For a brief period in the 1990s, peace in the Middle East seemed possible. Now that that's over, Rubin seeks to explain what went wrong. In his sixteenth book on the region, he argues that Arab leaders balked at peace because it presented too great a threat to their own power. Blaming external enemies Israel and the United States has long enabled Arab regimes to channel frustration away from their own failures, Rubin writes, and governments across the region reverted to this strategy when peace seemed likely to break out. This is not the first time that Rubin, who is the editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs, has carefully summed up very recent events. His widely acclaimed 1999 book, The Transformation of Palestinian Politics: From Revolution to State-Building, analyzed the inner workings of the Palestinian Authority. But while the tone of that book was cautiously hopeful, in his new work he sees no realistic path to a brighter future. This is a dense but well-argued read, and timely, too, as Westerners seek an explanation for why most if not all of the September 11th hijackers hail from U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Egypt. (Sept. 1) Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Rubin argues that Middle Eastern rulers hang onto control with police-state tactics and mollify the masses with anti-Western and anti-Israeli rhetoric. Economic development gets short shrift. Palestinians have never really accepted the existence of Israel. Even the Islamists, while opposed to the existing regimes (Iran aside), fit into the resulting political gridlock since regimes can concede some Islamist goals while diverting Islamist rage to the satanic outsider. Rubin's penultimate chapter shifts focus to argue that America's Middle East policy has been strikingly benign, implying that Middle Eastern rulers or their populaces must be cynical or perverse not to appreciate this. Rubin is a seasoned specialist. His empirical case is not trivial and his listing of radical statements by sundry Arab and Iranian leaders is telling. Nonetheless, other accounts might plausibly distinguish more among the states lumped together here, explain the deep-seated antipathy to the outsider (the United Kingdom yesterday, the United States today), and put more emphasis on the role of Israel in the developments he depicts. The Tragedy of the Middle East, written in these times, is likely to be read as a brief for massive regime change throughout the Arab world and Iran.
What keeps the Arab world weak, backward, and alienated from the west, claims Rubin (Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, Israel) are repressive regimes that continually thwart any reform attempts with cries about the evils of Israel and the US. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
From the Publisher
"Barry Rubin has written an important, spirited, mature meditation on the historical baggage of the modern Middle East. It asks the right questions abaut what ails modern Middle East societies. It has sweep and thoroughness. It is not severe in tone, more resigned than judgmental... I find in it a fine balance between concrete, specific data and wider theoretical concerns about politics and culture. Dr. Rubin is a prolific author with wide experience, and this book draws on the work and judgment of a seasoned scholar. Free of jargon, written with considerable clarity and force, this book will earn its place and make its way in the current debate about the ordeal of modernity in that tormented region. Its chapters on anti-Americanism and the 'uncivil society' are quite smart and go against the conventional wisdom. This is an engaging book by an engaged author who really cares about his material and his subject." Fouad Ajami, The John Hopkins University
"Powerfully persuasive. All academic libraries and large public libraries should quickly add this cogent, troubling and inexpensive monograph to their collections." Catholic Library World
"The Tragedy of the Middle East could be the political book most hated by Arabs since Rafael Patai's The Arab Mind in 1973...the book is a powerful one." The Washington Post
"Drawing on his decades of researching the region and his 18 earlier books, Rubin has produced a magisterial overview of the contemporary Middle East. Highly recommended." Choice