Nazmi Al Jubeh, The Jewish and Moroccan Quarters of the Old City of Jerusalem: History and Destiny between Destruction and Judaization (Beirut: Institute for Palestine Studies and Taawoun, 2019). 460 pp. ISBN 978-416-448-056-4.

This book affirms that domination over the eastern part of Jerusalem after the June 1967 war has taken many forms, but the most dramatic change was the demolition of the Moroccan quarter after 1969 and the confiscation of large areas of land for the purpose of building a Jewish quarter. Until today, this area, which spreads from the Armenian quarter on the western side to the western wall of the Al Aqsa Mosque on the eastern side, is witnessing a relentless effort aimed at introducing major changes to portray a different narrative of Jerusalem’s history.

The Moroccan presence, wiped out by bulldozers in June 1967, is valued as the center of a rich historical heritage with well-entrenched civic and humanitarian aspects. It illustrates the deep relationship between Jerusalem and the Moroccan people, while the very limited Jewish existence in Jerusalem, for over fourteen centuries, is also considered to be an integral part of that city’s history. Hence, the book elaborates on both presences—the Jewish quarter and the Moroccan quarter—from a historical, cultural, and religious perspective. It details their religious and historical features and lists the real estate properties within the confiscated area, along with all the various changes that were forced upon it up to the present day.

Moreover, the author focuses on the Arab presence in Old Jerusalem, and deals with the changes that have taken place in the city under Israeli occupation, while raising the question about the prospects of preserving the Palestinian presence in the city and ways of protecting it from continuous erosion, noting that the Palestinians are still the majority in the old city and are able to protect their own institutions.

Mustafa Hijazi, The Harmful Consequences of Asabiyyah(s): Nation Squandering and Human Subjugation (Beirut: Arab Cultural Center, 2019). 272 pp. ISBN 9789953689340.

This book examines the prospects of building national projects, institutions, and programs of human and urban development in the Arab region. It assumes that the various attempts to build these projects have failed to achieve significant progress due to the dominance of the tripartite formula: Asabiyyah (described as solidarity or the bond of cohesion among humans in a group forming a community), fundamental jurisprudence and tyranny. The dominance of this tripartite formula over the socio-political structures in the Arab countries is a matter that has often been regarded as one of the greatest impediments to the building of inclusive national projects for the benefit of all.

The three elements—Asabiyyah, fundamental jurisprudence, and tyranny—that make up the tripartite formula may work side by side to deprive human being of their rights of freedom of opinion and expression as well as of the minimum requirements for a decent life, recognizing that the political tyranny (policing and intelligence) usually finds its fertile soil in societies where fundamentalism and fanaticism prevail. One eloquent example of this is religious fundamentalism, resulting from the monopoly of a group of clerics’ interpretation of religious texts explicitly prohibits any difference of opinion and may reinforce tyranny if the clerics are to call on people to obey the ruler’s orders, providing the ruler with the religious legitimacy needed to hold onto power as long as possible. Moreover, religious fundamentalism can interact with Asabiyyah, which is, in turn, regarded as a closed system that perpetuates itself without self-criticism or change, imposing its conditions entirely on the individual in the community. Asabiyyah can also affect government institutions as it determines the conduct of employees in the administration, despite the pretense of the rule of law raised by modern governments.

The interaction of the tripartite’s elements may turn people into prisoners in their own countries and sometimes push them—through alienation and depression—to join violent fundamentalist movements.

Magdy Hammad, Sadat and Israel: Conflict of Myths and Illusions (Beirut: Centre for Arab Unity Studies, 2019). 576 pp. ISBN 978-9953-82-875-6.

This book examines the radical changes within Egyptian politics, both internally and externally, after Anwar Sadat’s rise to power in 1970 and his coup against Abdel Nasser’s policies on the Arab–Israeli conflict, foreign relations, and issues relating to national independence and development in Egypt.

Initially, it was not easy for Sadat to bypass the charismatic leadership of Nasser and reveal his intentions to overthrow the “Nasriya” before establishing his legitimacy, especially during the period between 1970 and the outbreak of the “October War” in 1973. Hence, at the beginning of his tenure, he emphasized his commitment to the Arab–Israeli conflict, the return of the Sinai, and the restoration of all Arab territories occupied since 1967, in addition to maintaining a strategic relationship with the Soviet ally.

This commitment did not last long and he began denouncing the Nasriya rather early. In May 1971, Sadat announced his “correctional revolution” and “state of institutions and the rule of law” with the aim of liquidating and abandoning “the Nasserite forces.” Disputes between Sadat and the constitutional and political leaders then arose, such as that over the “initiative to open the Suez Canal,” which was announced in February 1971, or the “Arab Republics Union,” which was announced in April 1971. The struggle for power was deliberately aimed at confining the political decision-making within a narrow circle, thus giving birth to propaganda stating that the ruling party (the Arab Socialist Union) “serves [. . .] and does not rule.” In his coup against the “Nasserite leaders,” Sadat sought aid from all powers that were tarnished by the July Revolution of 1952.

