Integrating the South: The political economy of connecting Egypt to the Internet
Development specialists have praised the revolution in information and communication technologies (ICT) for its potential to make peripheral economies catch up with the industrialized core economies. Does the ICT revolution have this liberating effect? This study sheds doubt on this assumption. Rather than empowering the have-nots, it finds, the ICT revolution helps integrate Third World economies into the global economy under conditions that perpetuate existing inequalities. The present work situates the ICT revolution within the global transition from Fordism to flexible accumulation. It traces the formation of the ICT revolution and its crystallization into structure at the global level, namely telecom and Internet regimes complete with institutional underpinnings and attached financial and networking resources. It finds that actors from the core have molded these processes and that they have done so not to enable weaker players to catch up but, on the contrary, to secure their own lead in the global race for competitiveness. Actors from the periphery have had little input into regime formation. The ICT revolution helps integrate peripheral economies into the global economy not simply through the connectivity it creates. As is shown for the ideal case of Egypt, the structure it has produced at the global level generates a number of pressures on the peripheral state. In conjunction these have the potential to produce a sector-specific state transformation along the following lines: The phase-out of old telecom ministries that embrace the "outmoded" ideology of state capitalism and their replacement with new ministries for ICT, which advocate the "fashionable" ideology of private-sector-led, export-led growth and have strong ties to corporate actors from the core and the domestic export-oriented business elite. Such transition enhances the state's capacity to function as transmission belt that channels core demands for flexibility and free trade into the peripheral economy. By identifying causal mechanisms that link structure and case, this study develops a theoretical model of sectoral state transformation which, it argues, is not unique to Egypt but extends to numerous peripheral economies. It concludes with strategies for testing the practical adequacy of the model and improving its explanatory power.