Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East

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Countries like Egypt and Morocco largely disappeared off the media map. In describing the struggles of people from Morocco to Iran to reform or replace existing regimes she draws on three decades of experience in covering the region for The Washington Post and other newspapers. Opening on an optimistic note, Wright describes how in she stood across the street from the ruins of the United States Embassy in Beirut after more than 60 Americans had been killed by a suicide bomber. At that time, she recalls, it seemed that Islamic fundamentalists had the initiative and were shaping the future of the region.

It would be good if this were true, but in general the stories Wright relates of brave reformers battling for human and civil rights show them as having had depressingly small influence. Of the many opponents of the status quo she writes about, the only ones to have achieved a measure of success are religious movements: Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

She does not cover Pakistan, but the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Rawalpindi in December shows that suicide bombers retain their deadly ability to shape events.


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Why have moderate reformers failed so uniformly across the Middle East? Not because of lack of courage. Wright describes how in Syria, Riad al Turk, first arrested for opposing a military government in , spent almost 18 years in solitary confinement in an underground cell the length of his body. He kept himself sane by making pictures on the floor out of thousands of hard and inedible grains he had taken out of the prison soup during his years of confinement.

Autocratic regimes in the Middle East may be sclerotic, corrupt and detested by their own people, but they are very difficult to remove. Governments in Egypt, Syria and Libya that came to power by military coups in the distant past have learned how to protect themselves against their own armies and security forces. In each of those countries the Mubarak, Assad and Qaddafi families are establishing new political dynasties. Political reforms have been purely cosmetic. This is Egypt. View all New York Times newsletters. Just one long-established regime in the Arab world has been kicked out by voters in a closely monitored election.

The Imam even decreed that clerics could not run in the first presidential election, which took place a year after the revolution, in January The winner was Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, a French-educated economist who had been twice imprisoned by the Shah'' p That's right. The revolution was never meant to establish a theocracy as it is now , but most Iranians desired a democracy with a constitution and an elected president while religion and clerics would be left out of politics. For a brief time, Iran was looking to a bright future as a free nation.

So what happened? Lust for power. The usual human characteristics. Iran had, and has, something everyone wants. Those who controlled the oil controlled the money. The U. After that mess, the U. It was and will always be about OIL. But back then, no one was really in control. Most Iranians knew they wanted a democracy and a president to limit leadership powers, but that also meant oil revenues would be open for the taking.

So the question was: who was going to stand up and seize the realm? That is greed, but greed runs the world these days. Immoral men and women are those often making critical decisions. Moral men and women seem to just look on and shake their heads at all the foolishness. But in , Iranians in different factions still fought for control, and as they were doing this a free Iran slipped through their fingers and into an oppression they could have never imagined.

Amid crackdowns, arrests, and executions, the government's secular technocrats and the clerics began to fall out too. He equated their tactics with Stalinism. He called publicly for 'resistance to tyranny,' while privately writing the Imam to caution that the regime was moving toward dictatorship. Once he dared to warn that the revolution was 'committing suicide' The next day, the Imam used his absolute power to remove Bani-Sadr from office and order his arrest. Dressed as a woman, the revolution's first president went into hiding.

He eventually fled to France And from then on, Iranians had sealed their fate. After all, power once held is difficult to relinquish, no? Nevertheless, some hope still remains. Iranians love to point out how many mullahs settled into the posh northern suburb of Jamaran. The Imam's home and mosque were near the top of one of its scenic hills. Jamaran means 'havens of snakes.

Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East - Robin Wright - Google книги

If we consider the recent changes that have taken place in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Afghanistan and Iraq--not to mention what is happening in Syria--we can only wonder when will it be Iran's turn. Adapting Islam is a process known as ijtihad, or 'interpretation. The word ijtihad derives from jihad. Jihad is today easily the most misunderstood word in the world. It literally means 'trying' or 'struggle''' p Their core ideas--about the devil, hell, a future savior, the worldly struggle between good and evil ending with a day of judgment, the resurrection of the dead, and an afterlife--had an impact on all other monotheistic faiths, and even Buddhism'' p So many settled in what is today Isfahan that it was once known as Yahudiyeh or Dar al Yahud, Farsi or Arabic titles both roughly meaning 'haven of Jews.

And here is a modern account of Iran's traffic, which is very similar to Vietnam's traffic of today: ''To turn left on one of the capital's leafy boulevards at busy rush hour, get in the far right lane--and vice versa.

In the Shadow of Nasser

A red light means gun it If you need to make a U-turn, wait until oncoming traffic is roaring toward you, and then veer wildly out in front of it. A two-lane road is actually three and possibly four--and, by all means, also feel free to move into a lane of oncoming cars'' p A strong recommend. Don't forget to visit my websites: www. Jun 18, Prateek Joshi rated it it was ok. Two stars for the history shared in this book. The journalist insight is what one should not be looking for in this book.

Wright does not understand what independent journalism means. The entire book is biased - as one can involuntarily make out - towards the short-sighted US Foreign Policy in the middle east. One needs to just read directly the chapter on Iraq to be able to spot the USness of this book. Robert Fisk to anyone Two stars for the history shared in this book. Robert Fisk to anyone who is interested in knowing the middle east and understanding the reasons for the present horrors being faced by the region.

Jun 08, Sandra Rosner rated it liked it. Very interesting and enlightening contents, but organization is confusing with respect to time. This book is informative, without posing solutions. May 22, Kathy rated it it was amazing Shelves: current-events , iran. Wright has traveled and lived in these areas, and has had access to political and religious leaders.

The chapter on Iraq was hard to read, because it made me feel angry, helpless, and hopeless. I read this with a current events book, and was glad that I had people to discuss it with. Jun 08, Jamrodh SIngh rated it really liked it. This book is a must read for anyone who wants to understand "why there is chaos in middle east". Honestly this book helped me in getting to know the bigger picture on how tradition,culture and islam plays a role in their politics. Jan 03, Debby Nemecek rated it it was ok.

