Modern History and Politics -- State, Power and Politics in the Making of the Modern Middle East by Roger Owen

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State, Power and Politics in the Making of the Modern Middle East, by Roger Owen. London and New York: Routledge Press, 1992. xvi + 290 pages. Bibl. to p. 295. Index to p. 302. $55 cloth; $18.95 paper.

Reviewed by Don Peretz

This book, the first in a forthcoming series on the Middle East, presents an overview of and general introduction to some of the major processes in the region's recent political and social history. The level of sophistication and analysis will appeal to knowledgeable scholars of the region as well as to those with little or no previous background. The area covered includes the Arab East and North Africa, Iran, Israel, and Turkey from the end of the Ottoman period to the early 1990s. Owen believes that the structures supporting politics in these countries and regions "have a stability and a logic that permit systematic analysis" (p. 290).

The book is divided into two parts--a historical discussion of the emergence of the present nationstate system and the contemporary political institutions of its members; and an analysis of several principal themes: the politics of economic restructuring, the politics of religion, the influence of the military, and the problems of establishing democratic institutions.

The author relies heavily on secondary sources for the substantive data that form the foundation of his own unique interpretations and insights. Thus, he frequently cites other authorities to introduce thoughts concerning recent developments in the region. These include I. William Zartman and John Waterbury on Morocco and Egypt, Peter Sluglett and Marion Farouk-Sluglett on Iraq, Feroz Ahmad and Caglar Keydar on Turkey, Yehoshua Porath on the Palestinians, Yoram Peri on Israel, and Raymond Hinnebusch on Syria. The book is valuable, however, less for the historical account and data on contemporary politics, than for its thought-provoking analysis. It would serve well as a companion piece to more thorough and detailed political/historical surveys.

Part II offers a comparative examination of the various themes mentioned above--economy, religion, the military, political parties, and democracy. The discussion of economic restructuring underscores how attempts to alter statist systems of economic management have varied. The similarities and differences in coping with economic reform are presented in case studies of Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Syria, Tunisia, and Turkey. Owen selects examples of regimes that have attempted adjustments on the supply side, rather than those dealing with short-term stabilization programs focusing on the demand side.

The discussion of religion and politics examines the diversity of theologies and systems of religious law to the extent that they provide motives and programs for political action. …