This internal transformation had a resounding effect on the Cold War and the Arab–Israeli conflict. The Soviet Union carefully observed Sadat’s steps before signing the 1971 Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation, which collapsed in July 1972 after Sadat dismissed thousands of Soviet experts, an action that to this day is still considered controversial as it was just before the October 1973 war. Was it a tactical approach to surprise Israel and the United States with war or a strategic political shift with Egyptian policy toward the United States?

The United States considered Sadat’s monopolization of power as the first step towards establishing communication between the two sides, and would contribute to the exclusion of the Soviet influence from Egypt and, later, the entire Arab region. All this occurred while redrawing the political and geographic map of the region under the patronage of American Peace.

The Israeli views on the transformations in Egypt were very similar to those of the Americans. The Israeli leaders expected that the exclusion of Nasserite leaders and Sadat’s monopolization of power would contribute to achieving Israel’s political and strategic goals in Egypt and the Arab region. Therefore, by dealing with Sadat alone, excluding the government institutions or the masses, it was possible to remove Egypt from the Arab–Israeli conflict and isolate it from other Arab issues, thus creating a rift in the unity of the Arab region. Israel had what it wanted when Sadat visited occupied Jerusalem on November 19, 1977, declaring in a speech to the Knesset his recognition of the Israeli state, and his readiness to settle for peace in return to Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Arab territories of 1967. As a result of Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem, the Camp David Accords were signed between him and Menachem Begin on September 17, 1978, under the patronage of former US President Jimmy Carter. Thus, the negotiations for the restoration of Sinai began. In response, the Arab countries decided to alienate Egypt, boycotting it, and suspending its membership in the League of Arab States between 1979 and 1989.

There is no doubt that some sought to justify Sadat’s policies, considering him to be “a great mind” as he managed to fool the Israelis and retrieved Sinai in exchange for a “peace treaty,” while the Syrians and the Palestinians were unable to do the same. This book, however, affirmed that Sadat failed to reach a comprehensive solution with Israel and end the Arab–Israeli conflict. With Egypt being out of the Arab–Israeli conflict, Palestinian and Syrian territories remained under Israeli occupation.

Sadat’s reliance on the American role in settling the Arab–Israeli conflict ended in full subordination to the United States, and the acquisition of Sinai as a semi-demilitarized zone. One prevailing argument is that Sadat’s partial settlement with Israel was the main reason for the failure of the comprehensive settlement and the reason why the conflict with Israel continues.

Azzam ‘Abdul Sattar Sha’th, The Approaches of the Palestinian Political Elite towards the Arab–Israeli Conflict (Beirut: Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies & Consultations, 2019). 288 pp. ISBN: 978-9953-572-78-9.

This book examines the mechanisms of the formation of Palestinian elites within the Palestinian political system and its components: the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian National Authority (PA), seeking to clarify these mechanisms, reveal the nature of Palestinian elites’ orientations, and their role in managing the Palestinian conflict with Israel.

The book derives its importance from the fact that it examines the role of Palestinian elites in the political decision-making that affects the future and fate of the Palestinian people. In this respect, all attention is directed towards Palestinian political elites, with expectations to invent new methods of resistance that meet the aspirations of the Palestinian people and their legitimate national rights. This is particularly sensitive given the current impasse and challenges faced by the Palestinian national project at a time when the Trump administration seems determined to proceed with the “Deal of the Century.”

The book includes five chapters discussing, consecutively, the PLO elite, the PA elite, the role of the Palestinian resistance in the conflict equation, and the role of political settlement in the conflict equation; it then presents the results of the field study.

The first chapter reviews the official efforts to establish the Palestinian entity, the structure of the Palestinian political system, and the stages of forming the Palestinian political elite within the PLO framework during the period between 1964 (when the PLO was established) and 2017. This chapter also studies the formation of the legislative and executive elites through the Palestinian National Council (PNC), the Palestinian Central Council (PCC), and the PLO Executive Committee, and the circumstances that influenced their formation, given that there has been a quota system through which the PLO factions insure that their elites are members in the legislative and executive institutions, and other PLO frameworks and different committees. Hence, the PLO did not adopt an electoral system to choose its members or the leadership of its institutions.

Chapter 2 discusses the framework of the PA institutions and their structure after the ratification of Oslo Accords (1993–94), and the general legislative and executive elections in the PA areas in 1996, 2005, and 2006. These elections were regarded as the first democratic manifestations of the Palestinian political system, after thirty years of quota-ism in PLO institutions. The establishment of the PA paved the way for the formation of new Palestinian political elite that has its own characteristics and specifications; they include the “local elite,” that is, the elite of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and the “returning elite,” who came to the PA areas after the Oslo Accords.

