Ahmed Saad Al-Awfi, Esraa Ahmed Al-Miftah, Khalil Yacoub Buhazaa’, and Omar Hisham Al Shehabi, eds. Development at the Margins of the Gulf. Series 6 of the Gulf between the Fixed and the Variant (Beirut: Center for Arab Unity Studies, 2018). 304 pp. ISBN 978-9953-82-843-5. Reviewed by Aamna Al-Marri.

This book is a compilation of studies focusing on policies that target marginalized social groups, including women and expatriate workers, particularly in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. It is written with the intention of providing a contribution to academic literature on marginalization and to develop a deeper understanding of chronic issues facing GCC countries. Such issues include imbalances in the political, economic, demographic and security fields affected by laws and institutions related to development policies.

The book deals with the issue of political development and crises that have ensued in GCC countries since the “Arab Spring.” These include the security crisis in Bahrain, the legislative restrictions on political and human rights activities, and on charitable associations in the country, as well as the crisis between Qatar and Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It also underlines the process of normalization with Israel, pointing to the position of Kuwait which, unlike other Arab Gulf countries, objects to form of normalization with that country.

It focuses on the issues of disputes between the government and parliament in Kuwait and the complicated “Bidoon” issue related to people who were born in Kuwait but who do not have any right to that country’s citizenship or nationality. It also discusses the recent political developments in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, and Oman. These include legislative structures and laws with a focus on restrictions placed on human rights treaties, such as the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the “kafala” sponsorship system normally used to monitor expatriates in the majority of Arab Gulf countries.

The book deals with many interesting topics and provides other analyses on the women’s movement in Saudi Arabia, the law on unification of the family in Bahrain and its impact on the status of women, the question of academic freedom in universities of the Gulf, the question of women and Islam, and women’s representation in academic books.

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Mohamed Abdulshafi Issa, Economic Intelligence: Studies in the Political Economy of Development (Beirut: Muntada AlMaarif, 2018). 319 pp. ISBN 9786144281628.

Mohammed Abdulshafi Issa’s most recent publication, Economic Intelligence: Studies in Economics for Development, includes studies and information that the author himself compiled over a period of forty years as a researcher. It is meant to serve as a reference for students, analysts, and policymakers who specialize in the field of developmental studies, and provides them with a useful set of guidelines to conduct research or formulate appropriate economic policies for the Arab region.

The first two chapters that make up the first section of the book focus on the analysis of global and regional trends that influence the way economic policies are shaped in Arab countries. After explaining what BRICS represents (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), its constitution, its role, and how it provides an incentive for “Third World” nations to break out of economic deadlock, the author, using pre-2011 Egypt as a case study, demonstrates how the patterns of development were not suitable for Egypt to achieve substantial progress in terms of real human development and sustainable growth rates. He lists few preliminary recommendations to deliver a strategic vision for development that is up for debate.

For the author, sustainable development represents the highest achievement any society can attain. He views development not as process that operates at separate levels, but rather as a holistic one in which all forms of development arise ultimately from economic development: the cornerstone of the developing process, or “the economic compound of social forces and relations of production which constitute the fundamental basis of any social formation” (p. 39).

The third–fifth chapters that make up the second section of the book deal with issues of an intellectual and methodological nature. In the attempt to fill some gaps in the theories on social inequality, he explains that poverty does not emerge from a vacuum. Rather, it is the natural outcome of the economic, political, and social context to which a population is subjected, and a nation’s relationship with the international community—in particular the West—is a crucial determinant of a population’s wellbeing and living conditions. The reader is likely to be drawn by the author’s assessment of the relationships between poverty, corruption, and marginalization, and how conditions at the local level are a reflection of global power structures (i.e., the center and the periphery).

