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Forces of Fortune: The Rise of the New Muslim Middle Class and What It Will Mean for Our World

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ISBN-10: 1416589686
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Nasr (The Shia Revival) offers a fresh look at the future of religious extremism in the Middle East, suggesting that the great battle... for the soul of the region will be fought not over religion, but over business and capitalism. He posits that a rising middle class—seen most dramatically in Dubai, but a force across the whole Muslim world—is far more interested in economic success than in fervent religiosity, even as many bring a distinctly Muslim approach to the business they do. He points out that while the Reformation created the modern world, it wasn't that era's intolerant faith that made the transformation but rather trade and commerce, adding that values gain currency when they serve the economic and social interests of people. His in-depth analysis of the failures of various governments to provide for their people, as well as special focus on what is working in Turkey, and what is crippling Pakistan, helps drive his thesis home. Nasr's analysis can't help being somewhat hobbled by the fact that it depends heavily on the shifting sands of history-in-the-making, but his approach is sensible, well-argued and deserves close attention. (Sept.)
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"Vali Nasr masterfully articulates his argument through comprehensive research and vivid reporting. A must read." -- Senator John F. Kerry

"Vali Nasr's new paradigm about the rise of a new Muslim middle class will be embraced by a broad spectrum of experts: because it is a startling truth hiding in plain sight that Nasr brilliantly reveals and elaborates." -- Robert D. Kaplan, author of Balkan Ghosts and Imperial Grunts

"With his unique credentials and bold insights, Vali Nasr has written a landmark work at a pivotal time. It's a rich and exciting read." -- Robin Wright, author of Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East

"In this fascinating and timely book, Vali Nasr argues lucidly that free trade, not sanctions, is the key to a democratic awakening in the Muslim world. Forces of Fortune seems bound to be influential." -- Jon Lee Anderson, author of The Fall of Baghdad

"Take American chips away from the endlessly hypocritical and fruitless diplomatic games and rhetoric, our weakest hand, and put the chips on our strength -- helping Middle Eastern and Muslim countries with economic growth. That's the way to ultimately defeat the terrorists, build the middle classes, loosen ties to Arab autocrats, and develop democracies. That's Vali Nasr's brilliant message. It's the only way to rescue U.S. foreign policy from disasters." -- Leslie H. Gelb, former New York Times columnist and senior government official, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations

“Nasr has written a rewarding and impressive book. He is a lively guide to a maze of issues that rarely get discussed, and he uses the fruits of his wide travels in the Middle East with great skill ? full of knowing insights and subtle personal portraits.  Judging by this book, it is no mystery that Nasr has risen to such prominence in U.S. government circles as a preeminent explainer of the complex phenomena that define the modern Middle East.”

Foreign Affairs

“Vali Nasr's important new book helps us understand the positive power of commerce in the Muslim world. He shows how growing economies and a new business class will be more important than extremist ideologies in determining how the Middle East interacts with the world. This is a wonderful combination of historical analysis and insightful reporting.”

—Walter Isaacson, CEO of The Aspen Institute and author of Kissinger: A Biography

“In recent years, much of the discussion about the Muslim world has focused on the role of Islam in politics, especially the rise of extremist groups.  In this informative book, Middle East expert Nasr challenges our commonly held assumptions about the dynamics of the contemporary Middle East. Relying on examples from countries ranging from Iran to Turkey and Pakistan, he demonstrates that that is a commercial revolution in the Muslim world fueled by the emergence of dynamic and upwardly mobile middle-class entrepreneurs and reformers?It is this “critical mass,” he says, that will define the contours of Middle Eastern politics and the broader Muslim world and not the marginal extremists that have dominated news coverage of the region. This book should be read by all concerned citizens and policymakers in the West.”

Library Journal

“Nasr offers a fresh look at the future of religious extremism in the Middle East.  He posits that a rising middle class is far more interested in economic success than in fervent religiosity.  Nasr's analysis ? is well-argued and deserves close attention.”

—Publishers Weekly

“[A] humane and clear-eyed narrative?”

Harvard Business Review


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 308 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (September 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416589686
  • ASIN: B003IWYG0W
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,361,530 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Vali Nasr is Dean and Professor of International Relations at Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, a non-resident Fellow at the Brookings Institution and a Contributor to Bloomberg View. He is a member of the State Department's Foreign Affairs Policy Advisory Board to advise the Secretary of State on global issues.

