Mullahs, Merchants, and Militants: The Economic Collapse of the Arab World

Overview

A thousand years ago, a vast Arab empire stretched from the Asian steppe across the Mediterranean to Spain, pioneering new technologies, sciences, art and culture. Arab traders and Arab currencies dominated the global economy in ways Western multinationals and the dollar do today.

A thousand years later, Arab states are in decay. Official corruption and ineptitude have eroded state authority and created a vacuum that militant Islam has rushed to fill. Glain takes us on a journey...

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Overview

A thousand years ago, a vast Arab empire stretched from the Asian steppe across the Mediterranean to Spain, pioneering new technologies, sciences, art and culture. Arab traders and Arab currencies dominated the global economy in ways Western multinationals and the dollar do today.

A thousand years later, Arab states are in decay. Official corruption and ineptitude have eroded state authority and created a vacuum that militant Islam has rushed to fill. Glain takes us on a journey through the heart of what were once the great Islamic caliphates, the countries now known as Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel/Palestine, Iraq and Egypt, to illustrate how a once prosperous and enlightened civilization finds itself at a crossroads between a Dark Age and a New Dawn.

As late as a century ago, what we call the Levant was a prosperous trading bloc. By carving the region into proxy states and emirates after the First World War, the Western powers Balkanized and undermined the Levantine economy. That in turn prepared the ground for a regional autocracy that rejected economic openness and religious tolerance, qualities that had made the old Islamic caliphates great. Today the Arab world has opted out of the global economy, with tragic consequences. It is up to the new generation of leaders — and the Western governments that created the modern Middle East — to reverse the sclerosis and revive the region.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Steve Glain has written a wonderful book about the Middle East; beautifully written and well-reported. A shelf full of other books have explained the politics and religious tensions of the region, but none have taken Glain's holistic approach to incorporate... an understanding of how the economies of Middle Eastern countries have also contributed to the region's malaise. This approach does much to help our understanding of the countries that Glain has done such stellar reporting from: Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq."

- Peter Bergen, bestselling author of Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama Bin Laden

Publishers Weekly
Glain's study is largely anecdotal, and while it provides a good deal of color about the Middle East, it often fails to advance a real thesis about the factors, realities and consequences of the region's economic decline. Glain gives the reader the sense that there's a great cast of characters who play their roles according to their own scripts, but his account is short on serious commentary about how these figures fit into the larger narrative. However, the stories do often provide a unique look into the Arab world. Boston Globe reporter Glain, previously Middle East correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, covers Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq and Egypt, all with close journalistic attention. He accurately conveys the longstanding tensions between Jordan's affluent "East Bankers" and its large, commercially oriented but disenfranchised Palestinian population. Glain cleverly explains Iraq as a "beach ball" because it is such a major market in the region that "it cannot be submerged." He explains how wasta, or "the primacy of relationships over legality," affects the general political and economic landscape by encouraging backwardness and corruption. As an impressive corpus of anecdotes and a testament to Glain's exciting and wide-ranging career as a journalist, this book is a success. As a breakthrough work about the economic decline of the Arab world, it misses the mark. (June 18) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
For centuries, the Arab world was the center of a prospering Islamic realm that once stretched from central Asia to the Iberian Peninsula. Thriving intellectually, politically, and culturally at a time when much of Europe was mired in the Dark Ages, it also had a vibrant economy that fueled change and prosperity in the lands under its jurisdiction. But the economic demise of the Arab world eventually engendered its political disintegration and the subsequent rise of hidebound authoritarian systems. Through interviews with a cross section of people in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, and Egypt, Glain, a former Middle East correspondent for the Wall Street Journal who now covers the region for the Boston Globe, explains how some of the most endemic problems facing the Arab world today are caused by the decline of its once dominant economy. His approach in bringing to life the everyday struggle of ordinary people is one of the book's most distinctive aspects. Illuminated by the author's astute observations, this is a lively analysis of the causes and consequences of the Arab world's economic collapse. Highly recommended for all public libraries.-Nader Entessar, Spring Hill Coll., Mobile, AL Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The economy of the Arab world is a sick cousin to the world's major markets. And it's getting sicker by the minute. "In the West," former Wall Street Journal and current Boston Globe correspondent Glain observes, "it is naturally assumed that a shrinking economy leads to rising crime." Yet, he continues, Western analysts seem not to extend the same logic to the Arab world, where "jaundiced economies" are the fruit of corruption, stagnation, astonishingly inequitable wealth distribution, and the systemic failure of Arab nations to develop sustainable markets or trade alliances. (Whereas a century ago Egypt, for one, enjoyed international commerce equaling half of its GDP, Glain writes that today "trade among any of the Arab states is negligible.") Despite oil wealth, which rests in the control of a handful of families, real per-capita growth in the Arab world averaged less than 1 percent annually; the middle class has been shrinking, the intelligentsia fleeing, and the 22 nations of the Arab world have seen a radical fall in standards of living; as the economist Hernando de Soto has observed, those nations lack the institutions to make capital liquid and available to local investors, crushing job creation. Add to all that a rapidly exploding population and the attendant growing number of the young, idle, and disaffected, and you have the perfect recipe for instability-and for fundamentalism, and for terrorism. And what has the West been doing in response? Led by the US, writes Glain, it has been cosseting corrupt dynasties, backing Israel at the expense of other nations in the region, alienated potential friends-and, of course, launching invasions. In the last regard especially, the US hasbeen of no help; writes Glain, for all its faults, Saddam Hussein's government was "not only a dictatorship; it was the country's largest employer and consumer"-a role the occupier has yet to step into, which may have something to do with Iraqi anger today. A sharp look at the Arab world's wallet, offering mostly bad news-and little room for hope.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312329112
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 6/1/2004
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 350
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.68 (h) x 1.27 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen Glain joined The Wall Street Journal in 1991. From 1998 to 2001, he was the Journal's Middle East correspondent, based in Amman, Jordan. He now covers the Middle East for The Boston Globe.

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Table of Contents

1 Lebanon : the sluice gate 23
2 Syria : the circle 59
3 Jordan : the royal expediency 109
4 Palestine : the last colony 142
5 Iraq : the show 187
6 Egypt : the towering dwarf 238
Conclusion : whither Asabiyya? 285
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2005

    'Good Journalistic Case Studies'

    This was required reading for my Political Economy of the Middle East Class for my Grad work in Political Science. I found the book refreshing from the other texts I have to read. It is a quick read and thumb nail sketch of the nuanced atmosphere in the Middle East. Glain is obviously biased, but offers a unique insight into this confusion. I highly recommned it.

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