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Mullahs, Merchants, and Militants: The Economic Collapse of the Arab World Hardcover – June 1, 2004
From Publishers Weekly
Glain's study is largely anecdotal, and while it provides a good deal of color about the Middle East, it often fails to advance a real thesis about the factors, realities and consequences of the region's economic decline. Glain gives the reader the sense that there's a great cast of characters who play their roles according to their own scripts, but his account is short on serious commentary about how these figures fit into the larger narrative. However, the stories do often provide a unique look into the Arab world. Boston Globe reporter Glain, previously Middle East correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, covers Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq and Egypt, all with close journalistic attention. He accurately conveys the longstanding tensions between Jordan's affluent "East Bankers" and its large, commercially oriented but disenfranchised Palestinian population. Glain cleverly explains Iraq as a "beach ball" because it is such a major market in the region that "it cannot be submerged." He explains how wasta, or "the primacy of relationships over legality," affects the general political and economic landscape by encouraging backwardness and corruption. As an impressive corpus of anecdotes and a testament to Glain's exciting and wide-ranging career as a journalist, this book is a success. As a breakthrough work about the economic decline of the Arab world, it misses the mark.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* Journalist Glain contributes to the growing number of titles trying to interpret for Americans the current state of mind and heart of the Arab world, now inescapably the focus of American and world attention. Glain's particular perspective examines the collapse of a thriving pan-Arab economy that reached its zenith in the fifteenth century. He identifies the Arab world's descent from this golden age into economic chaos as the chief barrier to stability and progress and as the root cause underlying the current spate of terrorism. For this sorry state of affairs, Glain calls to account errors made by the Anglo-French empires after World War I that left the Arab world divided into impotent and jealous tyrannies. Arab education has also suffered to the point that even the region's rulers lack command of the Koran's tongue. Glain introduces readers to a host of characters, including a Lebanese restaurateur and an Iraqi taxi driver who profess love and admiration for Americans while struggling against American policy. A chronology of the Middle East from the birth of the Prophet through the latest Iraq invasion encapsulates the region's history. Mark Knoblauch
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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But the author's examples are hard to follow and even incoherent at times. They also reflect his past as a Wall Street Journal reporter in that he speaks only to the wealthy elite or people who are trying to become rich through entrepreneurial ventures. He doesn't speak to anyone genuinely impoverished or without hope, nor does he speak to anyone doing social services to help the impoverished masses. The result is that we don't really know if the mass of people believe that Muslim fundamentalism is a force for good or evil. We only know that people who were trained in the West or who are trying to build economic ties with the West are fearful of the fundamentalists -- and we sort of guessed that already.
The book also suffers from the way that reality can turn predictions on their head. For example, the author's introduction, which he wrote in late 2004, promised oil at $20-30 per barrel for decades to come. In fact, he said that low oil prices would probably be the straw that broke the back of the corrupt, inwardly focused Arab governments. Well, oil is now $130 per barrel.
In the same introduction, the author promises a representative democracy in Iran in about a decade, led by pressures from within the country's middle class. Today, it looks more likely that we will have a U.S.-led military attack than we will have a homegrown democratic movement in Iran.
If you want to read about the modern history of the Middle East, there are much better sources available, despite the author's admirable "I was there and talked with people" efforts.
He does better when discussing the impact of politics on the economy where he skillfully musters tales from individual businessmen to bring to life how "ham-fisted, risk averse bureaucracy" stifles the rich talent of Arab entrepreneurs and workers. He gives a feel for life's frustrations with stories focused on the main problem of excessive state interference, in all its corruption, neglect, and bad management.
Glain considers six areas in successive chapters: Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Egypt, and Iraq. The best chapters by far are those on Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt. These bring out how political interference has made two economies with such enormous potential into failures. He is particularly skillful at exposing the wide gaps between rhetoric about economic reform and the unpleasant realities of the continued dead hand of political interference to protect the well-placed. The Syria chapter is impeded by the difficulty of gathering information, and the Iraq chapter suffers from the problem of gauging how the economy is functioning under the peculiar circumstances of an occupation after decades of tyrannical rule.
Glain writes with obvious empathy for the suffering Arab peoples, and his confidence in their potential-if freed of such depressing governments-shines through. His account is a good example of the principle that the true friends of the Arabs are those who tell the brutal truth about the poor state to which they have been reduced by their leaders.
 See "How the Arabs Compare: Arab Human Development Report 2002," Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2002, pp. 59-67.