The study distinguishes between two phases of the PA’s political elite formation. The first is that of post-presidential and electoral elections in the period 1996–2005. These were known as the traditional elite, who were of one political color and supported the Oslo Accords. The second phase was after the legislative elections in 2006 in which there was wide participation by Palestinian factions, and because the political elite was renewed and became diversified in the PA’s legislative and executive institutions.

Chapter 3 describes the developments in the Arab–Israeli conflict, and the choices that the Palestinians took when managing that conflict, including the use of the popular armed and peaceful resistance tools.

Chapter 4 describes the PLO’s political transformations when it changed its objective from a comprehensive liberation to an internationally mediated political settlement and interim solutions.

Chapter 5 investigates the approaches of the Palestinian political elite towards the Arab–Israeli conflict by asking the elites themselves about their vision of the future of the conflict, in light of the current crisis, manifested in the failure to regain the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.

The author concludes that it is important to establish “a new phase of Palestinian national struggle to achieve the legitimate political and legal objectives [. . .].” Consequently, very difficult questions arise as to whether the Palestinian political elite would be able to do so and lead the new phase with competence, what would be the characteristics of the elite at this desired stage, or will those dominating the current situation and who have been involved in creating this impasse remain at the forefront, with all what that implies for the Palestinian people and the future of their cause.

The author stresses the importance of establishing a new phase for the Palestinian struggle to achieve legitimate political and legal goals, though doubts about the ability of the current elites in leading the new phase of the struggle remain in light of the Palestinian divisions between Fateh and Hamas movements and the deterioration of the Arab situation.

Siham Fawzi, Democratic Transformation in Ethnic Communities: A Comparative Study (Iraq and South Africa) (Beirut: Centre for Arab Unity Studies, 2019). 349 pp. ISBN 978-9953-82-873-2.

This study elaborates on the process of democratization in ethnic societies, investigating the major factors that influence this process. It deals with two of the most prominent phenomena in the post-Cold War world, that is, multi-ethnicity and democratization that have preoccupied many researchers in politics, especially in the societies of developing countries. Hence, its importance refers to its contribution in exploring the relationship between growing ethnic phenomena, ethnic violence, and the process of democratic transformation.

Highly interested in the factors that influence the process of democratization, the author examines the cases of South Africa and Iraq, and through a comparison, tries to identify the reasons behind the success or failure of democratization in ethnically divided societies.

The democratization process in ethnic communities is a complex and dangerous course. It implicates the necessity to dismantle the old system, alter society’s culture based on inclusiveness, the suppression of freedoms, and the rejection of the different other, all in the hope of building a new system reflecting a new culture based on tolerance and acceptance. The failure of such a process, influenced by many factors, leads to internal conflicts that threaten the unity of the state, such as the case of Iraq, while success depends on accuracy, balance, and reconciliation between opposing various multi-ethnic societies, such as the case of South Africa.

The study makes clear that several historical, political, geographic, economic, social, cultural, and psychological factors influence the success or failure of the transitional democratic process. For instance, a long history of good relations between ethnic groups is a factor contributing to the democratization process success. The same can be said about the presence of strong political leadership and parties capable of performing their functions in representing different ethnic groups. The state must also be strong, capable of defending itself, and maintain its unity in the face of any ethnic group that seeks to secede or exploit the democratic transformation process through holding key political positions and economic resources. The democratic transition must also eliminate corruption so that it does not become a tool in the hands of the corrupt officials who may try to make the transitional process deviate from its context and important elements, such as accountability, responsibility, and transparency. It must be emphasized that the democratic transition requires a strong and effective civil society that can encompass all factional groups and their ethnicities. The transition is also affected by external interferences or external factors. These factors should not work to support an ethnic group against the other, or weaken the central government during the process of democratization.

Another factor that may affect the process of democratization is the geographic factor, namely, the geological terrain that impacts the transitional process and the role of ethnic groups with it. For example, flat terrain in a country often facilitates the process due to the absence of geographical barriers.

The economic factor or natural resources and wealth can also affect the process of democratization. Some ethnic groups, for instance, may seek to monopolize the resources in their own regions, and refuse sharing with other ethnic groups, leading to civil war. Likewise, increasing poverty rates lead to the failure of democratic transition. On the other hand, economic development including high levels of education and urbanization and an increase in the size of the middle class might ease the process of democratization.

The impact of the social factor on the process of democratization is also debatable. Some believe that ethnic and sectarian pluralism often hinders the transitional process as ethnic groups tend to exclude others by forming militias and resorting to violence, whilst others consider the success of democratic transformation in diverse ethnic societies asserts the error of this theory.

