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The Modern Middle East: From Imperialism to Freedom, 1800-1958.

Reviewed by Glenn E. Perry

Emory C. Bogle, an assistant professor of history at the University of Richmond, has written an informative textbook on the history of the modern Middle East. It will take its place alongside other such works by Richard Mitchell and Lois Aroian and William Cleveland, although certain oddities and defects are likely to undermine its appeal.

The book possesses several unique pedagogical features. One is the extensive historical timelines - three to ten pages listing events in chronological order - at the beginning of each chapter. Students will find these useful, although one does not have to look long to find room for quibbling about the events selected for inclusion.

The author begins the modern period in 1800 rather than the usual 1774, 1789, or 1798. This is not a problem, as he does not literally start with events in that year (and in fact the treatment of General Bonaparte, whose troops had not left Egypt in 1800, is scanty). Only minimal background material is worked in.

Another oddity is the way the author ends his account in 1958 (actually, he includes a 30-page chapter - a postscript, as it were - on more recent developments). The author explains that although things later turned sour, 1958 was the time when "Apparent Freedom" was realized, with President Gamal Abdul Nasser and the forces of Arab unity on the ascendancy. Indeed, those were heady times for the Arabs and those who sympathized with their desire for unity, but it is at least an exaggeration to say that the Iraqi Revolution of the year "seemed" already to have put "the Arabs finally in control of their own affairs" (p. 348).

But after treating the upsurge of Arab nationalism under President Abdul Nasser this way, the author then strangely portrays Iran - where foreign forces had recently installed their client ruler and overthrown the symbol of national liberation - as now similarly being free:

By 1958, Iran seemed in control of its affairs under a benevolent Shah, who had a new source of advice, protection, and technology from the United States. Few feared this new state's participation in Iranian affairs, since it enjoyed no history of pursuing imperialistic goals in the region. By 1958 Iranians had every reason to believe that, after a century and a half of foreign domination, they, like the Arabs, were free to determine their own fate. (p. xxi)

Professor Bogle's hang-up about the wonderful Shah - or at least one who seemed to be wonderful in 1958 - is a major irritation. In light of the scholarly studies that have appeared in recent years documenting intervention in Iran and elsewhere, it is baffling to read an account that almost denies everything. One gathers that it was patriotic Iranians, the Committee to Save the Fatherland, that took the initiative to save their country from Premier Muhammad Musaddiq, although President Eisenhower does get credited for heeding their appeal and sending some CIA help, but the idea that "most Iranians" subsequently thought that the shah's restoration to power was basically due to outside involvement rather than to any action by "the Iranian army" comes over as a myth (p. 372). The author similarly disregards an abundance of recent scholarly evidence relating to the British involvement in Riza Shah's rise to power in 1921 while alluding briefly to charges by "some contemporaries and later critics" (p. 278). Similarly, well-documented cases of the CIA role in, say, bringing Husni al-Za'im to power in Syria or one of the CIA involvement in plots in the same country during the subsequent decade (see pp. 360, 386) are totally ignored. Such omissions in works published twenty-five years ago are understandable, but in light of all the revelations that have now come out, this kind of account of events omits a major part of what is known to have been the reality.

Also inconsistent with the author's seeming depiction of President Nasser's growing popularity and the overthrow of the monarchy in Iraq - though strangely labeled "Stalwart Iraq" (p. 400) under Nuri al-Said - as victories for the Arabs is the way he makes heroes of Western client rulers in the Arab world. This is most notable in the case of King Abdullah of Jordan, who is described as "statesmanlike" (p.208). The Arab's lack of gratefulness for his "accomplishment" in 1948 (p.357) is noted, without any mention of his longtime close relationship with the Zionists (other than negotiations after the 1948 war). The likelihood during the summer of 1958 that Arab nationalists would overthrow King Hussein does not come across as a sign that the Arabs had achieved "Apparent Freedom," but rather as an indication of the king's successful defiance of opponents such as the Arab nationalists.

