Governance Indicator of the Democratic Transformation in Iraq 2017–2018—Faltering Democracy (Baghdad: Dar Qanadil for the Governance Center for Public Policies (GCPP), 2018), 156 pp. ISBN 978-9922-9076-1-1.

The Governance Center for Public Policy (GCPP) is a center of research and a think tank in Iraq. It focuses on policy-making activities, seeking analytical approaches to understanding policy-making processes and building capacity to address the problems of public policies.

Its goal is to contribute to meeting the requirements of the democratic transformation in Iraq. It has organized many workshops and seminars in Baghdad and a number of Iraqi provinces on civil peace, national reconciliation, party law, the electoral system in Iraq, educational policies, and other national issues, with the aim of raising awareness of human rights and freedoms, democracy, rule of law, and institutional management at governmental and community levels. Hence, the GCPP considers this book—conducted by a research team of academics, professors, and experts and based on a developed indicator on the governance for democracy in Iraq—to be key in supporting the process of democratization in that country.

To analyze the data for the governance indicator and make conclusions about the final results regarding the democratic transition in Iraq, the research team had to clarify the characterization of the Iraqi status, referring in this context to eight pillars: political, legal and economic, in addition to those relating to human rights, the electoral system, the media, women’s rights, and local government:

  • Political: the research team’s findings affirmed that the political institutions under the umbrella of the Iraqi constitution of 2005 were unable to achieve the active political participation needed to improve the process of democratic transformation in Iraq.

  • Legal: the team found that there are huge problems facing the process of the democratic transformation in Iraq. Sometimes, there are laws that oppose the constitution and do not agree or comply with it because of political sectarianism, the quota system, the immaturity of the idea of building a state with efficient institutions, not to mention the need for a functioning system of separating the authorities and the need to activate sanctions in Iraqi laws. In this respect, the team pointed to the political interference in the judiciary, and the weakness of legal culture.

  • Economic: as an oil-exporting rentier state along with a decline in the private sector’s activity and productivity, and due to political pressure, the Iraqi state has remained the only semi-employment operator. The team pointed out that the economic system failed to provide stable living conditions that would constitute a baseline for democratic transformation.

With regards to human rights, the team made it clear that neither the institutions nor the legislative, executive, and judicial authorities were able to enhance, secure, and protect human rights.

At the electoral level, the team confirmed that electoral law was not available in a form that suits the requirement of democracy, which is the rule of the people by the people. This kind of rule cannot be achieved unless citizens are able to elect their representatives fairly through a legal electoral system that would ensure a proper transformation of the votes into seats in the legislative authority.

The team also made clear that the Independent High Electoral Commission, which is the independent monitoring organization of the election, needs to be further reformed, especially in light of how it defaulted on its duty, as evidenced in the election results in May 2018.

Furthermore, the needed supportive political environment of the elections seems to have been available only if the ruling political forces ensure they would stay in power for as long as possible with no real change in the political equation.

At the level of the media, the team’s findings affirmed that Iraqi audiences mistrust the media. In general, journalists have no access to information of interest to the public and have not enough protection to defend the rights or interests of citizens.

In reference to women’s rights, the findings also confirm that government authorities were not able to enhance, secure, and protect women’s rights and achieve gender equality.

Dealing with local government performance, the team pointed to a significant proportion of political participation in local elections and freedom in choosing the members of local councils. However, the weakness of the political culture, lack of citizenship, corruption, and the sale of votes have produced hybrid local councils unable to provide adequate services and meet the aspirations of their citizens.

In the final analysis of the governance indicator’s data, the team concluded that the average score of the indicator pillars recorded 4.7/10 points (slightly below average). This result confirms that the process of democratic transition in Iraq in the period 2017–18 is still faltering and constantly wavering, sometimes taking a step forward, but often in decline and instability.

Tiba Khalaf Abdullah, Omani-American Relations 1930–1958 (Damascus: Safahat, 2019). 200 pp. ISBN 9789933572532.

Omani-US relations date back to two centuries when to 1790 US merchant ships began to dock off the coast of Oman. These relations were developed with the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, concluded between the United States and Muscat on September 21, 1833.

