Reaching for Power: The Shi'a in the Modern Arab World

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Overview

As the world focuses on the conflict in Iraq, the most important political players in that country today are not the Sunni insurgents. Instead, they are Iraq's Shi'I majority—part of the Middle East's ninety million Shi'I Muslims who hold the key to the future of the region and the relations between Muslim and Western societies. So contends Yitzhak Nakash, one of the world's foremost experts on Shi'ism.

With his characteristic verve and style, Nakash traces the role of the Shi'is in the struggle that is raging today among Muslims for the soul of Islam. He shows that in contrast to the growing militancy among Sunni groups since the 1990s, Shi'is have shifted their focus from confrontation to accommodation with the West. Constituting sixty percent of the population of Iraq, they stand squarely at the center of the U.S government's attempt to remake the Middle East and bring democracy to the region. This groundbreaking book addresses the crucial importance of Shi'is to the U.S. endeavor. Yet it also alerts readers to the strong nationalist sentiments of Shi'is, underscoring the difficult challenge that the United States faces in attempting to impose a new order in the Middle East.

The book provides a comprehensive historical perspective on Shi'ism, beginning with the emergence of the movement during the seventh century, continuing through its rise as a political force since the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1978-79, and leading up to the Iraqi elections of January 2005. Drawing extensively on Arabic sources, this comparative study highlights the reciprocal influences shaping the political development of Shi'is in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Lebanon, as well as the impact of the revival of Shi'ism on the larger Arab world. The narrative concludes with an assessment of the risks and possibilities arising from the assertion of Shi'I power in Iraq and from America's attempt to play an increasingly forceful role in the Middle East.

A landmark book and a work of remarkable scholarship, Reaching for Power illuminates the Shi'a resurgence amid the shifting geopolitics of the Middle East.

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Editorial Reviews

American Prospect - Gilles Kepel
Yitzhak Nakash's book, based on a vast array of sources in Arabic, is a precious guide to understanding the real stakes in the conflicts among different religious and political tendencies in Arab countries.
International Affairs - Guido Steinberg
Reaching for Power is more than just the best recent introduction to Shi'i politics in the Arab world. By basing his study on mainly Arab sources, he offers a rare insight into the Shi'i political thought and their ways of commemorating their past.
Middle East Journal - Lara Deeb
Well-written, timely, and generally accessible. . . . Reaching for Power is timely and highly relevant. It is clearly suitable for a course on Middle East politics, and should make the recommended reading list for policy pundits and US government officials contemplating the future of Iraq.
The Age - Fiona Capp
In this quietly optimistic work, Nakash sees Shi'ism as taking a lead in inspiring reform in the Arab world.
Digest of Middle East Studies - Nancy E. Gallagher
Nakash predicted that Iraq could descend into civil war or could lead the way to revolutionary change throughout the Arab world. Unfortunately, the pessimistic view has, to date, proven correct. . . . Nakash has written a book that will be eminently useful for professors and students who want to update the received wisdom that 'real' Islam is Sunni and Shi'i Islam is a minority sect mostly associated with Iran. It is clear that scholars and general readers need to learn more about yet another transformation within the Arab world, and this concise book is the place to start.
From the Publisher
One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2006

"Yitzhak Nakash's book, based on a vast array of sources in Arabic, is a precious guide to understanding the real stakes in the conflicts among different religious and political tendencies in Arab countries."—Gilles Kepel, American Prospect

Reaching for Power is more than just the best recent introduction to Shi'i politics in the Arab world. By basing his study on mainly Arab sources, he offers a rare insight into the Shi'i political thought and their ways of commemorating their past."—Guido Steinberg, International Affairs

"Well-written, timely, and generally accessible. . . . Reaching for Power is timely and highly relevant. It is clearly suitable for a course on Middle East politics, and should make the recommended reading list for policy pundits and US government officials contemplating the future of Iraq."—Lara Deeb, Middle East Journal

"In this quietly optimistic work, Nakash sees Shi'ism as taking a lead in inspiring reform in the Arab world."—Fiona Capp, The Age

"Nakash predicted that Iraq could descend into civil war or could lead the way to revolutionary change throughout the Arab world. Unfortunately, the pessimistic view has, to date, proven correct. . . . Nakash has written a book that will be eminently useful for professors and students who want to update the received wisdom that 'real' Islam is Sunni and Shi'i Islam is a minority sect mostly associated with Iran. It is clear that scholars and general readers need to learn more about yet another transformation within the Arab world, and this concise book is the place to start."—Nancy E. Gallagher, Digest of Middle East Studies

American Prospect
Yitzhak Nakash's book, based on a vast array of sources in Arabic, is a precious guide to understanding the real stakes in the conflicts among different religious and political tendencies in Arab countries.
— Gilles Kepel
International Affairs
Reaching for Power is more than just the best recent introduction to Shi'i politics in the Arab world. By basing his study on mainly Arab sources, he offers a rare insight into the Shi'i political thought and their ways of commemorating their past.
— Guido Steinberg
Middle East Journal
Well-written, timely, and generally accessible. . . . Reaching for Power is timely and highly relevant. It is clearly suitable for a course on Middle East politics, and should make the recommended reading list for policy pundits and US government officials contemplating the future of Iraq.
— Lara Deeb
Digest of Middle East Studies
Nakash predicted that Iraq could descend into civil war or could lead the way to revolutionary change throughout the Arab world. Unfortunately, the pessimistic view has, to date, proven correct. . . . Nakash has written a book that will be eminently useful for professors and students who want to update the received wisdom that 'real' Islam is Sunni and Shi'i Islam is a minority sect mostly associated with Iran. It is clear that scholars and general readers need to learn more about yet another transformation within the Arab world, and this concise book is the place to start.
— Nancy E. Gallagher
The Age
In this quietly optimistic work, Nakash sees Shi'ism as taking a lead in inspiring reform in the Arab world.
— Fiona Capp
Foreign Affairs
In two Arab countries, Iraq and Bahrain, Shiites constitute a clear majority, with over 60 percent of the population. They are the largest religious group in Lebanon (34 percent) and a minority of perhaps 8 percent in Saudi Arabia, concentrated in the oil-producing Eastern Province. All of these Shiite communities are near to Iran, the largest Shiite state, and all have a recent history of being denied a proportionate share of power and of struggling against such discrimination. All have recently made progress, thanks to a dramatic turnaround in Iraq since Saddam Hussein's fall, significant changes in Lebanese power balances in the past decade or so, sputtering improvement in Bahrain, and the uncertain beginnings of change in Saudi Arabia. This is the story that Nakash skillfully relates on a country-by-country basis. Can the power for which the Shiites are reaching be achieved without creating new destabilizing imbalances? Nakash describes fairly sanguine prospects, while concluding that the most critical case at the moment is Iraq.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691134789
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 7/2/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 248
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Yitzhak Nakash is associate professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic studies at Brandeis University. The author of "The Shi'is of Iraq" (Princeton), he has contributed articles to "Foreign Affairs, Newsweek," and the "New York Times".

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Table of Contents

Preface ix
A Note on Transliteration xiii
Prologue A Shi'i-Led Reformation 1
Chapter 1: The Burden of the Past 16
Chapter 2: Containment Politics in the Persian Gulf 42
Chapter 3: The Struggle for Power in Iraq 72
Chapter 4: The Revival of Shi'ism in Lebanon 99
Chapter 5: Between Aspirations and Reality 129
Conclusion 158
Abbreviations 165
Notes 167
Further Reading 207
Acknowledgments 211
Index 213

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