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Fri. February 03, 2023
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Defensive Developmentalism: It’s Honestly a Gamble


Defensive developmentalism is the ability of an authoritative figure(s) to achieve and maintain self-sufficiency. This ability involves the observation and adoption of aspects of countries that have already achieved and maintained development. Such countries are mainly Western hegemons. Furthermore, achieving and maintaining self-sufficiency encompasses two fundamental components: the consolidation and the centralization of state and power. Creating practices and enacting regulations that better the factors of a country, such as military, cultivation, education, taxes, and infrastructure, will overall allow consolidation and centralization to occur. The more consolidation and centralization a country has, the more protected the country will be against internal and external aggressions, which is the goal of defensive developmentalism. Throughout the late modern period, countries have incorporated defensive developmentalism and were able to achieve centralization and consolidation of state and power; however, they were not able to fully protect themselves from internal and external opposition. Because of its fluctuation in the rate of success, defensive developmentalism is not necessarily a reliable tactic to achieve national long-term growth.

One prime example of the success and failure of defensive developmentalism is Egypt. To achieve defensive development, Mehmet Ali, an authoritative figure in Egypt, expanded land for resource acquisition. By expanding into the East and West Bank, Mehmet Ali extracted gold and slaves. Additionally, he acquired the Red Sea, granting him control of the shipment and production of coffee. Consequently, Egypt became an economic hegemon. Mehmet Ali furthered Egypt’s economy through the expansion of cash crops. By establishing public works, Egypt was able to attain crops more quickly. As cotton raised Egyptian currency, Mehmet Ali utilized it for infrastructural development, such as an opera house and the Suez Canal, to promote Egypt’s international reputation. Along with the land expansion, crop sufficiency, and infrastructural development, Mehmet Ali enacted tax reforms that abolished tax farming and promoted direct tax. To eradicate internal aggression, he extinguished mamluk farmers who were most disadvantaged by this reform. Through tax reform, along with education and legal codes, Mehmet Ali was able to build an army that would serve to maintain the Egyptian state from internal and external aggressions.

As mentioned before, defensive developmentalism involves the observation and adoption of aspects of mainly Western countries. Therefore, to achieve stability in Egypt, Mehmet Ali had al-Tahtawi go to Paris, France, hoping he would bring back French methods that would strengthen Egypt and Mehmet Ali’s rule. While touring Paris, al-Tahtawi observed various fascinations that he wanted to bring to Egypt. One fascination was the Parisian’s investment in French interests, for it led to innovative utilities, such as botany studies to create a natural environment, umbrellas to protect against rain, and parasols to alleviate the heat. Not only was al-Tahtawi amazed at the country’s investment in national interests, but he was also amazed at the efficiency of their outcomes. To combat the effects of drought, the Parisians created a large-wheeled vat that contained sprouts where water was expelled and horses that pulled the vehicle. Because of its design, Parisians were able to save time, forty-five minutes of an hour to be specific, to sprinkle water over dry areas. Another fascination of al-Tahtawi was entertainment centers. Unlike certain Egyptian entertainment centers that prompted sexual arousal, French entertainment centers provided a sense of modesty. Including entertainment centers, al-Tahtawi found delight in French buildings because of their cleanliness and neat organization in avenues. One more fascination that-Tahtawi observed in Paris was the French Constitution because it set all citizens equal to each other regardless of their socio-economic status. Because of the equal rights granted under this constitution, Parisians were content.