The third section covers a number of issues specific to the Arab region. Abdulshafi’ Issa assesses problems generated by the private sector and calls for governments to improve the way resources are allocated. Governments are advised not only to invest further in knowledge and skill-based capital but also to facilitate loans or funding opportunities for small and medium-scale enterprises in order to improve the conditions of the poorest segments of society.

In the final section, the author presents a number of case studies on Asian countries that remarkably succeeded in their developmental path. He explains how the advent of a fourth Industrial Revolution slowed many emerging economies, including China’s. Others were able to develop the adequate technologies to adjust to new market trends. Inspired by Asian models of development, he lists a number of recommendations that may help the economies of Arab countries to grow in the long term.

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Samer Suleiman Al-Jubouri, US–Russian Rivalry in the Middle East: The Syrian Crisis Model (Beirut: Dar Al-Rafidain, 2018). 140 pp. ISBN 9789922606958.

This book addresses the concept of international relations, in general, and interrelationship rivalry between countries, in particular, dwelling on the history of US–Russian relations since World War II and the Cold War era that followed, until the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1991. The latter led to the United States monopolizing international affairs via a unipolar international system in which US and Western influence, in general, spread within the republics of the former Soviet Union and in the Middle East following the US wars on Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003), and the outbreak of the Syrian crisis (2011).

Almost all observers concur that Russia, being the successor to the former Soviet Union, has begun gradually to regain its strength since President Vladimir Putin’s rise to power in 2000. Within a decade, it has been able to restore both its military and its economic power. It is no secret that Russia began displaying its force with the invasion of Georgia in August 2008, that being the first Russian military activity outside Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Russia’s continuous opposition to the United States reached its peak with the outbreak of the Syrian crisis. As the United States tried to get Russia out of its last strategic base in the Middle East by overthrowing the Syrian regime, Russia—Syria’s strategic ally—was determined to return with full force to the region.

According to several US reports and opinions, Russia is adopting a new strategy in the Middle East that poses a geopolitical challenge to the United States and its allies. Russia is also keen on opening up new markets for its products and weapons in the region, establishing new military bases, and securing maritime trade routes for its exports to the region. This shift in the regional balance brings to mind the strategic challenge with the United States during the Cold War, particularly in an area such as the Middle East which is of geostrategic importance, rich in oil and gas, as well as being an area that consumes all sorts of imported goods, from arms to agricultural produce.

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Frederick Matouq, Societies and Asabiyyah of Countries: Where To? Sociology behind Al-Asabiyyah Arab Social Series 10 (Beirut: AlMaaref Forum, 2018). 208 pp. ISBN 978-6144-2816-35.

This is the second book that Dr. Frederick Matouq has devoted to the sociology of Asabiyyah—a term meaning fanaticism, partisanship, and tribalism. It is a continuation of his book Clash of Arab Asabiyyah (2018). As the author explains, the book is intended for those wishing to address the future of Arab youth, with the objective of steering young Arabs away from religious obscurantism and fanaticism. The book includes a careful study of the mentality embedded in Asabiyyah, and its historical background, and is an attempt to encourage an alternative attitude to stave off Western exploitation of the Arab Asabiyyah mindset as a tool for the dismantling Arab society.

The author presents Asabiyyah, as explained by Ibn Khaldun, as “a system of thought and inherited behavior [. . .]which includes the general behavior of a certain group. A person thinks according to a coherent structure of concepts which largely influences both their private and public life (Al-Na’er, Al-Tathamor, Al-Istamatah) and through it builds relations with both the inside and outside.”

One of the main characteristics of Asabiyyah is that it is unconfined to time, transcending history. It is both an ancient and a contemporary system that did not end with Ibn Khaldun’s era; Asabiyyah remains and continues, while taking on new varied forms of tribal, ethnic, and religious struggle across each historical era. A contemporary case of the application of Asabiyyah could be made to the “Arab Spring”—a misleading title—whereby a transitional process from kinship and blood ties to blood and religious ethnic ties is visible. Asabiyyah includes a nucleated principle that emphasizes the submission of others and its process of implementation is based on a political agenda. Without a political agenda, Asabiyyah could neither be implemented nor thrive, and without the submission of others no political agenda can be developed. Asabiyyah is built upon and maintained by the social life of people living according to it, not just as a value, but as a principle of life that goes hand in hand with the whole urbanization process of people. Thus, Asabiyyah entered the system of rule in ancient times, starting off originally as norms and then as binding rules and legislation. It is important to emphasize that the objective of Asabiyyah is to take over power to rule.

