Nawar Jalil Hashem, America and the Emerging Powers: American Policy toward the BRICS Countries in the World Order (Beirut: All Prints, 2019). 392 pp. ISBN 9786144585122.
Will the United States lose its global leadership or its dominant role in world affairs with the emergence of BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa)? In other words, will the BRICS represent serious competition for the United States in the economic, political, and military spheres, and other vital areas of influence in the world?
This book seeks to answer the above questions in four chapters, the first of which deals with the nature of the current world order and the transformation that may take place with the emergence of BRICS countries. Chapter 2 examines the US vision of the world order after the end of the Cold War and its stance towards emerging powers during the past two decades. It also explores the BRICS’ point of view of the new world order and its position with regard to the United States as a great power trying to impose its hegemony on global affairs. The third and fourth chapters deal, respectively, with the major economic, geopolitical, and military factors that could determine the relationship between the United States and the BRICS countries, and the effect of these factors on both sides.
The book assumes that the BRICS group is likely to raise many challenges to US global leadership. These challenges manifest in certain brute facts, namely that the area of BRICS’ countries is about 40 million km2, approximately 29 percent of the global land area. Its population is close to 3 billion people, about 42 percent of the world population, with their joint gross domestic product (GDP) exceeding 22 percent of global GDP, and with energy production amounting to about 40 percent of the global volume.
In fact, over the last decade, the term “BRICS” has come to symbolize the growing power of the world’s largest emerging economies and their potential impact on the global economic and, increasingly, political order. As the BRICS countries agreed to enhance their economic, political, and cultural cooperation to achieve mutual interests, they decided to form a multi-polar economic system that has the ability to face global economic shocks, especially after the global financial crisis of 2008 which afflicted many economies of developed countries under the influence of a global economic system that has been dominated by the United States since the end of the Cold War. For instance, the BRICS group’s decision to establish a new development bank (NDB) in 2014 with an initial capital of US$100 billion was considered as a key step to end the dominance of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank on the world’s economic capabilities and thus reshape the global financial architecture in a manner opposing a unipolar financial policy.
In terms of military spending, of the BRICS countries represent 10.8 percent of global spending. The group’s countries are seeking to increase their spending and develop their military capabilities, recognizing the fact that three of them, Russia, China and India, are nuclear states. Russia alone has about 7000 nuclear weapons, compared with about 6800 weapons held by the United States. China has 270 nuclear weapons and India has 130.
In the political sphere, China has taken up many similar positions to Russia’s approach in dealing with international crises. The BRICS countries generally declare that they oppose the United States’ continued pursuit of hegemony over the United Nations Security Council to interfere in the internal or national affairs of states and implement US agendas that do not comply with international laws.
In principle, these challenges represented by the BRICS countries are supposed to undermine American hegemony in managing international affairs, but in fact they are still unable, according to many experts, to curb the policies of the United States aimed at implementing American agendas through economic sanctions, imposed by successive US administrations, on countries that violate US policies. This is because of the continued acquisition by the US dollar of about 85 percent, at the very least, of the percentage of global transactions that have been circulated in the past two decades, despite the launch of the single European currency, the euro, and the Chinese yuan to reduce the dominance of the US dollar, and attempts to provide alternative mechanisms for transactions. Moreover, the BRICS countries, generally, are facing serious challenges because of growth slowdown and the need to undertake important reforms.
Moreover, there is an argument that the BRICS countries do not represent a cohesive group as the differences between them, in terms of values, economics, political structure, and geopolitical interests, far outweigh their commonalities. In addition, the BRICS group does not represent a real political coalition capable of playing a leading geopolitical role on the global stage, as generally each country’s foreign policy priority is to make use of the opportunity the BRICS group provides to consolidate its own economic gains at the national level by building international influence and partners.
In short, the rise of the emerging economies of the BRICS nations, with respect to the decline of the role of the US leadership, in the last decade has been questioned as this equation has not played out quite as anticipated.
Aida Al-Jawhari, Lessons of Shahrazad (Beirut: Center for Arab Unity Studies, 2019). 253 pp. ISBN 978-9953-82-884-8.
