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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sands of Time
In one of the many programmes about the decision to go to war with Iraq there was an interview with a middle east policy expert who was called upon to advise Tony Blair. He explained Iraq's history, emphasising the historical differences between Sunni, Shiite and Kurds and was taken aback when Blair replied, "But he's evil isn't he?" The comment reminded me of the 1956...
Published on 15 Jan 2010 by Neutral

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14 of 27 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
First of all, the title of the book is misleading - this is not a history of arabs but a history of perephery of Ottoman Empire from the middle of 16 centure till our days. The true history of arabs, pre-Islamic period, rise of Islam, first caliphats and the conquest of Africa and Iberia are completely ignored! I was very dissapointed to find the most interesting period...
Published on 20 Jan 2011 by AnB


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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sands of Time, 15 Jan 2010
By 
Neutral "Phil" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Arabs: A History (Hardcover)
In one of the many programmes about the decision to go to war with Iraq there was an interview with a middle east policy expert who was called upon to advise Tony Blair. He explained Iraq's history, emphasising the historical differences between Sunni, Shiite and Kurds and was taken aback when Blair replied, "But he's evil isn't he?" The comment reminded me of the 1956 Suez Affair when Anthony Eden misread President Nasser's intentions by portraying him as a postwar Hitler. Both errors of judgement support Eugene Rogan's observation that, "Western policymakers and intellectuals need to pay far more attention to history if they hope to remedy the ills that afflict the Arab World today."

Samir Kassir, a Lebanese author and journalist, suggested Arabs view the history of the first five centuries after the emergence of Islam with pride. Islamists, in particular, use the international dominance by Arabs at that time as proof that "Arabs were greatest when they adhered most closely to their Muslim faith". While this view may represent an idealised picture of the past it is apparent that Arabs have long since discounted Western claims of liberating them from oppression. Rogan traces centuries of resentment against foreign domination in a broad sweep of Arab nations, which by it very nature, has to be selective. However, by concentrating on political and military history, he identifies the main sources of Arab discontent in the region.

Rogan starts with the Ottoman conquest in 1516 and provides a fascinating history of personalities, conflicts and internal divisions which characterised the Arabs under Ottoman rule. It's a history with which many Britons are unfamiliar. Although the colonial administrations of the nineteenth century laid the foundations for nationalism, the crucial turning point came with the creation of Arab States in the aftermath of World War 1. France and Britain established control and influence over various new States. As a result Arabs became a community of nations rather than a national community. This focused anti-colonialism into nationalist movements at the expense of a broader Pan-Arab political movement. Rogan provides separate chapters on French and British rule and explanations of the rise and fall of Arab nationalism all of which are integral to an understanding of the region.

In 1948 the foundation of the State of Israel provided a common enemy against whom all Arabs could unite. While Britain had opined the creation of a national home in Palestine for Jews would not be at the expense of Arabs living there, they could not provide guarantees. Rogan paints a picture of the determination of successive Israeli leaders to expand their borders each time Arab nations were beaten on the battlefield. It's easy to see why Arabs depict Israel as an aggressor in wars which were actually started by Arabs. At either side of the secular debate extremists lurk ready to assassinate leaders in the name of religion. Failure to reach a political accommodation, fueled by fear and racial hatred, remains at the heart of the Middle East conflict. In that respect Rogan does an excellent job in reminding us of the importance of events which may be history to us but are ever present obstacles to a lasting settlement. Although Rogan occasionally allows opinion to interrupt facts, by and large he lets the evidence speak for itself.

Rogan suggests that while Arabs have "a common identity grounded in language and history, (they) are all the more fascinating for their diversity". What comes out of this work is a recognition that whatever their common identity and history may be it resonates at grass roots level rather than within the ruling elites who control States in their own interest. Radical Islamists are as repulsed as much by corrupt Arab regimes as they are by Western interference. Rogan has written an excellent introduction for anyone interested in understanding how Arabs view their past, see their present and think of their future. It is impossible to finish the book and not feel better informed as a result. Although Rogan's treatment of the most recent history tends to be rushed and, possibly because the book tries to cover so much ground, there are times when reading it is heavy going, it deserves five stars as a starting point for anyone interested in the Arab World.
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26 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pasha, Sahib, Soldier, Shaykh...., 5 Jan 2010
By 
This review is from: The Arabs: A History (Hardcover)
Eugene Rogan's magisterial, though idiosyncratically selective, "The Arabs: A History" is a dense but worthwhile and illuminating read.