The book's numerous maps promise to be a big asset, but I see a lot of problems. For example on page 197, there is a good map of the Middle East of the 1990s, but it lacks a caption, and thus its location at the beginning of a chapter on the 1914-1940 period will confuse the uninitiated student. And the map on page 140, sandwiched between pages dealing with the post-World War I period actually shows the Allied wartime arrangements but with all of Palestine inaccurately presented as going to Britain (that is, with the provision for internationalization not indicated). Also lacking a caption is the map of Palestine (p. 240) showing its division into an "Arab State" and a "Jewish State." Since the map is located within the section on the General Assembly's partition plan, no caption is really necessary, although the discerning reader - assuming that he/she is not totally confused by the egregious absence of any indication of the part about internationalization of Jerusalem - will notice that the boundaries are those of UNSCOP's majority plan rather than those actually adopted by the General Assembly. (Professor Bogle is in good company when he confuses these two maps, as is done in numerous other books). Another map without a caption is the one on p. 248 (in the section on the 1949 Armistice Agreements) showing Palestine now divided into "Israel" and "Arab Palestine"; the latter consists of the West Bank, whose unification with Jordan the map does not show, while the Gaza region is included as an integral part of "Israel." The following page shows three partition plans, with individual captions as follows: "United Nations [sic!] Plan for Partition, 1937" (i.e. the Peel Commission Plan), "United Nations Plan for Partition, 1947" (again it is the UNSCOP plan, but without Jerusalem being internationalized), and "United Nations Plan for Partition, 1948" (actually showing the 1949 armistice lines, but with Gaza again going to Israel).

Like many other authors of surveys of the Middle East, Professor Bogle limits his account basically to Egypt, the Fertile Crescent, the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, and Turkey. One peculiarity of this book has to do with the last country on this list. While he deals extensively with the Ottoman Empire through World War I and then devotes considerable attention to Turkey during the early 1920s, the account of the rest of the period up to World War II is rather cursory. Turkey merits only an occasional mention from there on in chapters on the Arab world and Iran, and I looked in vain for an explanation of why the author considers that it has moved out of the region. Similarly, one infers that once Israel came into being its domestic affairs fall outside the Middle East.

Many particulars are bothersome. For example, the author repeatedly tells us that Bahrain's population is "predominantly" Persian (p. 9) -"approximately 90 percent Persian," he informs us on p. 294 - "but was under Arab control."

The author does well with some aspects of the subject. Accounts of military campaigns and diplomacy are usually thorough. He does not do so well with such topics as Islamist movements, repeatedly dismissed as "traditionalist," which is only partly accurate. I checked in the index to see whether Bogle deals with the institution of marja' al-taglid, which is so crucial to the unique role of the ulama in the modern Shi'i world; while a variant of the term indeed occurs in the index, I could not find it on the page indicated (or elsewhere), although references to mujtahids and ulama abound there (and I trust that it was just a matter of awkward wording on the author's part that conveys the idea that ulama are "the highest rank of mujtahids - p. 281 - rather than vice versa). Many important social matters - e.g., land ownership - are given short shrift. Unless the index is wrong, only on page 11 is waqf land mentioned, and there is no clear explanation of what it is, and I found no reference to other categories of ownership in Islamic law. The index lists an abundance of references to land (many however having to do with political and military control rather than land tenure, and - to cite a little example of the oddities - one reference is to the very page of the index on which it is listed); there is of course some treatment of landlordism, but the Egyptian land reform of 1952, for example, is allotted only a paragraph (p. 345) and a later vague reference - the only one a reader who depended on the index would find in the text - to the slowness of implementation (p. 349).

After reading the entire text (and feeling considerable dissatisfaction), I picked several topics at random and checked them in the index. I was amazed not to find the Wafd Party listed, but then I saw that "Zaghlul, Saad" is dealt with on several pages, including one (p. 219) on which the Wafd gets a little treatment, however incomplete. I mention such examples as indicators of the thoroughness and evenness of coverage (or lack thereof) and as examples of the idiosyncrasies of the index (which, after all, is an essential key to using this book for anyone who does not simply read it from start to finish). And who would think to look under the heading "Abolition" for such diverse topics as the end of the tobacco concession in 1891 or of political parties in Syria in 1958? Or under "Tailor" to find out about King Abdullah's assassin?

Professor Bogle is generally quite fair and accurate in dealing with the Palestine question. There are a few slips, as in giving credence to propagandistic claims - refuted by historians such as Yehoshua Porath of Hebrew University - that a substantial part of the Arab Palestinian population was made up of immigrants from other Arab countries who were attracted by opportunities opened up by Zionist settlers (which, if true, he says, would make the "later displacement...less onerous") (p. 170).

There are far too many other examples of flaws - mostly small - for me to cite here. But I wish to reiterate that there is much that is good in the book, and I hope that it will eventually merit a revision that will include corrections at least of the clear-cut mistakes.

Glenn E. Perry is Professor of Political Science at Indiana State University.
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Author:Perry, Glenn E.
Publication:Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1996
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