Tales of “A Thousand and One Nights,” also known as “The Arabian Nights,” proceed from the frame story of the Sasanian king, Shahryar, who discovered that his wife was unfaithful and had her executed. In his bitterness and rage, he decided that all women were alike and thus determined to seek vengeance on all women. Accordingly, Shahryar chose to marry a new bride every day, only to kill her the next morning.
Eventually, the executioner Shahryar married the daughter, Shahrazad, of his vizier (minister), who shrewdly determined how to save her life. On the night of their marriage, Shahrazad began to tell the king a story, but did not finish it. The king, curious about how the tale would end, was thus forced to postpone her execution in order to hear the conclusion. The next night, as soon as she finished the tale, she began another one, and the king, eager to hear the conclusion of that tale as well, had to postpone her execution once again. This went on for 1001 nights. In short, Shahryar had to put off Shahrazad’s execution from day to day until finally he abandoned his cruel act of revenge.
Highly interested in Arab popular culture, the author explores “The Arabian Nights” in an attempt to present the values, culture, and ideas prevalent in Arab societies, which center on the domination of patriarchy and male culture. She represents the image of Shahrazad and her interaction with Shahryar in a manner that shows her ability to extract the king’s forgiveness. She dismantles the hypothesis that Shahrazad was not able to survive without the help of her father, the vizier, who provided her with the stories she used to save her life. She also refutes the argument that Shahrazad played out against her gender as she had to present women as a feminine figures lacking wisdom, balance, and loyalty in order to satisfy Shahryar and preserve his masculinity.
In short, the book provides a contrasting reading of the stereotype about Shahrazad as a symbolic figure of a weak and submissive woman under the domination of men in Arab and eastern societies. It shows the ability of Arab women to confront the grievances of patriarchal society and male culture. It also affirms that the distinction between women and men is not based on fixed natural differences, but it is a cultural issue related to the prevailing economic, social, and educational factors in any society.
The role played by Shahrazad, which made her succeed in a task that seemed difficult and fraught with danger of death, is a victory for the image of women and a recognition of her mental, psychological, and moral abilities. This victory is a translation of a social law that posits that the level of recognition of women increases exponentially with the recognition of herself, and the increase of her skills, capabilities, and accomplishments, in addition to the increase of the level of man’s culture and his civilization.
Group of authors, Corruption and Popular Mobility in the Arab Region (Beirut: Arab Anti-Corruption Organization, 2019). 272 pp. ISBN 9786140129597.
This book includes research from and discussions of the symposium “Corruption and Popular Mobility in the Arab Region” held by the Arab Anti-Corruption Organization in cooperation with the Arab Forum for Alternatives, in Beirut on 23–24 January 2019, with the participation of a group of researchers, academics, experts, and activists interested in public affairs, reform issues, and combating corruption in Arab countries.
The book deals with the impact of corruption on societies as a major obstacle to reformists, especially as an obstacle to efforts aimed at creating a positive environment between the state, represented by its legislative, executive, and judicial powers, on the one hand, and its contractual relationship with the people, on the other. Hence, the book elaborates on corruption in legislation and its role in obstructing the rule of law, as well as on corruption in the judiciary and its role in undermining justice, which is the basis of impartial judgment. It also stresses that corruption in the implementation of public policies has always prevented the achievement of wellbeing and governance programs and eliminated trust between the ruler and the ruled.
Recognizing that corruption has undermined the concept of public order and prevented many growth, progress, and prosperity programs and initiatives in Arab societies, the book stresses the importance of unifying governmental and societal efforts to create a conducive atmosphere for the promotion of an anticorruption culture to restore confidence in the process of state-building in the Arab region.
The book has four chapters: the first elaborates on anticorruption obstacles in Arab countries, while the second affirms the need for the legislative authority to limit corruption. The third chapter deals with the experiences of popular movements against corruption networks in Arab countries, while the fourth focuses on the role of the media in the struggle against corruption in the Arab region.