The book examines the ways Asabiyyah transitioned from an early form of state to a modern state, and the heavy price that must be paid for such a transition to occur, listing several examples, including the French Revolution (1789), the Asian–Japanese experiment (1946), and the South African experiment (1994). All these examples had to undergo difficult births—some voluntary and self-induced—while others were imposed by external factors. The author sheds a light on the reasons that have prevented the Middle East and the Arab World from transitioning to the modern state. He delves into the patterns that Asabiyyah took on throughout the periods of suffering that Arab countries endured over decades in various fields of culture, politics, economy and mindset, during which the presence of Asabiyyah in the social life of people was consolidated by rewarding those who were influenced greatly by it, and depriving those who were not.

The author explains that the enormous influence and presence of Asabiyyah in the Arab world is associated with many factors. Not least important of these is raising the issue of ethnic identities in the general public debate for fear it may lead to religious tension or diverting the purpose of the subject. Despite in-depth reflection about Asabiyyah and how to handle it, intellectual courage is still lacking to deal with it. Despite the fact that it is embedded in the past, it still thrives on making and dominating enemies, pairing heritage with religion, despite it being a man-made concept that could be easily revised eventually to dissociate politics from religion. All these factors strengthens Asabiyyah and allows Western powers to exploit and stir it up in order to intervene easily in the affairs of the countries of the region, to fragment them whenever possible.

Thus, the author places more importance on the necessity to eliminate Asabiyyah as an inherited culture than he does on the eradication of illiteracy. He compares Asabiyyah with “a collar of the past that man yearns for, that hinders human integration by permanently evading it.” Asabiyyah, he indicates, also disrupts the principle of social justice and confiscates political freedom. The reason for this lies in the fact that “its future is in its past” and that past is in stalemate due to its convoluted political thinking caught up in a never-ending vicious cycle.

Nonetheless, it must be emphasized that finding a solution to the problem that Asabiyyah represents for a new generation of people with a new alternative vision or perspective that allows cultural and social change is a gigantic task. It would certainly be unwise to entrust this task to an older generation with an embedded mindset influenced by previous Asabiyyah programs and one that sees no reason for change.

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Omar Hisham El Shehabi, Exporting Wealth and Entrenching Alienation: A History of Production in the GCC (Beirut: Center for Arab Unity Studies, 2018). 520 pp. ISBN 978-9953-8284-11.

The book details patterns of production in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, during the oil era extending from the 1930s to current times, in a critical and historical perspective that examines this economic structure based on the social relations formed around it. It calls for an evaluation of production patterns and clarification of their characteristics, and examines the imbalances created.

The author raises key questions regarding production growth patterns in the GCC countries and the social and economic relations that have surrounded the oil age and whether these patterns are sustainable or suffer from a defect that is threatening for the future.

To answer these questions, the author reviews the period in which oil was discovered in the Arabian Peninsula, the patterns of its acquisition, extraction, and the foreign handling of oil revenues, the British colonialism within Arab lands, and the emergence of the modern state and welfare services. The author also covers the demands of citizen’s political movements and the establishment of “kafala” or the sponsorship system and the immigration networks that formed around it, the patterns of modernity in the region, and the exploitation of land and sea natural resources, as well as other topics related to the imbalance in the economic production systems in GCC countries.