The cultural factor comes to assert that the more tolerant and understanding is the political/societal culture, the better the experience in ethnic communities. All this is related to a psychological factor, which depends on understanding the intentions of others, that is, misinterpreting the intentions of other groups and considering them as a threat to one’s own existence leads to a sense of insecurity and distrust, which impedes the democratic process, and vice versa.

Considering these factors, the author compares between the two cases of study, pointing out that the process of democratization succeeded in South Africa, while in Iraq it stumbled and remained a threatening factor to the unity of Iraq. The process of democratization in South Africa stems from within the society, while it was imposed on Iraq by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), made up of civil administrators appointed by the United States to take over Iraq’s public sector. Moreover, while the transitional process in South Africa was gradual and slow paced, it was sudden and hasty in Iraq’s case; thus, it suffered from many errors that to this day have yet to be addressed.

The democratization in South Africa was carried out during a strong and stable reign by the state, while it came in Iraq under a collapsed state whose army and security forces were dismantled by the occupying American forces. The process in South Africa included all ethnic groups and sought to reassure the white minority; while sectarian and ethnic tensions dominated the Iraqi scene, amidst regional interventions from neighboring countries.

Another factor influencing the democratization process that the study examines in order to compare both cases was the psychological factor. In this context, while the political leaders in South Africa and civil society managed to address the concerns of the white community, away from reprisals, feelings of injustice, persecution and loss, and decades of persecution, the Iraqi scene was dominated by revenge and loss.

Sami Amara, Cairo–Moscow: Documents and Secrets 1952–1986 (Cairo: Dar Al-Shorouk, 2019). 264 pp. ISBN: 9789770934661.

This book includes a large collection of documents and files recently released by the Russian Foreign Ministry and found to be highly related to the development of relations between Moscow and Cairo. The author—having close ties and strong links with the past and new Russian leadership, worked as a translator during the Aswan High Dam project in the 1960s, and in reorganizing the armed forces after the June 1967 defeat, and as an employee in the Egyptian Embassy in Moscow—managed to scrutinize these documents.

The book covers important points in the relations between the two countries: the alliance, its stumbling, and personal relations between the July 1952 revolution to the mid-1980s. In this context, the author examines how the Soviet attitude towards the revolution and Nasser changed from a worried contemplation to a trusting alliance, as was reflected by the relations between Khrushchev and Nasser. Before accepting the revolution’s leadership, the Soviets considered the July revolution as a military coup owing to the erroneous estimates made by the Soviet embassy in Cairo and the Egyptian Communists who either rejected the revolution reforms or tried to settle personal scores with the Egyptian leadership. The author also examines how the relations between the two countries strengthened as the Egyptian side insisted on the nationalization of the Suez Canal. The Soviets not only welcomed that but also stood by Egypt against the tripartite British–French–Israeli aggression against Egypt in 1956. The documents reveal that although the United States was not in favor of the tripartite war on Egypt following the canal’s nationalization, it made indirect attempts through Western countries to internationalize the canal in an attempt to seize Egyptian sovereignty over the canal until 2008. The documents also affirm the Soviet’s efforts in halting this tripartite aggression on Egypt; the Soviet Union warned the tripartite forces of the eruption of a Third World War and its intent to send volunteers to fight alongside Egyptian forces if they failed to withdraw from Egyptian territory. Thus, strategic cooperation relations developed between Moscow and Cairo, starting with the construction of the Aswan High Dam.

The author covers the defeat of 1967 and the role of Soviet experts in reorganizing the Egyptian armed forces, until Sadat came to power after Nasser’s death and led his coup against the Nasserite ideology and the Soviet Union by dismissing the Soviet experts in 1972 and disclosing “October 1973 war secrets” in a letter to Henry Kissinger, the contents of which were leaked to Golda Meir in Tel Aviv only a few hours after the outbreak of hostilities. This pointed to radical changes in Egypt’s relations with the Soviets, especially after Sadat sided with the United States to settle the conflict with Israel through the Camp David Agreement, thus allowing Egypt a way out of the Arab–Israeli conflict.

Diplomatic relations between Egypt and Russia resumed only during the beginning of the Mubarak period in office, during which discussion between the two countries covered much of the outstanding issues, including ways to repay Russia’s military support.

The documents offer a rich source of information and raise new questions about the nature of the relations between Moscow and Cairo, which some interpretations consider as “based on necessity and not by choice.” This was mostly driven by the United States repeatedly failing Egypt on more than one occasion, such as a reluctance to show enthusiasm with the World Bank to finance the construction of the Aswan High Dam, and for always being biased towards Israel in the “peace initiatives” to settle the Arab–Israeli conflict. Therefore, Egypt had no choice but to lean towards the Soviet Union. Other observers consider it an exaggeration to say that Egyptian–Soviet relations were always based on necessity rather than on the common interests of both countries, especially during the Cold War which lasted until the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s and, more recently, after Vladimir Putin’s reign and Russia’s return to the international scene.