Monday, January 31, 2011

Ideology and Power in the Middle East

Ideology and Power in the Middle East: Studies in Honor of George Lenczowski, Peter J. Chelkowski and Robert J. Pranger, editors. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1988. 530 pages. $19.95 paperback.
The editors of this compilation of essays in honor of George Lenczowski, former professor of political science at the University of California at Berkeley (best known as the conservative author of Russia and the West in Iran, The Middle East in World Affairs and Oil and State in the Middle East, originally published in 1949, 1952 and 1960 respectively), declare in their preface that this is not a conventional Festschrift. Indeed, the connection between Lenczowski and most of the contributors appears rather tenuous. Similarly, the attempt made in the title and an introductory essay to draw a common theme of "ideology and power" around the disparate contributions seems somewhat artificial.
It is true that the typically esoteric melange of the usual Festschrift is not to be found in these presentations. At the same time, however, the quintessential and enduring merit of the Festschrift form, viz., an eclectic if random originality, has been sacrificed for comprehensiveness. The result is, essentially, a textbook -- and a decidedly hefty one at that, weighing in with 450 pages of text but with all the notes inconveniently pushed to the rear. As a consequence, the contributions tend to be uniform but largely undistinguished surveys of recent developments in selected countries and movements. Many of the authors have covered the same ground elsewhere in more detail and with more authority.
Country studies are in the majority, arranged into sections on "royalist authoritarianism" (Pavlavi Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Bahrain); "radical and reformist military regimes" (Egypt, Syria, Iraq and North Yemen); "Marxist movements and governments" (South Yemen, Afghanistan and the People's Mujahidin of Iran); and "challenge to democratic practices and principles" (Israel, Turkey and Lebanon). Final chapters deal with "Islamic fundamentalism," the PLO, the Kurds, and overviews of international relations in the Gulf and American foreign policy in the Middle East.
Among the few contributions that stand out are Hermann Eilts' crisply written personal perspective on political and social change in Saudi Arabia, and Robert Springborg's meditation on politics in modern Egypt through his review and critical analysis of the scholarly literature. Also on the positive side, it should be noted that there are few, if any, "clunkers" among the nineteen essays and that all the authors are thoroughly familiar with their subjects. Thus, this volume may serve admirably as a supplementary undergraduate text or as a reasonably current shelf reference.

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