Capitalism and Class in the Gulf Arab States By Adam Hanieh (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. 266 pages.)

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Junaid S. Ahmad



To label Adam Hanieh’s Capitalism and Class in the Gulf Arab States an afterstudy

of the 2008 financial crisis is a grossly unfair assessment. While the

book does explore the implications of the Gulf states’ financial slump, it also

provides a nuanced analysis of their class structures and relation to the global

capital system. The exponential growth of the Gulf Cooperation Council

(GCC) states is the book’s main subject; however, Hanieh dexterously avoids

the common errors involved in the region’s economic analysis and thus adds

to the corpus of literature pertaining to both the GCC and the wider global


The class structures and wealth prevailing in the GCC are often seen as

an outcome of the states being oil rich. Hanieh problematizes this narrative

by positing that this wealth and structuring is not “accidental” and that while

oil is undeniably important, it is not the sole reason for the region’s situation.

He urges the reader to look beyond the hydrocarbon wealth, because “much

like its desert cousin, the mirage – what visitors actually see in the oil-fueled

boom is not the full picture” (p. 2).

Hanieh’s choice of viewing the GCC holistically, instead of addressing

specific nation-states, is significant. The “internationalization” of the local

economy and class structure results in the dissolution of class boundaries

among the states and paves the way for capitalism. But at the same time, however,

capitalism needs to be valorized in a coherent and material time and

space. This valorization has taken the special form of the regional GCC and

becomes the study’s focal point. This regionalization has displaced “power

upwards to the regional scale, weakening the ability of the individual member

states to control the movement of goods and capital within the intra-GCC

space” (p. 104).

The author also problematizes the “rentier-state” theory through a Marxian

framework. He urges the reader not to consider the state, and particularly

the states of the Gulf nations, as a “thing” or an automatic reflection of the

capitalist class, but rather as “a particular expression of class formation” (p.

12). This also implies that the state has greatly facilitated the development of

the GCC’s prevailing “hot-house” economy (p. 15).

The study’s regional nature culminates in the analysis of “Khaliji” capital.

In the Gulf states, the internationalization of capital manifests itself in a

regional form as the “circuits of capital are themselves elaborated at the ...

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