Imad Abdul Latif, Political Discourse Analysis: Rhetoric, Power, and Resistance (Amman: House of Treasures of Knowledge). 400 pp. ISBN 978-9957-74-851-7.
This book is mainly concerned with the mechanisms of political discourse analysis in the Arab region and spans eleven chapters, elaborating on the most important features of current Arab political discourse and the factors affecting its future.
The first chapter presents theoretical suppositions in the field of political discourse analysis in Western and Arab contexts, including rhetoric, communication studies, political sciences, and the main branches of linguistics. The second chapter deals with the critical analysis of discourse, while the third chapter focuses on providing a critical review of Arab studies on political rhetoric and its impact on contemporary Arab societies. This chapter reviews a sample of Arab studies on political rhetoric with a view to identifying its nature, its heritage, and the factors affecting its aspirations. Chapters 4 and 5 also provide a critical review of political discourse in the Arab region, centering on the language of tyranny, oppression, and misleading motifs that have been adopted by political discourse in dealing with the masses.
Chapter 6 explores how political discourse is used as a tool to gain power in the context of political competition and crises. Chapter 7 shows how political discourse may affect and guide the behavior of the public in crucial times. In this context, the author refers to the statement of former Egyptian President, Gamal Abdel Nasser, following the defeat of the 1967 War, as a code of analysis. He adopts the hypothesis that the rhetorical wording of the text of Nasser’s step-down speech and the manner in which he delivered it deeply affected the public, resulting in their rejection of both the defeat and the step-down.
In a similar way, chapter 8 deals with the collection of speeches of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during the “January Revolution” (2011) and explores the impact of those speeches on the masses in an attempt to provide a rhetorical explanation for the reasons why Mubarak failed to persuade the public for him to remain in power. Unlike Nasser’s step-down statement, the author argues that Mubarak’s speeches did not include elements that preserved his threatened legitimacy in critical times and thus he failed to stay in power.
Chapter 9 examines the phenomenon of mixing religious and political discourses in contemporary Arab political rhetoric, and the factors that bring them together in the stormy political conditions during the past half century.
Chapter 10 analyzes political discourse in four Arab novels, from Lebanon, Iraq, Bahrain, and Sudan. The narratives address various political aspects, including civil wars, occupation, military defeats, and ethnic racism. The final chapter examines folk tales and novels to explore the forms of rhetorical struggle between ordinary individuals and symbols of traditional authority. It shows how the marginalized characters in folk tales resist oppressive power by creating a fictional world in which there is room for ordinary people to resist tyranny.
Nasser Zidan, The Difficult Political Coexistence after the Doha Agreement: The Future of Lebanon in Light of the Experience of the Cold Wars between May 2008 and May 2019 (Beirut: Arab Scientific, 2019). 795 pp. ISBN 9786140129221.
This book deals with the internal Lebanese political scene between May 2008 and May 2019, in the light of regional and international developments that affected Lebanon and the future of its political system. The author chose this period as events of May 2008 constituted a critical interval between two dangerous phases in Lebanon. The first phase witnessed a great deal of security and political turmoil as well as conflict over the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon, and the July 2006 Israeli War on Lebanon. The second phase relates to internal developments that almost sparked a civil war in the country, the most prominent of which were the “events of May 7, 2008” when Hezbollah forces took control of western Beirut, mainly in response to the government’s decision to remove Hezbollah’s telecommunications network. Hezbollah’s use of weapons put an end to the government of the “March 14 alliance,” which constituted the majority at that time. Consequently, all Lebanese factional leaders were invited to Doha (Qatar) to resolve the political crisis and avoid civil war. Under Arab and, particularly, Qatari patronage, the Lebanese leaders of the “March 14 alliance” (the majority) and the “March 8” (the opposition) signed the Doha Agreement on 21 May 2008, marking the end of an eighteen-month political crisis in Lebanon.
