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Demystifying Syria (SOAS Middle East Issues) Paperback – February 1, 2010


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Product Details

  • Series: SOAS Middle East Issues
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Saqi Books (February 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0863566545
  • ISBN-13: 978-0863566547
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,830,648 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Fred H. Lawson is a lecturer at Mills College, California, USA. Between 1992-3 he was a Fulbright lecturer in International Relations at the University of Aleppo, Syria. He is the author of Constructing International Relations in the Arab World (Stanford University Press) and Why Syria Goes to War (Cornell University Press).

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Graham on February 1, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a useful collection of ten essays on various aspects of Syrian government policy and behavior. Topics covered range from the economy, to religious and ethnic tensions, to opposition politics, to foreign policy.

I found the essays particularly useful in understanding the forces for and against economic reform (entrenched interests are part of it, but so is a widespread "collectivist" social viewpoint) and some of the forces driving Syria's often opaque foreign policy (most notably a tendency to act as a balancer, thus tending to lean against whatever tides of influence are strengthening another regional player).

While it is useful to see different perspectives from different authors, the book does tend to come across as a series of narrow windows rather than as a single unified analysis. However, some of these narrow windows do sometimes turn out to be unexpectedly enlightening. For example, I had been tempted to skip an opaquely titled essay on "The Shii Mausoleums of Raqqa", but this turned out to be the basis for a thoughtful discussion of Iranian/Shiite religious influence in Syria and the interplay of different Islamic factions. (Among much else, I was surprised to discover that over two hundred thousand Iranian pilgrims visit Syria each year.)

With thirteen contributing authors, the writing quality and style vary considerably; sometimes rather stilted and academic, sometimes brisk and incisive. However, the overall work is quite readable and while I fear it does not entirely succeed in "demystifying" Syria, it does succeed in shedding a considerable amount of light and in offering rational underlying motivations for what can sometimes seem like eccentricities or miscalculations to outsiders. In general the authors seem to be aiming for a reasonably neutral perspective and seek to describe and to explain, rather than to either defend or criticize.

Overall, a useful and informative work.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By T. Hargitai on February 8, 2012
Format: Paperback
Editor- and renowned expert on the Middle East- Fred H. Lawson's book is a great source of background information in trying to understand the current events in Syria. The focus lies on the societal impact of the various dimensions of Syria's state functioning. The (arbitrary) rule of law, the influence of the middle class and the role of religion are some of the topics.
The fact that the authors of the essays/chapters are both Arab as well as Westerners offers for a valuable and unbiased academic research.
Very compact in its information, requiring a careful read.
Unlikely many books on the Middle East, this one is academic in its nature.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By TMOT on March 6, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Despite its poorly chosen title, this book is not for beginners. It's written by Syria experts, for Syria experts. I did not expect it to be a primer on Syria; I knew it was going to be a collection of essays. Still, I thought that it would be at least a serviceable intro to Syrian politics and life (given current events there, demand for a such a book is probably high at the moment). Also, the under-ten price for the kindle version was too tempting to pass up. Unfortunately, it does not and can not serve the purpose of being an introduction to Syria. Unless you are intimately familiar with the religion, economics, and culture of the region and country, you will find your eyes perpetually glazing over. You will get something out of the book, but not even 10% of what a Syria expert would get out of it. Furthermore, most of what you get will be in the form of interesting tidbits. You certainly won't have a broad understanding of Syrian life and culture in the modern era. Finally, be aware that most of the essays are about religion, the economy, and the culture of Syria, with just a smattering of politics thrown in. Since politics have been thrust to the fore of Syrian life in the last year, if you're looking for an intro to Syria, you're probably looking mostly for information on its politics. For a primer on Syria, look elsewhere. Personally, after being disappointed by this book I plan to try The Struggle for Power in Syria: Politics and Society under Asad and the Ba'th Party by Nikolaos van Dam, 2011 edition.

EDIT: I was also slightly disappointed by The Struggle for Power in Syria: Politics and Society under Asad and the Ba'th Party, mainly because of its very narrow focus on the sectarian dynamics at play in the formation of political cliques within Syria's military.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Mihaya on November 9, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Various essays, some poorly written, ordered seemingly randomly. While some of the information buried in this book is valuable, getting through ill-written, highly repetitious material is time-consuming and frankly rather tedious. I would recommend this book only for people who are students of Syrian or Middle-Eastern policies.
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