I didn't finish. Others may enjoy but I found it to dry. It is very fact based - that is good. But I needed more human interest to want to keep reading. Mar 26, Justin Reeder rated it it was amazing. Highly recommend. Apr 30, PS rated it it was amazing Shelves: arab-region-turkey , lebanon , non-fiction. Need to revisit this one. Mar 19, Annie rated it really liked it. A fascinating read especially in light of how many momentous, unbelievable things have happened in the Middle East in the decade since this book was written.

Mar 26, Louise rated it it was amazing Shelves: egypt , iran , middle-east. Through recent events, author Robin Wright sees hope for change in the region. She warns that the movements she cites are nascent and fragile, and steps backward sometimes follow steps forward.

I.B. Tauris

She also notes that she may be putting too much emphasis on the undercurrents. The book ends with the regressive effects of the US's democracy mission in Iraq. Despite all her disclaimers, as events have unfolded her observations of everyday dissatisfaction in Iran did show very deep and strong desires for political change and she may be right on in the other countries as well. This generation is more educated than any before it and has finger tip access to knowledge of the world beyond. In the last chapter, feminist, Fatima Mernissi, of Morocco cites information itself as being the most important factor for empowerment.

Robin Wright notes that what is different today than any time before is that dissent is not confined to a small circle of dissidents. A very large and diverse section of the population is telling authoritarian leaders that it wants change and is no longer afraid to demand it. In some of these countries women are in the forefront of change. Most leaders demanding change say that to be effective, change has to be gradual. Many say secular movements need to reserve a place for religion.

Political Islam 101

Morocco was of the most interest to me, perhaps because it's the country I know least about. It isn't a country often mentioned, let alone covered, in the US press. Morocco demonstrates Wright's step forward and backward observation. The king's structural power exceeds that of any other monarch.

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Just as the new young king, who's father and grandfather had led extremely iron handed regimes, set the stage for less government repression and women were secured a few rights, suicide bombs and other violence brought on a wave of mass arrests. Wright's view that small things can tell the story clearly presaged the events in Iran. Before the election and its aftermath she observed that the rulers were the butt of everyday jokes, cab drivers bypassed clerics, the 's hostage takers were critical of the government they spawned and regime was unable to produce adoring patriotic crowds in when it took some British soldiers as hostages.

If Wright is correct on the other countries she covers, as she was in Iran, these next few years will be incredibly tumultuous in these countries. March - this book was written before the Arab Spring. The author was right on target. Unfortunately, being right like this will not give anyone influence in world affairs. Mar 30, Jack rated it really liked it. Looking over the Middle East's broad landscape, Robin Wright attempts to outline the players and reformers in a few representative Middle Eastern states.

She does omit a few nations, most notably Saudi Arabia, but does include Egypt, the Palestinian Territories, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, th "Peace in the Middle East" and even "Democracy in the Middle East" are starting to become cliched phrases, lacking the cultural, political and historical background to fully comprehend the difficulties of reform. She does omit a few nations, most notably Saudi Arabia, but does include Egypt, the Palestinian Territories, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, the closing chapter that focuses on the Iraq war and the "success" story of Morocco.

The picture is stark and very clear: the reformers have an uphill battle to fight. The Middle East is riddled with turmoil, spurts of violence, and the familiar pattern of weak, corrupt or autocratic governments. In Egypt, it is the Mubarak regime and State Security. Syria has the Assad presidency and the Mukhabarat secret police.

2030 A New Middle East?

Multi-ethnic Lebanon is fractured between its many groups and the Palestinian territories is split between the Hamas and Fatah movements. Iran is ruled by the religious clerics, and backed by the Revolutionary Guards. The odds are not good, but the agents of change continue to seek progress and reform despite constant surveillance, imprisonment and torture. In Egypt, it is for transparent and fair elections. In Lebanon, it is for civil engagement in the aftermath of Rafik Hariri's assassination. Iran hopes for a new interpretation of Islam and the Palestinians look for unity.


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No book of the Middle East can really be complete without a discussion of Islam and some of the extremists. Iran includes a discussion on "jihad and ijtihad. Hezbollah in Lebanon. Highly recommended for a general introduction to the current situation in the Middle East. I myself may return to this book from time to time to refresh my memory. May 16, Jim rated it it was amazing Shelves: political-analysis , history-non-fiction. When I started this book, reading the Prologue, I feared I was beginning a book that took a very Pollyannish view of the prospects of change in the Middle East.

I could not have been more wrong. Wright, who has evidently covered the Middle East as a report for many years, has produced a masterful analysis of the prospects of progress in major countries of the Middle East, including Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Morocco, Egypt and Iraq. She interviewed many democratic activists and included When I started this book, reading the Prologue, I feared I was beginning a book that took a very Pollyannish view of the prospects of change in the Middle East. She interviewed many democratic activists and included excerpts from those interviews in the book.

My conclusion is that, largely across the entire region, the prospects for democratic, liberal parties and programs are very limited. Even in Morocco, which is farthest from the Israeli-Palestine conflict and has largely avoided Islamic extremism in the recent years, has had a history of abusing human rights in defense of the monarchy and limiting any reform that would reduce the powers of the autocracy. Wright concludes her book with a look at Iraq and the U. She is unrelenting in her criticism of President George W.

Correspondents Association Gold Medal for coverage of international affairs, the National Magazine Award for reportage from Iran in The New Yorker , and the Overseas Press Club Award for "best reporting in any medium requiring exceptional courage and initiative" for coverage of African wars. For coverage of U. Wright has also been the recipient of a John D.