The author emphasizes the importance of laying the foundations for a more sustainable pattern of production, capable of regenerating and reproducing itself on an ongoing basis. The book stresses the non-aggression attitude towards environmental spaces that have not yet been used directly by man, and the withdrawal of rights and laws provided for workers so to avoid further alienation, and the exploitation of the environment and human resources mainly to achieve more profits and capital, thus harnessing human potential to work in a democratic and sustainable society.

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Shafei Abtidoon, Federalism in Somalia: Aspirations of Partition and Challenges to Unity (Doha: Al Jazeera Centre for Studies, and Beirut: Arab Scientific Publ., 2018). E-book ISBN 9786140124615.

The author examines the theme of federalism in Somalia that is closely related to the present and future of the country as an alternative option for a unified Somalia run by a central state.

The author begins by explaining the concepts behind central, federal, and confederal states, and examines the political system in Somalia before the fall of the state in the early 1990s that brought the country into an era of chaos. Focusing on the political situation in Somalia between 1943 and 1960, in an attempt to understand how the current political situation developed, the author explains how the civil authorities lost control and the rise of a military regime over the two ensuing decades.

The book examines federalism in Somalia by clarifying the role of the Western colonizer in tearing the country apart, as well as the roles played by Ethiopia and Kenya in enforcing this regime through conferences on Somali reconciliation.

To answer the question of whether federalism is a solution to Somalia’s dilemma or the beginning of disintegration, the author focuses on the Somalian federalization experience, its problems and applicability in light of tribal divisions between pro-federal and pro-centralization systems. The author ends with a number of conclusions. Most notably, Somalia has more chances of moving towards centralization since the country is endowed with race homogeny, a common language and religion. But despite this, the threat of division and splintering into smaller entities is now stronger than ever due to regional and international policies intervening with its solidarity in attempts to divide it into smaller federal states that do not fall under a unified federal government.

The author adds that Somalia is currently suffering from administrative divisions, along with tribal and political divisions that each is aiming to raise its own share, thus hindering any chances to move forward towards a tangible political achievement. The main reason is due to the distribution of wealth, shares, quotas, and ministerial cabinets amongst the tribes, placing political power in the hands of the tribes and undermining the influence of the state and any chance of establishing a modern Somali state.

The author expects the continuance of political division between the federal government and its states, which in turn will raise the security crisis in the country given the emergence of Salafist armed movements such as the Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen. This opens the doors for external interventions under the pretense of containing security unrest in the Horn of Africa, thereby encouraging countries craving Somalia’s wealth. The incomplete Somali interim constitution and absence of any role for the constitutional court, the spread of political corruption and nepotism, and the reliance on international support and Arab aid to pay the wages of its soldiers and employees will lead to the absence of an independent political decision-making apparatus. Furthermore, it will lead to the breaking up of Somalia into small, weak fragile states that cannot stand against their enemies who seek Somalia’s economic wealth.

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Mohammed Saleh Al-Musfer, GCC–Gulf Relations: The Strategic Space and Retail Crisis (1971–2018) (Doha: Al-Jazira Center for Studies and Beirut: Arab Science House, 2018). 318 pp. ISBN 978-6140-1264-80.

This book examines the development of relationships among the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and explores the different paths of cooperation and conflict between these nations before and after the establishment of the GCC in the 1980s. It analyses the local, regional, and international factors affecting them in order to develop an understanding about their relations and how they develop in the future.

It has seven chapters. The first discusses the importance of the location of the Gulf States, particularly the geopolitical and geostrategic location of oil resources. The second discusses the situation of the Gulf region during the period of British colonialism from 1806 until the withdrawal phase (1968–71)—a phase referred as the “East Suez Strategy”—and the conflicts that occurred in some countries because of sovereignty and border issues such as Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran, and other foreign actors. This chapter also includes a discussion on the call to form a union among the Trucial States of Oman—Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Fujairah, Ajman, and Umm Al Quwain. It details the events that led to the declaration of the Union when Bahrain and Qatar joined the Trucial States in late February 1968 and was then disrupted in October 1970. It then explains the creation of the United Arab Emirates (USE) in December 1971 as a unitary formula that was set up by the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah in February 1972. This formula was meant to fill the domestic vacuum that was formed among the emirates of the Omani Sahel that resulted from the British decision to withdraw. The book also examines the role of British colonialism and international–regional actors that prevented the formation of a federal formula among Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Oman, or any other formula that did not align with British economic interests in the region.

