Inside The Book
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Chapter One: A Human Rights Approach to Globalization
Development experts have long argued that information technology (IT) empowers citizens of the Third World because it gives them access to markets and information channels. They recommend that the connectivity of Third World societies be deepened and that they receive communication devices.
This view of the specialists is very short-sighted, for empowering people -- or rendering them autonomous -- means inviting them into the decisions that shape their lives. That, however, did not happen to Third World peoples when important decisions about the IT revolution were made. Instead, states and corporations of the wealthy core economies made the rules - about telecom ownership, online privacy, electronic commerce etc. -- and organizations that could have represented the interests of Third World residents were sidelined.
Deepening the connectivity of Third World economies is therefore a double-edged sword. Their citizens gain access to new sources of information, but they also become subjected to notions of property, propriety, and trade, in which they may not believe and to which they have not given their consent.
Part I: The Rules of the Game are Forged
Chapter Two: Telephony for the Global Economy
Before the 1990s, countries across the world administered telephony in a uniform fashion, which had been devised in Europe and then diffused into the European colonies. The telephony sector was organized as a protected monopoly that the state owned and ran in conjunction with the postal service. Monopolists did their work in obscurity, and few people vocally complained about their lack of efficiency.
In the 1980s this changed, and in the wealthy industrialized economies, telecom administration became the subject of wide-ranging political debates. Only ten years later a new "best practice" was in place, encapsulated in a small number of international agreements. These agreements encouraged governments across the world to privatize their telecom sectors and simultaneously open the service to competition. Monopolies fell, one by one.
Who stood behind these profound changes, and why did they happen? To answer this question, Chapter Two traces the political battles that corporations and core states waged to obtain an improved telecom infrastructure. The chapter shows that these actors shaped the new telecom consensus. They excluded states and nonstate organizations from the periphery, which were only admitted to the bargaining table once the basic parameters were set.
- Chapter Three: Introducing the Internet
Originally a technology developed for use by the U.S. Department of Defense, the Internet opened its doors to the public in 1994. Shortly thereafter, new rules for encryption, electronic commerce, and the definition of intellectual property rights emerged, and organizations to administer them came into being.
Once again organizations from the core economies were the protagonists behind these processes, and they excluded organizations from the periphery that might have opted for a different set of rules. In doing so, they disrespected the autonomy of people living in poor parts of the world.
Together, the rules for telecom and the Internet formed the nascent IT regime.
Part II: The Rules of the Game are Enforced
Chapter Four: Bringing Poor Economies in Line
Given that actors from the periphery were excluded from the decision processes of the IT revolution, were any attempts made to coax them into embracing the resulting IT regime? Chapter Four explains how core corporations, states, and development organizations coalesced, persuading peripheral actors of their vision of the information society-that is, a market-driven information society that privileges the corporate desire for profit.
The World Bank and several other development organizations produced what can be called "IT-for-development narratives." These narratives took the desirability of corporate globalization as an undisputable given, and they promised that Third World economies would leapfrog development if they integrated into the global market. In producing their narratives, development organizations suggested that there was only one feasible vision of the information society.
The IT regime spelled out guidelines by which participants in the global economy were to abide. Supportive organizations such as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers enforced these guidelines. The "IT-for-development narratives" served as ideological frames. They encouraged voluntary compliance by detracting attention from alternative political possibilities.
In addressing the ideological aspect of the IT revolution, Chapter Four completes the discussion of how the IT regime was constituted. It then transitions to the enforcement of the IT regime, by introducing the mechanics of the Egyptian case study that will fill out the second part of this study.
Chapters Five through Nine show that corporations, development organizations and core states pressured the Egyptian state in a variety of ways to abide by the new IT regime and to integrate the Egyptian economy into the world market. As the state bowed to these pressures, it privileged the business elite and the group of "IT stakeholders", because both embraced the idea of corporate globalization. At the same time, it increasingly suppressed those societal groups that were opposed to corporate globalization. For most Egyptian citizens, compliance with the IT regime thus meant a reduction of autonomy.
- Chapter Five: Egypt in the World Economy
Egypt boasts an ancient civilization that was once at the center of the world economy. But by the late nineteenth century, these ancient days of glory were long gone. The country was now ruled by Britain, which used it to safeguard the passage to India. In subsequent decades, Egyptians gradually regained their independence.
