Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East

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Overview


Robin Wright first landed in the Middle East on October 6, 1973, the day the fourth Middle East war erupted. She has covered every country and most major crises in the region since then, through to the rise of al Qaeda and the U.S. invasion of Iraq. For all the drama of the past, however, the region's most decisive traumas are unfolding today as the Middle East struggles to deal with trends that have already reshaped the rest of the world. And for all the darkness, there is also hope. Some of the emerging trends...
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Overview


Robin Wright first landed in the Middle East on October 6, 1973, the day the fourth Middle East war erupted. She has covered every country and most major crises in the region since then, through to the rise of al Qaeda and the U.S. invasion of Iraq. For all the drama of the past, however, the region's most decisive traumas are unfolding today as the Middle East struggles to deal with trends that have already reshaped the rest of the world. And for all the darkness, there is also hope. Some of the emerging trends give cause for greater optimism about the future of the Middle East than at any time since the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948.Dreams and Shadows is an extraordinary tour de horizon of the new Middle East, with on-the-ground reportage of the ideas and movements driving change across the region-and the obstacles they confront. Through the powerful storytelling for which the author is famous, Dreams and Shadows ties together the players and events in Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Morocco, Turkey, the Gulf states, and the Palestinian territories into a coherent vision of what lies ahead.A marvelous field report from the center of the storm, the book is animated by the characters whose stories give the region's transformation its human immediacy and urgency. It is also rich with the history that brought us to this point. It is a masterpiece of the reporter's art and a work of profound and enduring insight.At the end, Wright offers perspective on the United States' most ambitious and costly foreign policy initiative since the rebuilding of Europe after World War II. The stakes are far greater than winning the war on terrorism, stabilizing Iraq, or achieving a lasting Arab-Israeli peace. Transforming the greater Middle East is the last great political challenge of the modern era. Yet the early burst of activity in a region long stagnant is already becoming one of the first grand surprises of the twenty-first century.
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Editorial Reviews

Ethan Bronner
Along for the ride, readers are treated to clear and well-rendered accounts of Kefaya, the fledgling Egyptian dissident movement; the history of Iran's quest for nuclear power; the beginnings of Hezbollah; and fascinating tidbits like an early mention of the Kurds as a nation and how the Katyusha rocket, got its name. While this is an engaging tour of a complex area, the problem is that the moment of promise that set Ms. Wright off on her trip—the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon combined with the Iraqi, Palestinian and Egyptian elections all in quick succession—has turned distinctly sour…That said, there is much to be gained from joining her on her trip. In some ways the subsequent failures of reform lend poignancy.
—The New York Times
Geoffrey Wheatcroft
Readers sometimes complain that newspapers print only bad news. Well, Wright is in fact an optimist, and she has done her best to give the good news. She describes the way many brave and decent people are struggling to free their countries from autocracy or worse, and she seeks out "a budding culture of change." In one country after another, men and women want to use economic empowerment and freedom of expression, enhanced by new technology, as the means to political liberation. But she is an honest reporter, and the story that emerges from this book is not quite the one she would like to tell. She cannot conceal the truth that change is slow to come when it comes at all…Robin Wright's book ought to teach our rulers a thing or two, but they often seem quite unteachable.
—The Washington Post
Patrick Cockburn
Wright has long been one of the best-informed American journalists covering the Middle East, and her reputation is borne out here. She is refreshingly skeptical of conventional wisdom about what is happening in the region, and her book will be essential reading for anybody who wants to know where it is heading.
—The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
An astute assessment of the state of the Middle East, by a longtime reporter and observer of the scene. Washington Post foreign-policy correspondent Wright brings some good tidings from the region: "In the early twenty-first century," she writes, "a budding culture of change is...imaginatively challenging the status quo-and even the extremists." Some members of this culture-they've been called the "pyjamahedeen"-blog, write letters to the editor, protest on the street; others exercise subtle resistance, as with the Iranian women who wear their headscarves "precariously at the crown of the head to expose as much of a beautifully coifed hairdo as possible without falling off." Whatever their form of protest, these men and women face much danger as ignorers of fatwas and potential heretics. Wright travels widely across the region to seek out these agents of change, though her profiles often concern those whom they are fighting. One militant, for instance, set the tone of decrying the supposed licentiousness of Western women half a century ago-his acolytes today press the charge, even as their female compatriots flock to see Hollywood movies and dress in Western fashions. That does not dissuade the true believers. As Wright notes, they're still busily seeking to transcend the Arabic world with an Islamic superstate, a caliphate that will rule the whole of humankind-once they settle such pesky problems as whether Sunni or Shia Islam is to prevail, drive America out of Iraq and force women to don the veil. Despite them, and despite the overwhelming view that America will be defeated in Iraq, there is even better news. Wright reports that "the majority of the people in the Middle East still[want] the kind of political change that has swept the rest of the world over the past quarter century."A fine set of dispatches from the front. Agent: Esther Newberg/ICM
From the Publisher
"Fluent and intelligent.... Wright has long been one of the best-informed American journalists covering the Middle East, and her reputation is borne out here." —-The New York Times
The Barnes & Noble Review
One of the presumed justifications for the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the subsequent occupation, was to bring democracy and political stability to the entire Middle East. As Robin Wright, who has covered the Middle East for over 30 years for The Washington Post, makes wonderfully clear in this important, highly illuminating, and provocative book, the goals of regional democracy and stability may be mutually exclusive.

