOI: 10.1163/156920610X512435

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A. Hanieh / Historical Materialism 18 (2010) 35–76

declining reserves, its role in ensuring US-hegemony vis-à-vis other powers, and the ‘system-supporting’ function that US-intervention plays within the region.1 But, while the literature on imperialism and political economy provides essential insights into an understanding of the Gulf states’ location in global hierarchies, it has tended to conceptualise the Gulf solely through the lens of oil, and ignore the important processes of class- and state-formation that are occurring internally within the region. This lacuna is particularly evident in the literature on the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. For these countries, oil is assumed as the ‘prize’ (either as a scarce commodity, source of profits or element of control vis-à-vis other powers). The Gulf is thereby reduced analytically – and some theorists make this analogy explicit – to a ‘giant oil-field’, rather than a region with its own history, struggles and social relations. Indicative of this weakness is the absence of any radical analysis of the political economy of the GCC regional-integration project.2 The GCC was formed in 1981 yet – almost three decades later – there has been no sustained historical-materialist treatment of regional integration in the Gulf. This is a major gap in our theorisation of imperialism in the region. The GCC-economy has become a major component of the world-market – indeed, its 2007 GDP was around the same as that of Australia.3 GCC-capital dominates many other economies of the Middle East and is a very significant determinant of accumulation-patterns in neighbouring regions such as Africa, the Indian subcontinent and Asia. The way that capital-accumulation has proceeded in the GCC has acted to reinforce...
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