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Mediterranean Quarterly 11.1 (2000) 136-140
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Economic and Political Change in Tunisia
Emma C. Murphy: Economic and Political Change in Tunisia. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999. 285 pages. ISBN 0312-22-1428. $79.95. Reviewed by Sulayman Nyang.
Since the decolonization of the Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) states in the late 1940s and early fifties, the peoples and leaders of this region have seen radical and significant changes in their political life and culture. In the midst of this change there has emerged a pattern of political organization called corporatism by Western political scientists. There are many factors that make this system and style of political behavior appealing to the Arab leadership. Some political observers have identified it with the nature of precolonial Arab society; others have seen in this political culture the continuation of colonial practices by other means. No matter how one feels about this political reality in the MENA countries, the fact is that the average Arab citizen living on either side of the Red Sea must navigate his or her way properly and cleverly through this political culture from day to day.
Emma C. Murphy's Economic and Political Change in Tunisia is an important addition to the growing number of works in the English language dealing with a small North African country almost unknown to many Americans. What makes the work significant is the author's ability to combine theoretical discourse and empirical data collecting to trace the historical rise and fall of former Tunisian president Habib Bourguiba. The book provides the reader with an introduction to the Tunisian political system and then leads him or her through the political maze of Tunisian alliance making and breaking. Traveling through such a maze, one meets politicians, labor leaders, bosses of employers' associations, military men, and political Islamists.
Building on the theoretical argument of Ian Roxborough that "to each of the forms of economic development there corresponds a particular form of politics and form of state apparatus," Murphy argues that since economic liberalization "is all about the retreat [End Page 136] of the state from areas of economic activity, then as a set of corrective policies, it cannot be understood without reference to the political composition, dynamics and institutions of a country, and in particular without reference to the state itself." Taking this assumption as her point of departure, the British scholar goes on to show how the political history of Tunisian society affected the country's reform process and how it responds to the country's new economic strategy and realities. This line and the theoretical and empirical points relating to it are examined in the first chapter.
In reviewing this part of the work, one comes to the conclusion that Murphy embraces the postcolonial view that MENA political systems can best be characterized as corporatism. The selection of this political system by the postcolonial elites arose from their political-historical circumstances and conditions. Taking power from the departing colonial masters but no longer comfortable with the precolonial political elites, the leaders of the Tunisian nationalist movement saw political mobilization of the masses in reformist and revolutionary terms as the best avenue to self-empowerment not only for the elites but for the nation as well. As Murphy makes clear, Bourguiba and his political allies abolished the Tunisian monarchy and created a single-party system. This simultaneous institutionalization of a corporative form of political mobilization and organization, on the one hand, and the monopolization of the political arena by a single party, on the other, has decided the political destiny of this North African society. Murphy's description and analysis of the events unfolding since the independence of Tunisia definitely enhance our understanding of the gradual concentration of power in the hands of former president Bourguiba. Not only does she identify the bricks of political patronage that went into the construction of the house that Habib built for himself and his political cronies, but she puts the discussion in a wider context so that the reader can locate Tunisia...