Wright travels across the region, including stops in Gaza, Cairo, Tehran, Beirut, and Baghdad, interviewing leaders and meticulously investigating political realities on the ground. Her knowledge of the region, its troubled past and its problematic present, is deeply impressive, as is her ability to gain access to the region's leading government officials, religious leaders, academics, and reformers. The picture Wright paints is a mixture of unexpected hopes somehow holding up amid bleak realities.

In her gripping chapter on Egypt, Wright describes the three "crats" who dominate the present Middle East: autocrats, theocrats, and democrats. In a conclusion that runs opposite to the hopes of many eager interventionists, she concludes, "The democrats are the weakest." A case in point: Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak, a secular leader (in power since 1981) and U.S. ally, rules with the proverbial iron fist. Those calling for democratic reforms, including fair elections, often find themselves imprisoned without charges. Wright interviews Ghada Shahbender, who established a web site to monitor Egyptian elections. After the web site revealed widespread, pro-Mubarak voting fraud, Ms. Shahbender was harassed and threatened with violence. A pro-democracy demonstration in Cairo produces an illustrative contrast: "only fifty people showed up," Wright testifies, and so did "five police trucks with police in riot gear."

Autocratic regimes throughout the region -- Morocco and Syria join Egypt in this respect -- have used the threat of a burgeoning Islamist movement to justify cracking down on dissents and denying democratic reforms. In Egypt, Wright also interviews a member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic organization at the root of much of the region's anti-Western ideology: "The United States after 9/11 has adopted a new strategy to establish an empire," he tells Wright. "It wants to control the Middle East." The Brotherhood is no friend of U.S.-backed autocrats , such as Mubarak, who regularly uses his secret police to arrest radicals.

In Lebanon and among the Palestinians, Wright shows, Islamic groups like Hezbollah and Hamas (backed by well-armed militias and anti-Western ideologies), have gone further, playing important roles in the political system. Indeed, the book opens with a focus on the January 2006 Palestinian elections won by Hamas, which avowedly wishes to destroy neighboring Israel. In Lebanon, Hezbollah advocates a parallel hostility, has a history of terrorist violence, and enjoys a surprisingly solid popularity with the electorate. "The coming conundrum in the Middle East," says Wright about the democratic success of radical Islamic groups, "is that free and fair elections may not initially produce a respectable democracy."

The result often smacks of paradox. The U.S., for example denied foreign aid to the Palestinians after Hamas's surprising electoral victory. When Wright interviews the Beirut-based head of Hezbollah, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, he condemns U.S. hypocrisy: "Your administration says it is assisting the democratic process in our countries," he tells Wright, "but it has to respect the results of this process.... The Palestinian people have chosen Hamas, and the American administration is punishing all the Palestinian people because they elected Hamas."