The third chapter focuses on the outbreak of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in early February 1979, and the Iran–Iraq War, which broke out in September 1980 and lasted until 1988. These events that coincided with the British withdrawal from the region rendered the friendship treaties ineffective between the British and the newly independent states in the Gulf in the early 1980s. This led to the establishment of the GCC as a coordinating formula to hamper the repercussions from the war between the two major regional powers (Iraq and Iran). It was also considered necessary to fill the strategic regional vacuum caused by the complete withdrawal of British forces from the region, in exchange for the growing influence of the United States and its enforcing agenda across all countries of the region.

Chapter 4 deals with the repercussions of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, and the call for the United States to form an international coalition that included most Western nations, including a number of Arab states such as Egypt and Syria to help with the liberation of Kuwait in January 1991. American interventionism, which accompanied the collapse of the Soviet Union, emerged in the context of a strategy to consolidate American hegemony all over the region and influence the countries decisions.

Chapter 5 deals with particular events and issues that had influenced the decisions of the Arab Gulf states, especially the Al-Aqsa Intifada that brought the issue of the Arab–Israeli conflict back to the forefront of regional politics. It also included the attacks of September 11, 2001, which were employed by American and Western media campaigns to distort the image of Arabs and Muslims across the world. These events paved the way for the United States to declare a War on Terror that led to Afghanistan in 2001, followed by the occupation of Iraq in 2003. This chapter also describes the various positions of the GCC countries regarding these developments, and the escalation of Iran’s influence in the region. Opinions were divided, particularly between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, against the Israeli aggression on Lebanon in 2006 and the aggression towards Gaza in late 2008 and 2014. The division has also emerged because of the uprisings of the Arab Spring. This was especially the case concerning the developments in Egypt that led to a point of rupture between the GCC countries following the decision of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain, as well as Egypt, to sever diplomatic ties with Qatar in June 2017 after being accused of interfering in the internal affairs of the GCC states.

Chapter 6 examines the American strategy to consolidate its hegemony over the region and oil resources in order to maintain its supremacy in the global economy. It also details the Israeli attempts aimed at normalizing ties with the Gulf States since the Madrid peace conference in 1991 up to the present.

Chapter 7 discusses the positions of the GCC countries against the Arab Spring revolutions, especially those that occurred in Egypt, Yemen, Syria, and Libya, and the repercussions of these rebellions on the GCC countries, which resulted in the Gulf crisis following the deterioration of relations between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain.

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Mohamed Belaawi and Hassan Amran, Deconstructing the Pro-Israel Narrative: India as a Model (Beirut: Al-Zaytouna Center for Studies and Consultations and Asia and Middle East Forum, 2019). 104 pp. ISBN: 978-9953-572-77-2.

This book presents the Israeli policy which, after the Cold War, sought to form relations with countries that were hostile to the Israeli state with the aim of attracting them as allies by seeking to meet their needs and to deal with their concerns. In this context, the book deals with India as a case study that Israeli foreign policy has succeeded in transforming from a hostile enemy to a close ally.

The book analyses the contents of the Israeli discourse that paved the way for the development of Israeli-Indian ties, the justifications presented by India’s ruling elites for rapprochement with Israel, and addresses the moral aspects and commitment of both states to their legal obligations in the international conventions via the examination of Israeli discourse and Indian justifications.