Between 2009 and 2011 he served as Senior Advisor to U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.

Vali Nasr is one of America's leading experts on the Islamic world and Middle East politics. He is internationally renowned and has influenced critical public debates and policy decisions in both U.S. and Europe. He is the author of the groundbreaking book The Dispensable Nation (2013), which takes a hard look at strategic risk of a shrinking American role on the global stage. His two previous books, the New York Times best seller Shia Revival (2006), and Forces of Fortune (2009) correctly foretold of sectarian conflict following Iraq war and the potential for an Arab Spring. He has advised presidents and senior policy makers, members of the Congress, presidential campaigns, and global political and business leaders. He was featured on the front page of Wall Street Journal; quoted by Senator John Kerry on the floor of the U.S. Senate; and described as a "national resource" by Richard Haass, the President of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Vali Nasr is the author of The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat (Doubleday, 2013); Forces of Fortune: The Rise of A New Muslim Middle Class and What It Means for Our World (Free Press, 2009; also published in paperback as The Rise of Islamic Capitalism: Why the New Middle Class is Key to Defeating Extremism and in U.K. as Meccanomics: The March of the New Muslim Middle Class); The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam will Shape the Future (W.W. Norton, 2006); Democracy in Iran: History and the Quest for Liberty (Oxford University Press, 2006); The Islamic Leviathan: Islam and the Making of State Power (Oxford University Press, 2001); Mawdudi and the Making of Islamic Revivalism (Oxford University Press, 1996); The Vanguard of the Islamic Revolution: The Jama`at-i Islami of Pakistan (University of California Press, 1994); an editor of Oxford Dictionary of Islam (Oxford University Press, 2003); and co-editor of Expectation of the Millennium: Shi`ism in History (SUNY Press, 1989); as well as numerous articles in academic journals and encyclopedias. His works have been translated into Arabic, French, German, Hebrew, Spanish, Portuguese, Indonesian, Italian, Turkish, Persian, Chinese, Hindi and Urdu.

He has written for The New York Times, Foreign Affairs, The New Republic, Newsweek, Time, Foreign Policy, Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post, and has provided frequent expert commentary to CNN, BBC, National Public Radio, Public Radio International, Newshour with Jim Lehrer, Frontline, ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, and has been a guest on the Charlie Rose Show and Meet the Press, Larry King Live, the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report and Real Time with Bill Maher. His interviews have appeared in Al-Hayat, Al-Sharq al-Awsat and Al-Jazeera in the Middle East, Der Spiegel and Die Welt in Germany, La Repubblica, La Stampa, and Corriera della Sera in Italy, El Mundo in Spain, and Le Monde in France, as well as in leading media outlets in Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Iran, Japan, Turkey, Sweden and Switzerland.

He is a member of Board of Trustees of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Board of Trustees of National Democratic Institute; Board of Directors of the Foundation for Iranian Studies; and the Fund Board of the Public Affairs Association of Iranian-Americans (PAAIA). He has been the recipient of grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, and the Social Science Research Council. He is a Carnegie Scholar for 2006.

He received his BA from Tufts University in International Relations summa cum laude and was initiated into Phi Beta Kappa in 1983. He earned his masters from the Fletcher School of Law in and Diplomacy in international economics and Middle East studies in 1984, and his PhD from MIT in political science in 1991.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Todd Bartholomew VINE VOICE on September 18, 2009
Format: Hardcover
As one of the foremost scholars and thinkers on Muslim society Vali Nasr has demonstrated his keen insight into that world. His 2007 book The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future sought to reframe the debate over the Iraq war by exploring how the Shia and Sunni divide was fueling what in essence was not only a civil war but a continuation of a long-running religious conflict. With "Forces of Fortune" Nasr has produced another work that should reshape opinions and increase understanding of the broader changes occurring in the Muslim world. Nasr asserts that the rise of a business-minded middle class is reshaping societies across the Muslim world and how the West engages this burgeoning middle class will provide the key to countering the threat from Islamic extremists and Iran. That alone represents a considerable paradigm shift from the West's longtime support of autocratic nations in the region who have failed to democratize and liberalize their economies and their societies. Nasr makes a compelling argument that the way to win over the Muslim world is to engage it over business, capitalism, and trade; not to fight it over religion.

