A Marxist Guide to Understanding the Gulf States’ Political Economy

Western analysts often regard the Gulf as a strange anomaly among capitalist states. In fact, it has the same underlying dynamics as capitalist countries elsewhere, and it is powerfully shaping the politics of the Middle East.

Noncitizens make up between 56–82 percent of the labor force in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, and Kuwait, and around 95 percent in Qatar and the UAE. These striking figures are fundamental to understanding the Gulf’s class structure. Through the infamous kafala system, migrant workers are tied to an individual employer and are prevented from seeking alternative employment or even leaving the country without permission. The vast majority of these migrants are employed in the private sector — across sectors such as construction, domestic work, and retail — and are often poorly paid and subject to highly exploitative and dangerous working conditions. In this sense, the exploitation of migrant labor is an essential part of the accumulation of the business conglomerates I spoke about above.

English | July 13, 2020



We depend on your donation to fight for domestic workers in Lebanon.