Significant expansions in bilateral relations were recorded in the 1930s and the post-World War II period, and culminated in the signing of the Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights in Salalah on December 20, 1958, replacing the 1833 treaty. Hence, this book is mainly about US relations with Oman during the 1930s and the post-World War II period.

In the 1930s, the oil investment factor was instrumental in increasing the spread of US oil companies throughout the Gulf. Since the announcement of oil availability in Oman in abundant commercial quantities in 1922, both the United States and Oman have sought to develop bilateral relations. That period also marked the health and educational activities of the American Missionaries in the Sultanate, and at the diplomatic level, Oman was the first to recognize the independence of the United States and send an envoy to New York in 1840.

During that period, however, British influence over the Gulf region was dominant to the extent that almost any step to develop relations between Oman and the United States, including the investment of oil companies in Oman, had to be discussed, if not to say approved, by Great Britain. Certainly, the situation changed after the United States entered World War II following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. The US military deployment in the Gulf region and the growing American influence during World War II was well recognized by Britain and her allies.

After the end of World War II, the US government adopted a new policy towards the Gulf region, stressing the protection of its strategic security and oil interests. The US State Department issued a memorandum in mid-March 1946 confirming that while the United States recognized the special status of Great Britain in the Gulf and Omani coast, its policy towards this region depended on the fact that the British special status in the Gulf would not harm US interests, noting that US policy towards the Sultanate of Oman and Muscat was based on the Amity Treaty signed by the two parties in 1833 and replaced by the 1958 treaty.

In fact, the strategic location of Oman on the south-eastern section of the Arabian Peninsula and the Strait of Hormuz is of regional importance in a military sense for US interests. Since 1980, it has become the first Gulf country to welcome a US military base on its territory.

Ahmad Heneiti, Bedouin Communities in the Middle of the West Bank—As a Case Study (Beirut: Institute for Palestine Studies, 2018). 175 pp. ISBN 978-614-448-049-6.

The Bedouins of the West Bank originated in the southern Al-Khalil desert and the southern extremities of the Dead Sea region, from the area extending from Beersheba to the southern villages of Al-Khalil. Most were driven out by the Israelis in the period 1949–53, and now they constitute about seventy percent of the Bedouin population in the West Bank.

Bedouin communities are scattered throughout the West Bank in varying numbers from one region to another. While they may only be comprised of individual families in the northern West Bank, in contrast, large Bedouin communities are scattered in the southern and central regions and the Jordan Valley. Most are now located within Area C, which is under full Israeli control, making them vulnerable to Israeli policies aimed at displacing them from their present residence because they pose an obstacle to settlement projects.

In this context, the author focuses on the Bedouin communities in the middle of the West Bank, which are scattered in vital areas with a small Palestinian population, thus hampering the spread of Israeli settlements. Hence, the Israeli authorities consider the removal of these communities as a priority, thus resorting to forced displacement as a mechanism “to cleanse the land” of the Bedouin communities.

To do so, the Israeli authorities have resorted to various practices that violate basic human rights in order to force the Bedouin communities out of the West Bank. The Israeli authorities have prohibited the development of infrastructure and the construction of houses to stem the natural population growth of these communities, and have restricted any expansion of water and electricity networks, freedom of movement, and livelihoods. The Israeli authorities have also further reduced the irrigation areas permitted, demolished houses, and even isolated residents, all in an effort to push forward with the Bedouin displacement policy that began with the displacement of most of the Negev Bedouins during the 1948 Palestinian exodus or “Nakba.”

Despite the fact that the Bedouin communities have so far managed to hold on, the Israeli authorities are expected to resort to more violent methods to finalize their forced Bedouin displacement projects, including prohibiting them access to their own areas. The final planned outcome will be that the Israeli authorities will force the Bedouins, especially the youth, out of poor social and economic conditions to join what the Israeli labor market has to offer them, while the rest may simply relocate elsewhere depending on their livestock.