The book has four chapters. The first deals with Indian policy in support of the Palestinian cause from 1947 to 1992. It highlights that the Indian government, which has long been supportive of Palestine, considered Israel to have won a cold war and that the Palestinians were keen to negotiate with Israel over the signature of peace treaties, thus justifying the establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992. With the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, the Indian government adopted a more aggressive policy to the benefit of Israel by providing limited support to the Palestinian Authority in return for closer relations at various levels with Israel, particularly in the areas of space technology, missiles, security, agriculture, and irrigation. India eventually became the largest arms importer from Israel. The chapter also examines the Indian political scene of 2018, with a focus on the emergence of India’s ruling party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Hindu National Movement (RSS), which refers to India’s Hindu ideology adopted by the nationalist movement, and considers that some minorities in the Indian population, especially Muslims, have no place in India.

The second chapter examines the content of India’s pro-Israel narrative and how it is filled with ideas about promoting advanced Israeli technologies, whether in the fields of electronics, military, nuclear, aviation, or space, including Israeli expertise in agriculture and water desalination. It considers Israel to be the appropriate gateway to forge stronger ties between India and America.

The third chapter continues to examine the pro-Israel Indian discourse, and it is mainly concerned with “Islamophobia,” which refers to the process of distorting the image of Indian Muslims with the consequential promotion of the Israeli state in combating the “Muslim threat,” rather than condoning Israel for its numerous violations of international humanitarian law.

Chapter 4 focuses on India’s relationship with Israel from a legal perspective, and highlights the need for states to comply with international conventions with regards to the fact that Israel is an outlawed nation. However, the enduring protection of the United States and the use of the veto at the United Nations Security Council render it possible for Israel to continue violating international resolutions and the complete disregard for the international community.

The book breaks down the Indian justifications that promoted the relationship with Israel as largely unconvincing and does not fit India’s historical and moral positions towards the Palestinian cause. The book offers recommendations to writers and academics who support the Palestinian cause, the Palestinian leadership, various Arab and international leaders, as well as the numerous organizations active in the boycott of Israel, and stresses the importance of states’ adherence to the Geneva Conventions and the Rome Statute in order to protect Palestinian civilians in the occupied territories and to end Israeli violations of international humanitarian law.

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Lotfi Fouad Noaman, Yemenization: A New Arab Phenomenon and Experience (Beirut: Arab Scientific Publ., 2018). 414 pp. ISBN 978-6140-1255-51.

This book provides an intensive reading on the contemporary Yemeni political scene and covers the recent events that have plagued Yemen and its repercussions both internally and externally, highlighting the challenges that prevented the conflicting parties in Yemen from reaching a practical solution to the crisis. The author argues this matter in the light of his experience as a journalist and researcher following his country’s concerns during various periods, while attempting to anticipate the prospects for peace in Yemen.

The writer chooses the title “Yemenization” for his book as a new Arab phenomenon in which internal and external factors overlap, to allow the reader to see how it is derived from “Lebanization,” “Iraqization,” “Somaliazation,” and “Balkanization,” since what happened in these countries is now currently unfolding in Yemen, with no one taking any lessons from the horrors that transpired in the Balkans and from what led to fragmentation, division, chaos, and bloodshed, as well as crimes against humanity.

The phenomenon of Yemenization becomes clear as events unfold. Initially, the discourse was about Yemen’s affairs and the terrorist acts carried out by Al-Qaeda; later this was followed by political conflicts and civil protests that were later politicized by politicians to serve their narrow interests at the expense of national and citizens’ welfare. Thus, the struggle for power within the unbalanced and fragile divided Yemen drove external conspirators and regional powers in the region to link the Yemeni crisis with their own interests and agenda. It is not surprising to see foreign countries conspiring against any country suffering from internal divisions and disloyal components, where politicians rely on foreign support to terrorize their fellow citizens within the country without any consideration for what will befall themselves or their country from such conspiracy, destruction, death, displacement, and loss.