Friday, February 14, 2014

Delta Fourth and Marwan Muasher on democracy and gangsters in the Arab world

Marwan Muasher's The Second Arab Awakening and the Battle for Pluralism has much to say about the necessity of expanding the breadth and inclusiveness of politics in the Middle East.  The Murder of Yasser Arafat, by "Delta Fourth" (Matthew Kalman and Matt Rees) suggests what can happen when the possibility of dissent is squelched.

Muasher, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former Jordanian diplomat and government minister, offers a number of bracing assertions and recommendations.

One is that revolution, reform, and rebuilding take time. Observers should not be too quick to write off the so-called Arab Spring. Opening Arab politics will take decades, Muasher says. Another is that uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere since 2011 have already shattered several myths, among them "that food must be put on the table before political reform can move forward." Muasher's target is economic liberalization unaccompanied by democratization in the Arab world, but I can't help recalling voices here in the United States that used to blandly insist that political reform would inevitably follow loosening of economic strictures. Such a stance is no doubt good for corporate profits, but somehow one does not hear those voices much anymore, and if China has become democratic, I missed it.

The Murder of Yasser Arafat suggests what can happen when gangsters run a government, or an organization that ostensibly aspires to government. Palestinians, especially capable members of the PLO leadership kept from the highest-level jobs by Arafat's jealousy, knew the Old Man salted away millions and was an obstacle to their personal and professional aspirations. The result is apparent in the book's title. And who is the real villain? A hint: It's not Israel.

Rees and Kalman have made their short book into a mix of inquiry and hard-boiled crime. But at least one bit sounds as if it could have come from Marwan Muasher's pen::
"When the gunmen killed someone like Adnan Shahine, it looked as though they were upholding the morals of the struggle against Israel. But there was something stronger at work: the lack of democracy and due process that eventually turned everyone against the Authority, including Arafat’s own ministers."
***
Rees is also a novelist whose work includes the Omar Yussef novels, set in the Palestinian world. He says he and Kalman wrote The Murder of Yasser Arafat as hard-boiled crime. Here is my favorite such example, a nice evocation of the book's morally shadowy world:
"Muhammad Dahlan ... is officially a man without a job or any visible means of support. But he glides through the West Bank in a bulletproof black Chevrolet Suburban supplied by his friends at the CIA bearing the official red and white license plates of the Palestinian Authority. Everywhere he goes, a phalanx of armed bodyguards surrounds him, sealing off the floor of his Ramallah Hotel and waiting on him with food and drink. The source of their salaries is unclear. Their loyalty is unquestioned.

"Dahlan is on a break from an extended visit to Cambridge, where he is perfecting his English, courtesy of the British taxpayer."
© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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9 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is that the British taxpayer who can't afford flood defences, help for the disabled, libraries, and decent roads or railways?

February 15, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

One and the same, though the British largesse toward Dahlan happened some years ago. I'm sure the current British government is more fiscally responsible.

February 15, 2014  
Blogger R.T. said...

I do not doubt the complexities of politics in the Middle East. However, I remain convinced that the goals, tactics, and strategies of radical Islamists will trump all sensible political solutions. And this does bode well for anyone anywhere.

February 16, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

One of Muasher's messages is don't be scared of political Islam--interesting, since he is not Muslim. He has some faith that in an open political culture, in which regime and government are not synonymous, islamist parties can be persuaded to give up their weapons. He speaks with some hope of the situation in Tunisia.

February 16, 2014  
Blogger R.T. said...

I apologize if I sound like a latter-day Crusader, but I do not think radical Islamists would give up their ideology even if they gave up their weapons. Too many radical Islamists have a single-minded mission in life: destroy the infidel. And they do not mean political destruction. This means, of course, that civilization is about to be embroiled in a battle that will not be won. It will simply be brutal and unending. Do I sound too nihilistic? I think I am realistic. I wish big-time politicians would step up to the plate and admit the realities. The realities and the future might not change, but at least people would stop deluding themselves. Do I sound paranoid? Remember, even paranoid people have reasons to be paranoid.

February 16, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

No apology necessary. I daresay that anyone with a brain ought at least to share your apprehension. Muasher certainly does, which is why he addresses it in his book. He categorizes Islamist movements, and one of his categories is, indeed, those movements that which to annihilate outsiders. He does not, that is, deny the existence of such groups, which is one reason his book is worth reading.

February 16, 2014  
Blogger James Chester said...

I'm interested in the Arafat book much more than I am in the other. This is unexplored territory as far as my reading of the Detective Genre goes.

February 17, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The book's subject is violence, corruption, and lawlessness not between Palestinians and Israelis, but rather among Palestinian factions. That is not something most people in the West know about or want to know about, or want to talk about if they do know about it.

I interviewed Matt Rees a few years ago, if you'd care to take a look. We discussed his novels set in the Palestinian territories, but much of what he says is relevant to this book as well.

February 17, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

James, here's another blog post that touches on some reasons I like The Murder of Yasser Arafat.

February 17, 2014  

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