Under the Doha Agreement, consensus candidate General Michel Suleiman was elected president of the republic. A national unity government was formed, composed of thirty ministers distributed among the majority (sixteen ministers), the opposition (eleven ministers), and the president (three ministers). By virtue of this agreement, all parties committed to not resigning or obstructing the government’s actions. They also committed to prohibit the use of weapons and violence under any circumstance in order to record political gains or resolve any conflict whatsoever. The parties, instead, promised to initiate a dialogue promoting the Lebanese state’s authority over all Lebanese territory in order to ensure the state’s and citizens’ security and to preserve the continuity of the formula of coexistence and civil peace among all Lebanese people, in accordance with the national partnership contract.
The United Nations Security Council welcomed the Doha Agreement, reaffirming its support for banning the use of weapons and violence as a means to settle disputes in Lebanon. The Council also expressed support for the territorial integrity, sovereignty, unity, and political independence of Lebanon, calling for the dismantling and the disarming of all Lebanese and foreign militias.
However, the Doha Agreement was not to guarantee the smooth and proper functioning of the Lebanese political system. The mutual vetoes within the government have paralyzed the decision-making process and sustained the confessional quotas practices. The coexistence of the official security institutions and Hezbollah’s stockpiling of weapons was recognized, and the dialogue to reach a comprehensive agreement on the national strategic defense plan has failed.
With the outbreak of the Syrian crisis, the various factional, political leaders represented in government announced their commitment to a “self-distancing policy” to mitigate the repercussions of the Syrian war on Lebanon and avoid internal rift, but, in reality, almost all Lebanese parties were involved in the Syrian war, whether politically and/or militarily, especially Hezbollah, which actively participated in the war to support the Syrian president against the opposition and terrorism.
Similarly, the various factional parties in Lebanon failed to agree on a unified foreign policy to avoid an internal rift in the light of the Donald Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Iranian nuclear agreement and the imposition of US sanctions on Tehran and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Nonetheless, the author argues that, in light of past experiences, the various Lebanese parties will have no choice but to settle their internal differences through the Lebanese system based on the principles of consociational democracy, recognizing, however, that many other researchers believe that almost all internal crises and challenges remain inherent in its sectarian political system, which is far from just nor a true democracy, and which, moreover, encourages corruption and sustains the practices of confessional quotas.
Ghassan Abu Sitta and Michel Nawfal, Narration of the Palestinian Wound: An Analysis of Israeli Bio-Policy (Beirut: Riad El-Rayes, 2020). 190 pp. ISBN 9789953217208.
Dr Ghassan Abu Sitta, Head of the Division of Plastic Surgery at the American University of Beirut Medical Center (AUBMC), and journalist Michel Nawfal examine the relationship between the wounded Palestinian body and politics and its implicit impact on the Palestinian struggle against the Israeli occupation. They also seek to analyze Israeli bio-policy applications in occupied Palestinian territory that try to manage the Palestinian community’s health to put its members under full control and intervene in every aspect of their lives.
The idea for the book arose, as Nawfal explains, through discussions with Abu Sitta, who has spent his life working in the field of “conflict medicine,” especially in the field of medical relief in the Gaza Strip during the repeated Israeli wars and raids on the territory, where Abu Sitta found the “wound” does not simply mean a body that bleeds, but that every wound has a story or narrative that deserves to be told as a historical event of the war.
Each individual, he noticed, can be proud of his wound as a symbol of the struggle against the occupation. At same time, the injured person might be found to be sad, agonized, and marginalized if he feels that his sacrifices are no longer appreciated or if he believes that no sufficient political efforts have been exerted to harvest the fruits of his sacrifice.
The wound may hurt more if it turns into a wound for homeland, as a result of foreign interference that seeks to impose its hegemony, or an occupation such as the Israeli occupation, or as a result of collusion of some internal forces with foreign or external powers to suppress the rest of the people in the homeland under false pretexts.
Regarding the analysis of Israeli bio-politics, the authors explain that the French philosopher Michel Foucault paved the way for the theory of “bio-politics” when he focused on the inclusion of the health of the human body in politics, pointing to the huge responsibility of political authority for human birth, health, life, and death.