Though Paris provided fascinations, there were some aspects of Paris that al-Tahtawi did not find pleasurable and thus did not want to bring back to Egypt. One dissatisfaction, which al-Tahtawi considered abominable, was the French notion that philosophers’ knowledge carried more value than that of the prophets.’ A key component of philosophical practice was the reliance on fate; however, al-Tahtawi retorted the ideology by explaining fate’s weakness and action’s credibility to one’s achievements. Another dislike was the dressing of women. Though intrigued by the uses of certain accessories like the belt, al-Tahtawi was bewildered by the acceptability of women leaving down their hair, removing clothing between their head and chest, and showing their arms. Under Egyptian rule, these social norms would have been considered immoral and punishable. An additional dislike that al-Tahtawi did not want to bring back to Egypt was religious activities. He did not like how the French clergy was obliged to maintain celibacy, for it consequently induced more immoral behavior. Similarly, he disliked priests listening to and forgiving sins. In contrast, in the Egyptian practice of Islam, Muslims confessed their sins to Allah, praying for his forgiveness.

Incorporating the fascinations from al-Tahtawi’s journey would suit Mehmet Ali’s plans for defensive developmentalism. By having Egyptians share national interests, social cohesion would be enhanced. Aligning the homogenous interests of a cohesive Egyptian society to his political goals, Mehmet Ali would have a more centralized rule. Not only will shared national interests build a cohesive society, but it will also lead to a better economy. From shared interests comes the investment of better productional tools and skills that would promote Egyptian cash crops, such as coffee and cotton. As cash crops become abundant from better production utilities and skills, the Egyptian economy would rise, which in turn would aid Mehmet Ali’s infrastructural reforms and military reforms that consolidate his power against external aggressors. Also, internal aggressors would be reduced if Egypt adopted a constitution that gives all Egyptian residents the same opportunities and liberties. Having a constitution that promotes these benefits will guarantee satisfaction throughout Egypt, which is imperative for Mehmet Ali’s rule: with satisfaction comes support, which would make his rule more consolidated and centralized.

Furthermore, not incorporating the dissatisfactions from al-Tahtawi’s journey would also suit Mehmet Ali’s goals for defensive developmentalism. Incorporating them would only create social divides that would limit shared interests to invest in and make efficient productional utilities, hurt the economy, and possibly formulate rebellions against Mehmet Ali. Ultimately, his centralization and consolidation of power would be weakened, giving way for external and internal opposition to intervene. Egypt was able to achieve defensive developmentalism. As mentioned before, Mehmet Ali, with the help al-Tahtawi’s journey in France, expanded land for resources that raised Egyptian currency, created infrastructural developments to boost Egypt’s international reputation, and enacted a series of reforms that prompted social cohesion and state sufficiency. Thus, Mehmet Ali’s authoritative power became more centralized and consolidated. Furthermore, Egypt became an economic hegemon, especially through the surplus of its cotton during the American Civil War. As a result, Egypt began borrowing money from outside countries. After the United States came back into the cotton market, Egyptian cotton lost value, thus promoting Egypt to declare bankruptcy. Because of Egypt’s lack of economic sufficiency, Britain intervened as a creditor and remained in Egypt until 1956. Egypt’s failure to protect itself from an external power highlights the failure of defensive developmentalism.

Because of its fluctuation, defensive developmentalism is an illegitimate method for national growth. Defensive developmentalism prompts a country, aiming to be associated with developed a Western country, to become economically and politically sufficient, which in turn promotes more currency and social cohesion. Just as it provides such benefits, it can leave the same country bankrupt, socially divided, and susceptible to internal or external opposition. Furthermore, defensive developmentalism is like gambling. A person who wants to be considered a member of the upper class can go to places, such as a pub and casino, winning millions. In a matter of minutes, however, they fall into debt, hence why gambling is considered problematic. It is imperative to state that people and countries are not the same. What may be beneficial for one may be detrimental to the other. Indeed, adoption may work, but it does not always guarantee success. Thus, in order to achieve true development, whether based on a personal or national level, one must evaluate and learn from the qualities that lie from within, not completely observe and incorporate qualities from the outside.

Damilare Oyebobola is a second-year undergraduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is majoring in International Development Studies and Minoring in Environmental Systems and Societies. Her main areas of focus are policy research, human rights, sociology, and community service.

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