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The Rise and Fall of Arab Presidents for Life Hardcover – May 25, 2012

5.0 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


This book delivers, at precisely the right moment and in the right measure, the historical context needed for understanding the significance of the popular uprisings that are currently transforming the Arab world. In fluid and accessible prose, Roger Owen, the leading historian of the Middle East, demonstrates that the phenomenon of "Arab presidents for life" is a product of modern historical circumstances, not a pre-determined outcome of the "Arab mind," a "tribal" mentality, or the Islamic faith. The key to Owen's analysis is what he calls the "demonstration effect": Arab leaders and regimes consciously borrowed from each other's internal security playbooks in order to solidify their power and prolong their rule. In so doing, they dug their own collective grave. (Beshara Doumani, author of Rediscovering Palestine)

An accessible yet comprehensive review of the political history of the modern Middle East, made all the more relevant by the convulsions of the past year. Owen's dismantling of the "Arab exceptionalism" argument, which has formed the basis of so many accounts of authoritarian power in the region, is historically and sociologically persuasive. He successfully explains how countries with very different histories have nonetheless produced political systems with such strong resemblances. Thoughtful, full of nuance, and mercifully free of jargon, Owen's writing carries the reader along at a terrific pace, providing both the grand sweep of history and the focused perspicacity of political analysis. (Charles Tripp, author of The History of Iraq)

Timely...Owen reveals how the Arab Spring demonstrates the inherent contradictions and weaknesses in the regimes, showing how their creation (and fall) resulted from modern political and economic circumstances...This comprehensive and balanced history illuminates the current upheaval. (Publishers Weekly 2012-01-30)

No other book solely addresses this topic or examines it with the same scope or historical depth. Highly recommended for anyone interested in current foreign affairs or the history and future of modern Arab states. (Leslie Lewis Library Journal 2012-04-01)

A thoughtful and incisive evaluation of Arab political authoritarianism in all its components. Owen points out the many ways in which Arab Presidents and Kings imitated one another, with Presidential sons following--or attempting to follow--their fathers, and all relying on extensive security services and webs of patronage. His analysis of the personalization of power challenges recent efforts to distinguish Arab monarchies from their Presidential counterparts, and lays bare the internal logic of such personalized security states. As an historian, Owen is sensitive, and admirably transparent, about the limits of our knowledge about the inner workings of these regimes. But his brief discussions of each country effectively convey both the commonalities and differences across the cases. Owen's highly readable book serves as a fitting requiem for a system of rule which long seemed immovable, has now been exposed in all of its flawed brutality, but seems likely to adapt to new structural conditions rather than simply fade away. (Marc Lynch Foreign Policy 2012-05-16)

Events have enhanced its timeliness, as it is a kind of obituary for the "monarchical presidencies" of the Arab world. The book looks at the local differences and underlying similarities between the region's leaders...Owen's book provides a sharp look at the tyrannies the Arab spring is attempting to sweep away. (The Economist 2012-08-04)

Owen suggests that like Mafia dons, Arab presidents for life observed one another and learned from one another's experiences and argues that the Arab League has provided a loose supportive framework for their ambitions. Although the shadows of monarchical presidents will be cast long into the future, Owen is confident that the uprisings have brought their era to an end. (John Waterbury Foreign Affairs 2012-09-01)

Owen, one of the world's leading historians of the modern Middle East, examines the specific historical reasons that led to the rise of the authoritarian presidents in the post colonial era, but his real interest is how these individuals institutionalized power to become, in practice, dynastic monarchs...Among the host of issues Owen raises, of particular interest are why some Arab countries have gone this route and others not, similarities and differences between kings and presidents, the different kinds of dynastic presidents, comparative succession practices, and the question of Arab exceptionalism vis-a-vis other regions, such as central Africa or post-Soviet central Asia. His meditations on what to expect in the immediate future are judicious, insightful, and wise. This very timely book serves almost as a textbook on recent and current Arab politics. (J. P. Dunn Choice 2012-12-01)

In charting with care the rise of Arab presidents for life, Roger Owen has pioneered a new strand in the academic debate on authoritarianism in the Middle East and North Africa.
(Hugh Roberts London Review of Books 2013-09-12)

About the Author

Roger Owen is A. J. Meyer Professor of Middle East History, Emeritus, at Harvard University.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (May 25, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674065832
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674065833
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,140,577 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Owen is a respected scholar in Middle East studies, and this book serves to boost his reputation. He covers well the reasons for the rise and persistence of Arab presidents for life, particularly the Asads and Qadhafi. The reasons for the end of these autocrats are still being explored, and thus the full story is not here, but it is better to get at least most of the answers now as the "Arab Spring" is still underway and understanding it is vital for both Middle East studies and for policymakers.
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Format: Hardcover
This unassuming little book contains possibly the most cogent and succinct political analysis of middle eastern oligarchies that I've ever come across. The first half covers commonalities in governance and gets into specific differences later on. The regimes progress from an initial concentration of power within a military junta followed by a personification of power in a central leader who positions himself at a nexus of relationships between tribes, foreign corporations and leaders, the military and local power hungry elites, doling out subsidies and economic favours to keep these interests in line. The leader's clan relations are especially useful towards that end. By rewarding cronyism and micromanaging decision making in the presidency, Arab dictators ensure that independent organizations and the public at large are kept weak and unable to have an effect on policy. In short order the President-for-Life asserts that he alone can guarantee the stability of the regime with its never achieved goal of transitioning the country to socialism and/or democracy. What starts in genuine protestations of self-sacrifice ends in megalomania.

Arab monarchies run in similar fashion, the major difference being the problem of succession. This is treated as a bit of an embarrassment for these self-proclaimed republics as often it is the leader's son (Libya, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Yemen) who is being groomed for the post. In the case of Algeria's Bouteflika, still in control and with no male heirs, the question at hand is whether a Cuban solution of passing on the role to one of the President's brothers for the post will take place.
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By Aghalli on August 18, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Great text which enlighten my knowledge about Arab President and how the reach and fall from unlimited power of their countries!
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