Haifa Salam, Hussein Abu Rida, and Hussein Kassem Diab, LebanonfromIrfed to McKinsey: Sociological, Political, and Developmental Approaches (Beirut: Dar Al-Nahda al-Arabia, 2019). 223 pp. ISBN: 9786144428443.

At the beginning of his tenure, the late Lebanese President Fouad Shehab (1958–64) had commissioned the Lebret-Irfed Centre (French), run by the economist Father Louis-Joseph Lebret, to carry out a comprehensive survey on economic/social conditions in attempts to set up state institutions in 1959. Irfed managed to draw up a comprehensive development program in 1961 that included recommendations to reform the public administration and develop both the agricultural and industrial sectors, as well as formal education, to alleviate poverty, and implement social justice, stressing that developmental work is the most effective way to integrate and assimilate Lebanese citizens under patriotism rather than sectarianism. Unfortunately, this comprehensive development program was never implemented as it encountered many obstacles, one of which was the fact that individual interests remained a priority over public interest, and loyalty was to sectarian affiliations rather than to the nation and the state.

Last year, the Lebanese government, in one way or another, repeated the same experience of Irfed’s mission and commissioned McKinsey & Co. to develop a six-month plan aimed at reviving the economy and determining the country’s economic future for the next five years. Local newspapers published excerpts from the company’s plan to revive the Lebanese economy and activate its sectors in order to transform it from a rentier economy to a productive one. The excerpts recommend increasing the agriculture, industry, and tourism sectors contributions’ to local production, developing the knowledge economy, and increasing its productivity, benefiting from the financial transfers from Lebanese abroad and transforming them into investments, as well as developing the banking sector, financing national projects, rationalizing government spending, freezing employment in the public sector, and ceasing financial subsidies and squandering, such as financial transfers to the electricity sector so as to reduce public debt.

Many experts believe that McKinsey did not come with new findings. A number of experts also stress that political consensus between the various components of Lebanon’s pluralistic society remains the key to ensuring the success of the McKinsey plan, away from corruption, squandering of funds, and sectarian squabbling. Otherwise, the plan will face the same difficulties that halted the implementation of Irfed’s mission recommendations.

Hence, this book seeks to understand the nature of Lebanon’s political system and its interaction with and suitability for the social structure to determine its ability to absorb any reform that would not upset the confessional balance in the country. It argues that Lebanon was not ready for independence when the Ottoman tyrant was replaced by the French colonizer (1920), given that the components of Lebanese society have still not reached any form of proper integration since. Lebanon’s current form of coexistence between the different sects does not allow the building of a state, or a productive economy. The only thing it creates is an authority exasperating in vain to solve the dilemma of coexistence. The absence of a proper national political structure enabled the sectarian political parties to serve their own interests even before the establishment of an independent Lebanese state. The Lebanese constitution itself was written by sectarian authorities almost two decades before Lebanon’s independence.

The authors emphasize the importance of comprehensive political reform that would reduce the dominance of sectarian factional leaders in Lebanon and transfer the Lebanese from the state of submission to sectarianism to the status of citizenship.

Certainly, this requires new patterns of loyalty and shared values, not to mention the cessation of random political action fueled by crises and the process of sectarian allocation in administration and governance.

Randa Haidar, The Cyber Weapon in Israeli Future Wars: Studies by Senior Israeli Researchers (Beirut: Institute for Palestine Studies, 2018). 176 pp. ISBN 978-614-448-055-7.

A number of experts identify cyber warfare as an attack on computers and information networks belonging to another country, damaging them with viruses, for example, and rendering them out of service. This weapon can be an important tool in conventional wars and military confrontations, in times of both crisis and normality. It can be used to interfere in internal policies of states or to influence public opinion in a particular country in favor of the adversary state. Cyber warfare can be a field for an asymmetrical confrontation between a strong state and non-state organizations or terrorist organizations with cyber capabilities that can inflict painful blows on a country with great military power despite the difference in power between them.

Given the importance of cyber warfare, Israel was one of the first countries in the region to pay particular attention to cyber and information warfare. The Israeli army’s interest in cyberspace began in 2009, when it considered it a new and important field. In 2015, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) announced the establishment of a fourth force (the cyber force) along with air, land, and sea forces.