Because of their imperialist experience, the Egyptian people became ever more assertive about their religious and national identity. In the 1950s, under President Gamal Abdel Nasser, the state aggregated this quest for identity into policy by entering into a social contract with employed labor: The state would provide its workers with guaranteed social security. Workers, in turn, would commit their productive abilities to a nationalist development scheme that was based on the idea of industrialization through import substitution (ISI).
The government hoped that through the ISI strategy, it could shield the Egyptian economy from the vagaries of the world market and from foreign domination. History proved these ideas mistaken. Over the following decades, the state incurred rising levels of debt and became ever more vulnerable to foreign pressure.
In the early 1990s, when the Soviet Union collapsed and its influence on Middle East politics ended, Egypt's creditors from the core gained immense power. Leveraging Egypt's debt, they compelled the state to restructure the economy, abolish all remnants of the ISI policy, and open the national system to the tide of corporate globalization.
- Chapter Six: Creditors Close In
Freed from their Soviet rival, the core states of Europe and North America leaned on the Egyptian government, prodding it to embrace globalization and the tenets of the IT revolution. This pressure took a number of forms. Agreements that the European Union negotiated with Egypt called for trade liberalization and improvements in Egypt's capacity to utilize IT. The World Bank administered a structural adjustment program demanding that Egypt dismantle its barriers to trade, privatize state-owned enterprises, and float the exchange rate.
This pressure not only caused the state to replace industrialization through import substitution with a strategy of export-led growth; it also helped the emergence of a peripheral business elite, which favored the idea of globalization and demanded IT connectivity. Intent on maintaining its grip on society in the face of economic hardship, the state entered into an alliance with this "globalization elite," while increasingly oppressing most other civil society groups.
- Chapter Seven: The Telecom Monopolist
Like many other countries, Egypt in the early 1980s administered its telecom sector as a state-owned monopoly. The monopolist was part of the Ministry of Transport and Communications, which had been established during the presidency of Nasser. The ministry's approach to infrastructure was not market-oriented. Instead, it was motivated by a Nasserist commitment to social engineering.
How did the ministry and its operator fare in the 1990s? When the global economy began its move toward a new, market-oriented telecom arrangement, the monopolist and the supervising ministry fell out of favor with transnational companies, development organizations, and the domestic globalization elite. Together they nudged the telecom carrier to become more market-oriented.
- Chapter Eight: Egypt's IT Stakeholders
Like many other Third World societies of the late 1980s, Egypt's society contained a nascent group of IT stakeholders: highly educated computer scientists, engineers, and managers whose social status was tied to IT adoption.
What set Egypt's IT stakeholders apart from those of other countries was their high level of organization and political acumen: They persuaded their government to create a lower-level government agency, the Information and Decision Support Center for the Egyptian Cabinet (IDSC), which would computerize the presidential cabinet. At IDSC, the IT stakeholders congregated and advanced their aspiration for an improved, market-friendly information infrastructure. Soon after the foundation of IDSC, they single-handedly expanded its mission from computerizing the government to turning Egypt into a software exporter.
The organization gradually increased the domestic power base of the IT stakeholders. Because its vision of a wired, borderless world economy was compatible with the vision that lay behind corporate globalization, core actors provided it with abundant resources. IDSC used them to expand its power base even further.
By the end of the 1990s, the network of IT stakeholders entered an alliance with Egypt's globalization elite and with a state that -- thanks to pressure from creditors -- embraced the notion that Egypt's future lay in globalization.
- Chapter Nine: A New Ministry for an Old Country
In the fall of 1999, President Mubarak announced Egypt's new national goal of becoming a software exporter. A month later, he mandated that a new Ministry of Communications and Information Technologies (MCIT) be established. He removed telecommunications and postal operations from the Ministry of Transport and assigned them to MCIT. This curtailed the power of the Nasserist ministry, weakened those Egyptians who held on to the idea of ISI, and improved Egypt's compliance with the role that corporate globalization had created for it.
In Chapters Two and Three we saw that Egypt's citizens were excluded from the formation of the IT regime. Chapters Five through Nine have shown that Egyptians were shut out of the decision-making process that opened their country to foreign trade and that led to the establishment of MCIT. Altogether, the IT revolution therefore excluded them not only once, but twice, disrespecting their autonomy profoundly.
PART III: Lessons
Chapter Ten: Inferences from the Egyptian Case
- Chapter Eleven: Epilogue
Chapter Eleven, the conclusion, draws general lessons from the preceding discussion. From a cosmopolitan perspective, it also suggests what needs to be done on both the national and the global level to treat every human being as an end in her or his own right.