The theory of bio-politics built upon the work of Foucault to include the practices of Western colonial powers that led to the genocide of indigenous people. In this way, the Israeli occupation practices the same bio-policy in occupied Palestine, obsessed with getting rid of the Palestinian “human mass” as a serious “existential” problem for the Israeli occupation. In this respect, Israel has applied its bio-policy in the most extreme cases in the Gaza Strip, which has become one “large refugee camp.”
The book has five chapters. The first begins with the biography of Abu Sitta as a physician concerned with the narration of the wounded Palestinian body, from the Nakba (1948) to the current ongoing Israeli war on Gaza. It also explores Israeli bio-policy applications that tend to manage the Palestinian community’s health and monitor the lives of its members.
The second chapter deals with events that took place during the 2008 war, when Israel deliberately bombarded the Gaza Strip with 1.5 million kilograms of explosives. The Israeli war at that time was marked by the fact that the Israeli army used a new type of phosphorous bomb to cause severe burns and additional great suffering among the Palestinian people.
The third chapter shows how the ruling elites determine the political value of war casualties, based on the degree to which the political narrative of the wound is compatible or not so with their political projects, which make the political value of the wound differ throughout the life of the wounded vis-à-vis the change in political projects which are led by elites. Eventually, the political value of war casualties is transformed into the main criterion that determines or blocks the availability of patient care.
The fourth chapter analyzes the crisis of the Palestinian political system, which failed to confront the Zionist settlement plan that is swallowing up occupied land, amid the division and conflict between the Hamas and Fatah movements.
Finally, the fifth chapter presents the deterioration of the Arab health system and Israel’s applications in the field of bio-politics to control the health and life of the Palestinian people.
Mohammed Karam Abd Ali al-Samarrai, The Position of the United States of America on the Kurdish Issue in Iraq 1990–2003 (Amman: Dar Amjad, 2020). 232 pp. ISBN 9789923250501.
This book deals with the thorny issue of the Kurdish question that has led to bloody confrontations between successive Iraqi governments and the Kurds for decades without reaching a lasting and peaceful settlement of the Kurdish crisis up to the present day. The Kurdish issue has become more complicated because of its repercussions on Iraq’s neighboring countries, Turkey, Iran, and Syria, and because of the intervention of the great powers in the region, particularly the United States, in pursuit of their own strategic interests.
The book highlights the direct impact of the United States, as well as other regional influences, on the Kurdish issue between 1990 and 2003. It also shows the extent to which the influence of the United States encouraged the Kurds to rise up against the central government in Baghdad, and how it subsequently dealt with the Iraqi government, which suppressed them. The book assumes that the United States has acted in line with its own interests in the region rather than in harmony with any commitment to the principles of supporting national liberation movements, including the right of self-determination.
Among the most prominent events that show the American position on the Kurdish issue in Iraq was the First Gulf War in 1990. In the wake of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the United States had interests in supporting the Kurds in northern Iraq in order to weaken Saddam Hussein’s regime from within. As Iraqi forces were forced to withdraw from Kuwait because of Operation Desert Storm in 1991, the Kurds in northern Iraq and the opposition in the south, mainly Shiite, were encouraged to rise up against Hussein’s regime. Yet, the uprisings did not last long as Hussein’s forces were able to suppress them and, at the same time, the neighboring countries, Turkey, Iran, and Syria, warned of any Kurdish move that would separate the Kurdistan region from Iraq or threaten the territorial integrity of Iraq.
The United States proclaimed two no-fly zones to protect the Kurds in northern Iraq and the Shiites in the south, but the US administration had to balance its support for the Kurds to weaken Hussein with Turkey’s threat to invade the Kurdistan region if the Kurds crossed the lines of autonomy in northern Iraq.
In 2003, US forces invaded Iraq again with the participation of Kurdish Peshmerga forces. For many observers, the Kurds were looking for further American support to obtain independence and establish a Kurdish state in the Kurdistan region. Yet, the US position did not go beyond supporting Kurdish autonomy as there it is a believed that Kurdish independence from Iraq would push neighboring countries, especially Turkey and Iran, to declare war on Iraq, and such a scenario would not be in the interest of the United States or of stability in the region.