This book includes a series of studies based on research written by Israeli experts in the cyber field, who follow the evolution of the concept of cyber warfare in Israel and its role in the military doctrine of the Israeli army. These studies argue that despite the increasing importance of cyber weapons in military confrontations, it is still unable to resolve such confrontations. But cyberspace in Israel is not limited to the army and the state: it also became an important part of private companies dedicated to the cyber security field and specialized in creating computer software, antivirus, and intel networks for banks and other companies. Yet, the most important activity of these companies was the production of spyware programs aimed at surveying, monitoring, and tracking, which are sold to many countries around the world, especially in regions of Africa and South America, and even to some Arab countries, where they are used to spy on persons opposing the ruling regimes.

As per an investigation published in Ha’aretz on October 19, 2018, there are currently 700 cyber companies in Israel founded by 2300 Israelis, of whom about eighty percent are graduates of the Israeli intelligence services, especially “Unit 8200.”

The exports of these private companies are estimated at millions of dollars per year. Moreover, Israel’s share of the global internet market in 2016 ranged between ten and twenty percent, and its cyberspace industry is second only to the United States.

Thus, Israel, whose cyber warfare has become a major part of its military doctrine, is seeking to achieve its qualitative superiority in terms of cyber capabilities to impose its hegemony over the region. The cyber weapon would also have effects on the conflict with the Palestinians and the balance of power between Israel and the rest of the region.

Nassif Nassar, Admonitions and Truth: Additional Essays on Philosophy and Democracy (Beirut: Centre for Arab Unity Studies, 2019). 288 pp. ISBN 978-9953-82-874-9.

This book, as set forth in the introduction, is composed of combined articles published as lectures on democracy and philosophy as conceived and practiced by the author from the 1960s to the present. Modifications and revisions have been made to some paragraphs of the texts for the sake of accuracy and consistency, and have been marked by the author with admonitions.

Generally, these admonitions deal with three issues badly needed to proceed with democratic transition in the Arab countries and elsewhere: questions of truth, freedom of thought, and pluralism.

The book is divided into two sections. The first, entitled “About Democracy,” is devoted to recalling the general principles of democracy and fair governance. It deals with the transition to democracy and the question of truth, the democratic principles of truth policy, including the principle of neutrality of the state in the religious sphere and the need for philosophy as one of the main principles of the truth policy in democracy. It also deals with the issue of freedom of thought and its limits, pointing to the complexity of ideological conflicts and the basic requirements for democracy. The second section, entitled “About Philosophy,” focuses on explaining the author’s conception of the importance of philosophy and its necessity in the face of science, religion, and ideology, and how to understand the history of philosophy and engage in its wide fields in connection with democracy or in isolation.

Seif Dana (ed.), Memoirs of George Habash (Beirut: Centre for Arab Unity Studies, 2019). 384 pp. ISBN 978-9953-82-870-1.

It is difficult to draw a line between the memoirs of George Habash, a leading figure in Palestinian partisanship and founding secretary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and the Palestinian cause or the Arab–Israeli conflict.

It is in this context that this book, launched on the eleventh anniversary of his demise, presents a biographical representation of the Palestinian cause as depicted in Habash’s memoirs, reflecting his position on the conflict with Israel and his support for the Arab Liberation Movement spanning a half a century.

These memoirs do not provide a narrative account of Habash’s struggle and events, but rather a reading of the events from an angle that reflects his ideological and political vision that governed his revolutionary behavior, while rejecting the concept of defeat, subordination, and normalization with Israel.

The memoirs focus on several stages of Habash’s life and attitudes towards events in the Arab region up to the year 2000. In this context, the memoirs include the biography of his childhood before the 1948 Palestinian exodus (the Nakba of 1948), his enrolment at the American University of Beirut (AUB), the Nakba of 1948, which formed the nucleus of the Arab nationalist movement, the experience of unity and separation between Egypt and Syria, the revolution of Yemen and the relationship with President Gamal Abdel Nasser, the setback in 1967 (Naksa Day) and the establishment of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the meeting with Nasser after the setback, his experience in prison in Syria in 1968, the events of “Black September” in Jordan in 1970, Lebanon and the civil war, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, the deterioration of the situation of the Palestinian revolution after the withdrawal from Lebanon, the first Palestinian uprising in the Occupied Territories, the First Gulf War, and the 1993 Oslo agreement and its repercussions for the Palestinian cause.