Equally surprising is his assessment that Islamic extremism and anti-Americanism took hold in the region not because of an inevitable clash of cultures (as other scholars have asserted), but because unlike other countries and regions a middle class failed to emerge in the 19th and 20th Centuries. This is hardly surprising given the sclerosis and decline of the Ottoman Empire in the 19th Century, the exploitative effects of colonialism and the autocratic regimes that dominated the latter half of the 20th Century.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Ramin Asli on September 19, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Nasr is a one of the best minds on Islam and the Middle East. His last book, The Shia Revival, was a best-seller that forecast sectarianism in Iraq even before it had happened. He has a reputation for being insightful and coming up with new ideas. This book lives up that reputation. It gives a completely different picture of the Middle East than the one we read and hear in the media. Nasr writes that extremism is a problem, and so is fundamentalism, poverty, and dictatorship. But he does not think things are hopeless. He explains that there are places in the Muslim world where a new middle class tied to business has been changing things for the better. There is a lot of useful history and facts, often about issues we do not hear about, in this book. It also ties change in the Middle East to things we know about, business, economics, capitalism. Tom Freedman meets Islamic history, that is what this book is about. It is a completely novel idea and a worthwhile read.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Serge J. Van Steenkiste on November 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Vali Nasr reminds his audience that since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the U.S. has placed the greatest emphasis on containing and defeating Islamic fundamentalism in the Islamic world, especially in the Middle East (pp. 1-2; 84). Nasr invites the West, especially the U.S., to see the whole picture (p. 10). The sub-optimal integration of the Middle East into the global economy is largely responsible for the key role that this region plays in fueling global political instability (pp. 168; 262).

To his credit, Nasr shows with much clarity how the failures of secularism have made possible for fundamentalism to survive past its prime across the Islamic world (pp. 11; 84-85; 142-143; 146-148; 152; 156; 164-165; 173; 175; 213; 255). Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of Modern Turkey, was decisive in westernizing his country to catch up with the West in the 1920s and 1930s. The leadership of Iran and much of the rest of the region followed in his footsteps, despite the fact that their countries were not as well-endowed as Turkey after WWI (pp. 95-97; 106). Kemalism, a model of modernization-by-command, resulted in several failures after scoring some remarkable successes:

1) Patronage state, mismanagement, and corruption rather than robust capitalist economies;

2) The absence of a middle class of merchants and professionals with their own bases of economic power, independent from state sponsorship;
3) Suppression of Islam and its accompanying resentment (pp. 8-9; 65-69; 72-75; 85; 90-91; 94; 98-110; 113-114; 118-119; 129; 141; 149-150; 169-171; 192; 207; 219; 229; 236; 250).

Nasr observes that Kemalism is now playing a key role in undermining stronger capitalist growth and liberalization in the Islamic world (pp. 94; 114; 167; 226). The U.S.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Lars Lofgren on September 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In his new book, Vali Nasr provides an overview of the broad, societal trends that have shaped the Middle East over the last century. Each chapter serves as an overview of the popular topics of the region including Iran, Dubai, Pakistan, Turkey, fundamentalism, and the popularity of state control over the economy though Kemalism. Anecdotes are used throughout the book with engaging writing to absorb the reader in his discussion of the historical trends in the region. Nasr also makes a point to address popular misconceptions of events in the Middle East, providing a clear and thoughtful overview of many heavily debated topics. Throughout this discussion, Nasr exemplifies the importance of the middle class in fostering democratic norms, reducing tensions, and developing an economically vibrant region. If the West hopes to achieve long term reform within the region, it must promote economic reforms that support the moderate Muslim middle class. Only then will secularism, human rights, and democracy begin to gain prominence.


Nasr's thesis of empowering the middle class of the Middle East to spur democratic reform throughout the region depends on a single assumption: the adoption of a neoliberal world view. Neoliberalism is a perspective within international relations that states economic interdependency and the adoption of democratic norms will reduce conflict throughout the globe. This is essentially Nasr's argument. As the middle class of the Middle East is allowed to progress economically, political reform will follow and tensions between the Middle East and the West will decline.

There are numerous counters to this perspective.
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