Rogan, who spent his childhood in Beirut and Cairo, teaches at Oxford and is Director of the University's Middle East Centre. He is a former student of Albert Hourani, whose seminal "History of the Arab Peoples," published in 1993, this book successfully complements.

"The Arabs" is densely packed with facts and dates. It is a plum pudding of a book rather than a crème brulee; it took me about fifty percent longer to read than most books of comparable length. It is not, however, in any way tedious. The narrative has strong forward momentum and is organized (unlike Churchill's celebrated Savoy pudding) around clear themes. While Rogan writes with a deadpan seriousness, he also enlivens his history with anecdotes (such as the story of the exasperated Algerian Pasha who could not resist striking the French Consul with his fly switch during a heated debate in 1827) and with quotations from contemporary diaries and memoirs. We thus hear directly from the likes of Budhari al Hallaq, an eighteenth century Damascus barber, Rifa'a al-Taktawi, an Egyptian imam who visited Paris in the early nineteenth century and was appalled to observe that "men are slaves to women here...whether they are pretty or not," and Leila Khaled, a female Palestinian terrorist of the late 1960s.

Rogan begins his history in 1516 (the first example of his selectiveness), with the Ottoman conquest. He then divides Arab history into several phases: the Ottoman reign, the period of Western Colonial intervention, Arab Nationalism, the Cold War, the Rise of Oil, the emergence of Islamism, and the War on Terror. For the Arabs, Rogan observes, history has been one continuous "cycle of subordination to other people's rules." The colonial powers' carve-up of the Arab map into ill-fitting states (especially the Jewish one) has had lasting consequences that will be difficult to untangle. This is his main theme, though he does recognize that "corrupt and authoritarian" indigenous regimes also play a role and that at some point Arabs need to assume greater responsibility for their own destiny if they are to overcome what Samir Kassir, the murdered Lebanese journalist, diagnosed as the "Arab malaise."

Rogan is not merely selective in the period that he chooses to cover (two thirds of his book focuses on the twentieth century), he also dwells almost entirely on political and military history. There is little sociological exposition of who the "Arabs" are - what, for example, other than Islam and language, have Algerians in common with Syrians; there is little discussion of Arab society, the schism between Sunni and Shia, or indeed the nature of the tribal loyalties that we have witnessed in the recent conflicts in Iraq. The coverage of Saudi Arabia - surely a major factor not only in the region but in the world - is quite perfunctory as is that of Iran, which while not an Arab nation, is a major player - as much as some of the despised Western powers - in the region' s military and political balance and also demonstrates a prototype of the type of Islamic State which would likely appear, as Rogan asserts, if free and fair elections were held today. He does not extrapolate either on how his adverse cycle might be extended by the putative (or Putinative) resurgence of Russia, the emerging geopolitical projection of China, or even, possibly, of Turkey which is slowly re-engaging on the scene.

Does Rogan have an axe to grind? A critical examiner might argue that the tone of disapproval he applies to Israel and the United States (at least pre-Obama) is stronger than that which he directs at Arab strongmen and Palestinian terrorists (or "fighters" as he generally calls them), or that his distaste for British and French colonialism stands in contrast to his mild nostalgia for the Ottoman empire, but this is surely no partisan polemic. Rogan's book is strongly fact-based, and he provides the reader with ample material and perspective from which to form his or her own judgment. It is part of his mission to explain the Arab point of view and he does this while upholding his professional objectivity.