Adel Daher, Criticism of Political Thought in the West (Beirut: Besan, 2018). 623 pp. ISBN 9783899112139.

The author of this book raises prominent questions as a means to criticize Western political thought, namely liberal thought being the most prevalent in the West, the moral basis of political commitment, the limits of political power and its association with democracy, freedom, and individual rights, justice, and equality, the relationship between the individual and society, and secularism and its reflection on the role of religion in the public sphere.

The author raises the issue of reconciling freedom and equality owing to the difficulty in finding a balance between the reduction of political power required for adopting liberal individualism as a basis for the success of economic liberalism and the support needed for social equality as a precondition for the sustainability of democracy.

In the author’s opinion, both political power and economic power go hand in hand with social power, so that political power may limit the brutality of neo-liberalism for the sake of social justice, which seeks to find a balance between freedom and equality.

Fouad Matar, Between the Calipha’s Fangs and the General’s Fingertips: Sadat’s Assault on Nasserism (Nasiriyah) and Israel and Sisi’s Treatment of Russian Wounds (Beirut: Arab Scientific & Dar Al-Arabi, 2019). 608 pp. ISBN 9786140122062.

The author of this book seeks to present a new reading of two stormy periods in the political life of Egypt. The first relates to the Nasser era, after the June 1967 war, and Anwar Sadat inheriting the legacy of President Gamal Abdel Nasser following his death in 1970, and later Sadat’s coup against Nasiriyah (Nasserism). The second period pertains to the Sadat era, which witnessed not only the removal of all Nasser’s symbols from the political scene but also the dramatic change in Egypt’s direction and foreign policy in the midst of the Cold War and the Arab–Israeli conflict, particularly Sadat’s dramatic coup against the former Soviet Union, in order to proceed with peace with Israel and make Egypt an ally of the United States.

Sadat, who was elected president two weeks after the death of Nasser, got into conflict with “Nasserist forces,” which ended in his favor after mutual accusations of plotting. Sadat accused the Nasserist forces of plotting to incite a constitutional collapse and subordination to the former Soviet Union through their collective resignations, while the Nasserists accused Sadat of planning to eliminate Nasser’s legacy and subordination to the United States.

In February 1971, Sadat announced an initiative for peace in which he offered Israel to withdraw its forces from the Suez Canal straits in exchange for reopening the Suez Canal to international navigation. That initiative was a decisive turning point in Sadat’s coup against Nasiriyah. It was followed by his address of “Corrective Revolution” in May 1971, in which he asserted his coup against both the Nasserists and the Soviets.

After Sadat signed a friendship treaty with the Soviet Union in 1971, he later decided to dispense with thousands of Soviet experts and advisers in July 1972, a move that was very controversial, especially during the October 1973 war. For many observers, Sadat’s action against the Soviet experts was considered as a tactic to surprise Israel and the United States, but for other researchers, it was seen as a strategic step to shift Egyptian foreign policy towards the United States.

In any case, after the 1978 Camp David Accords, Sadat completed his coup against Nasserism and greatly damaged Egypt’s relations with the Soviet Union, all in advance of fully getting involved in the American peace talks in the region.

The author believes that President Mubarak sought to build bridges with the Soviet Union, and then with the Russian Federation, which contributed to the improvement of relations between Egypt and Russia; and later President Sisi took several steps to build and sustain a balanced relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In general, one could argue that the process of decision-making in Egypt to identify major options has always been affected by the governance crises as a result of an internal power struggle, as well as by the foreign interventions in Egypt’s internal affairs, given Egypt’s vital and influential role in the region, especially with regard to the Arab–Israeli conflict and the interests of the major powers in the region.