Book review: Globalized Authoritarianism: Megaprojects, Slums and Class Relations in Urban Morocco

Reviewed by Federica Duca

16 Jun 2022, 9:59 a.m.
Federica Duca

Globalized Authoritarianism book cover

Koenraad Bogaert, Globalized Authoritarianism. Megaprojects, Slums and Class Relations in Urban Morocco, Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2018; 312 pp.: ISBN 9781517900809, £50.00 (hbk)


At a time when there are great concerns about the rise of authoritarian regimes globally, Globalized Authoritarianism is welcome and timely. By de-exceptionalising Morocco and its history, Bogaert takes the reader to the heart of the dynamics underlying urban and political changes in the country, embedding it in a much wider globalised context. The author takes us beyond an understanding of the history of Morocco merely based on clientelism, the regime and religion, and pushes us to look at how globalisation not only imposes itself in a particular context, but also, importantly, at how it is made in such a context. In so doing, the book provides a method to study local political and social contexts as embedded in global dynamics.

What is of great interest and particularly welcome is Bogaert’s emphasis on the relationship between the urban, the national and the global, showing how the local and global are embedded in co-production. This is exemplified in the discussion of two important moments, namely: the building of megaprojects and poverty alleviation programmes in Morocco – projects that have both an international and a local character. The book situates Morocco on a global scale (megaprojects come from international investment and poverty alleviation policies from the international agencies), while carefully looking at how national changes take place in the city – this is why Morocco is studied through the lens of the urban revolution. This is where the novelty of the book truly lies: the city is analysed as a political project and as a privileged site from which to look at political changes nationally and to consider what informs them internationally, making a case for the urban revolution to be understood as a political revolution.

In light of this, Bogaert argues that ‘the reforms and projects implemented in Morocco over the past few decades should not be understood as some kind of gradual democratization or liberalization but rather as examples of how authoritarian government converges with increasing globalization and transforms through its interaction with a rationale of economic liberalization’ (p. 9). The author makes this important point by looking at the implementation of megaprojects in Rabat and Casablanca, considering these as both a class project and an object of government policies. In this context, globalisation is understood not merely as an external and abstract force, but as processes embedded in political change in the city and in the nation.

Starting from the structural adjustment programmes of 1983 and the social unrest they caused, the author shows how authoritarianism evolved. While initially linked to the monarchy, it has changed to become something embedded in an urban class project. What has emerged is a different form of authoritarianism that imposes particular ways of thinking about the modern city and the country – one in which evictions are constitutive.

Bogaert considers the urban changes that have occurred in Morocco as an ‘urban revolution’, with the new megaprojects signifying modernity, a new city and a new country – a new Morocco. Megaprojects are promoted and implemented hand-in-hand with programmes of poverty alleviation, such as those promoted by ‘Cities without Slums’ and the National Initiative for Human Development. The ‘urban revolution’ which took place in the first decade of the 20th century is thus understood as having been prompted by (and therefore needing to be read in relation to) the launch of megaprojects.

The book is divided into three main sections. In Part I, ‘Neoliberalism as Class Projects’, the author unveils how globalisation is coproduced through the Moroccan political system itself. Here the author places ‘the urban revolution of Morocco within a broader debate on Arab politics’ (p. 20). Boegart moves away from a separation of the city from the nation and rejects a dominant dichotomy in scholarship on Arab politics that sees democratic transition in opposition to authoritarian persistence. Bringing globalisation into the picture, the analysis goes beyond the failure of the Arab states, centring the role of megaprojects in understanding new power relations in the context of structural adjustment programmes and neoliberal reforms.

In Part II, ‘(State-)Crafting Globalization’, on rethinking the state in relation to the global situation, the author unearths the relationship between state power and neoliberal projects, illuminating the state’s connections with the global situation. In Chapter 3, the author links the neoliberal projects to a set of power relations understood through the concept of class. The political nature of class relations and their manifestations in neoliberal projects is the subject of Chapter 4. Here the Bouregreg project is explored, showing how the state manifests itself through various institutional arrangements which are exemplified in the neoliberal project.

Finally, in Part III, ‘Transforming Urban Life’, Bogaert moves to consider how social policy was reinvented to respond to structural adjustment, focusing on the violence that is imparted on the population as part of the process of reconfiguring neoliberal and authoritarian government. Megaprojects are linked to the transformation of urban citizens through the reforms of the state. In this section, the author elaborates on how two moments of urban violence served as turning points in the way in which the Moroccan government understood both the city and the population as a governmental problem. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) riots in 1981 and the suicide bombings in 2003 strongly shaped policies. Slum dwellers became the main protagonists and informal settlements were elevated to a political concern around which both the security and the stability of the city came to be centred. The projects gave rise to new forms of state power and ‘new institutional arrangements’ (p. 77), such as the Bouregreg Agency, a state agency which acted as ‘urban planner, developer and private investor’ (p. 135).

Throughout the book, neoliberalism is treated as a set of projects that change over time, while class is conceptualised as the set of relations that contribute to those projects. This is why globalisation and its material manifestations in the city are studied hand-in-hand with the mutation (in its different iterations) of authoritarianism.

The book provides three noteworthy contributions: first, in linking urban change (revolutions) to national policies, and identifying political regimes as embedded in a global context; secondly, in reconsidering the way we think about transitions to democracy, emphasising that we can understand the different facets of authoritarianism through the implementation of megaprojects; thirdly, it offers an understanding of biopolitics which sees techniques for the management of populations as a crucial strategy to rule – modes underpinned by the marketisation of forms of control.

While the book is largely focused on the nature of political, economic and structural change, there is, however, little emphasis on the perspectives of people. We are often left without a sense of what the people really think and what they make of these changes. If only to understand better the nature of class as a set of relations under neoliberal regimes, I would have appreciated hearing the voices of those who have been evicted, or those that might decide to buy a flat in the megaproject described.

Those interested in understanding the relationship between the changing nature of authoritarian regimes and urban spaces will find Globalized Authoritarianism a compelling read. The book contributes to scholarship on Moroccan history, urban studies, political change and governmentality. Scholars interested in globalisation, the interconnection between the global and the local as well as its co-production through urban material infrastructures, will also be interested in reading this book. Overall, it will be of interest for all of those who study the relationship between political transformation and urban change in the Global South, while providing a powerful framework to approach the study of such urban transformation globally.


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