The author sees a similar scenario likely to play out in Iraq. Free elections, like the 2005 parliamentary elections, have unintentionally exacerbated Iraq's sectarian divisions: "Religious parties fared better than secular groups," notes Wright, who describes the widespread sectarian violence that broke out after the elections. In the absence of centralized security, "more than two dozen militias ruled the streets, intimidating society, dictated to business, and defied the government." And the author takes seriously the region-wide view that U.S. attempts to promote democracy in Iraq have actually "undermined -- even sabotaged -- prospects for political change."

Dreams and Shadows also includes an eye-opening chapter on Iran, which paints the picture of an Islamic nation tottering between pro-Western reform and anti-Western paranoia. The Iran Wright describes is far from monolithic, containing a number of reformers (such as Nobel laureate Shrin Ebadi) who seek to interpret Islamic law in a way consistent with human rights and Western values. Former Iranian president Khatami, who held power from 1997 to 2005, introduced reforms that sought to open up Iran to Western influence. Wright lucidly explains Iran's anticlerical uprising (especially powerful among the young) against aging, inflexible religious leaders. Khatami tells Wright, "I have been pressing for a reading of religion that would allow us to achieve independence, freedom, and progress. If we can interpret religion in a way that conforms with democracy, both democracy and religion will benefit."

Yet in 2005, Iran experienced a backlash against Khatami-inspired openness. Current Iranian president Ahhmadinejad's electoral victory represented a return to conservatism and resurgent Iranian nationalism. Despite threats from the U.S. and its allies, today's Iran refuses to give up its nuclear ambitions. President Ahhmadinejad, says Wright, is "a throwback to the angry militancy and misadventures of the revolutionary early years" of the U.S. hostage crisis. Iran is also training insurgents in Iraq and elsewhere, and Wright draws on a familiar image of global conflict to illustrate the ratcheting up of tensions:: "Throughout the Middle East, the United States and Iran were by 2007 effectively engaged in a new Cold War. It was a race for supremacy in ideology and influence."

So, what is the likely future for democracy in the region? Most of the pro-democracy advocates Wright interviews are either now in prison or have spent long stints behind bars for their beliefs. Instead of stable democracies, the region Wright describes is defined by unstable autocracies that increasingly fear radical Islamists and unstable theocracies fearing the "poison" of Western culture and American imperialism.

Without an open forum for political dissent in countries that are effectively police states, Wright sees the power of religion on the rise. The pro-democracy reformers Wright does find must perilously navigate between the Scylla of "well-heeled autocrats who have no intention of ceding control" and the Charybdis of "Islamists who believe they have a mission from God." Dreams and Shadows may not tell the story that Americans would prefer to hear, but it's a profoundly realistic and unflinching look at today's Middle East. We need more of Wright's open-mindedness and clarity of vision, lest we continue basing public policies on our own dreams and shadows. --Chuck Leddy

Chuck Leddy is a member of the National Book Critics Circle who writes frequently about American history. He reviews books regularly for The Boston Globe, as well as Civil War Times and American History magazines. He is a contributing editor for The Writer magazine.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781615544202
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 2/28/2008
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 480
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author


A global affairs correspondent for more than three decades, Robin Wright has reported from more than 130 countries on six continents, working for the Los Angeles Times, the Sunday Times of London, CBS News, the Washington Post, and the Christian Science Monitor, among others. She also has been a commentator for news programs on the major U.S. television networks and been published widely in American magazines like the New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly, Foreign Affairs, and Foreign Policy. In 2003, she became a regular panelist on the NBC program Meet the Press.Her reporting has earned many awards, including the United Nations Gold Medal for international reporting in 2003 and the 2001 Wintal Prize for most distinguished diplomatic reporting. Her books include The Last Great Revolution: Turmoil and Transformation in Iran; Sacred Rage: The Wrath of Militant Islam; In the Name of God: The Khomeini Decade; and Flashpoints: Promise and Peril in a New World, coauthored with Doyle McManus. Laural Merlington has recorded well over one hundred audiobooks, including works by Margaret Atwood and Alice Hoffman, and is the recipient of several AudioFile Earphones Awards. An Audie Award nominee, she has also directed over one hundred audiobooks. She has performed and directed for thirty years in theaters throughout the country. In addition to her extensive theater and voice-over work, Laural teaches college in her home state of Michigan.
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