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Volker Perthes (ed.). Arab Elites: Negotiating the Politics of Change.

Volker Perthes (ed.). Arab Elites: Negotiating the Politics of Change. Boulder and London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2004, 344 pages. Hardcover $59.95.

Interest in elite change in the Arab world dovetailed that same interest in Latin America though much later in time (longevity of some leaders is one factor). Perthes' book includes nine case studies that investigate the emergence of new elite and its effect on national and international politics. The proposition that there is a "change of guard" is impetuous on the death of four Arab heads of state (King Hussein of Jordan, King Hassan of Morocco, Emir Isa of Bahrain and President Hafiz al-Assad of Syria) followed by two leaders who are gone (Saddam and Arafat). The generation gap between political elites and the majority of the population who are much younger was another factor. Therefore, the prospect is that by 2009 the leadership map of the region will differ substantially. The nine authors stipulate that studying political elites matter as a top down method of change. However, no matter how opaque they stand on this issue they have difficulties and varied approaches in identifying the politically relevant elite (PRE).

The search for indicators of elite change is deep-seated in the proposition that "in most Arab states, incumbent elite significantly influence the formation of the new elite that will replace them" (p. 10). Some identify elites who appear to be modern but not democratic. In sum, in the cases of Jordan (Bunk & Schlumberger), Morocco (Zerhouni), and Syria (Perths) changes have taken place at the top where the young are now in power, while the eases of Egypt (Abdelnasser) and Saudi Arabia (Glosemeyer) conceded that the effect of globalization is finding its way on the top. As for Algeria (Werenfels) and Tunisia (Erdle) elite regimes maintain continuity of control where political change is less likely to take place any time soon. Lastly, two examples of elite change under foreign domination are Lebanon (Husseini) and Palestine (Rabe). In Lebanon "a partly recycled political elite has consolidated itself" (p. 29). In Palestine a multi-polarization of the elite took place as Ararat attempted to establish a centralized system.

While some authors stress the sociological aspects of the process of elite change others approach it from a political economy perspective. Nonetheless, most authors stressed the regional structures exemplified in the prevalence of the Arab-Israeli conflict, accompanied with the change in international environment due to the availability of oil and their interaction with the external factors that affect the composition of local elites. It is the forced regime from abroad that is becoming particularly a problem as in the cases of Palestine and Iraq currently. Conclusively, in projecting what the likely future of the Arab world elite is, most agree that Arab elites proved to be adept at system maintenance. "Although in many cases the elite have been less successful at providing services to citizens, their ability to preserve their regimes, which includes maintaining domestic stability is a fact appreciated by many, including members of the business and intellectual elites" (p. 306).

This book invites further more specific research on states and elites in the Arab world.
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Publication:Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2006
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