If Rogan strikes any wrong note, it is surely in his conclusion. He claims to see grounds for hope, the "very beginnings of a virtuous circle." This optimism is hardly supported by his portrait of precarious authoritarian regimes holding down the lid on latent Islamist takeovers, with outside powers continuing to toss banana skins into the mix and the Arabs themselves still subject to a sort of Al Sod's law in their own efforts (witness the disaster of Dubai World). Nor is it consistent with his comment in his Introduction (admittedly some 500 pages previously) that "the Arab World views the future with growing pessimism." This is especially true if one defines the goal, as Rogan does in his Epilogue, as "human rights and accountable government, security and economic growth." Ha!
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ottomans in decline, 14 Jun 2010
By 
Dr. Quentin Spender "Quentin Spender" (Oxford and Wolverhampton, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Arabs: A History (Hardcover)
The Arabs: A History by Eugene Rogan

I bought this book after attending a talk by the author at the 2010 Oxford Literary Festival. It is a history of what started off as the Ottoman Empire from 1500, told as much as possible from the Arabs' point of view - given that it is written by an occidental intellectual.
Many of the books I have bought after attending a talk by the author lie gathering dust, or are moved from one place to another in the hope that they will create time for me to read them: not this one. I went to bed an hour earlier than I needed every night for a month in order to finish it - then leant it to a friend, who has also completed it (but found the last few chapters muddling).
It reads like a thriller, with startling relevance for today, and an outcome still in doubt. As for "Who dunnit?", it is hard not to fault the imperial forays of the British and French, as for instance in the misunderstood diplomacy preceding the Crimean War; the lack of global vision in the Suez crisis; and the repeated invasions of countries such as Algeria and Iraq, promising a freedom that all too often came to look exactly liked servitude; which last explains how the Iraqi people could never have welcomed the `liberating' armies of Christendom in the twenty-first century.
The prose style reads well. The content is generally easy to follow, which it could very well not be, as the facts are complex and potentially bewildering. My main confusion was with the Arab names: not being an Arabic speaker, I found they all look very similar on the page. The second edition would benefit from a glossary of names with a guide to pronunciation or, better still, a dramatis personae, with brief vignettes to characterise each of the many colourful individuals who shaped the multifarious history of the Arabic peoples.
Dr Quentin Spender, Oxford, June 14th 2010.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading, 6 April 2011
By 
W. Glasswell (Cumbria, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Arabs: A History (Paperback)
In the light of David Cameron's recent statement that Britain "caused" many of the problems in the Arab world, and as that world descends into chaos, this book outlines the historical context of the "Arab Spring." Not only Britain but all the old colonial powers carved up the Middle East between them from the remnant of the decaying Ottoman Empire. Fired by greed and the desire to expand their own strategic and commercial interests they encouraged nationalist uprisings only to step in and take control when inter-tribal and religious conflict ensued. Plus ca change! The book is highly readable and explains in clear detail the creation of the Arab states, the formation of the Arab Brotherhood, the PLO, the creation of the State of Israel,etc; in such a way that we gain clear insight into the perfidy not only of the colonial powers but of the Arab leaders who consistently misled their people in order to build up dynastic power-bases.
For anyone seeking to understand the turmoil in the Arab world and its wider implications for global peace, this is a timely and essential read.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great backgrond for the current situation of the Middle East, 5 Nov 2011
By 
This review is from: The Arabs: A History (Paperback)
Provided that you want to understand the historical background for the current political situation in the Middle East and Arab world, this book is a very good choice. I have read it following the Arab spring, as it has provided me with very valuable background information and source of questions. There has been several uprisings in Egypt. What makes this one different? Excluding Libya, the countries where we have witnessed revolutions are poor, agriculture economies with a limited military backing from the geopolitical players. Why? Rogan can give you an introduction to why they are poor and how they have ended up with limited backing.

Because Rogan has written a book about the political situation in the Middle East and not really a history about the Arabs, it is a mistake to include so little about Iran. What is included is some basic info about Iran's role of the Islamic revival in the Arabic world from the 80s and the negative impacts that the USs terrible mistakes with its relations to Iran has had to the whole Region. Both of them could be covered in more depth. The important role that Iran plays in Syria also needs to be covered. Turkey is another important country in any book about the current political situation in the Middle East. On the other hand the Ottoman period has a rather limited importance to understand the current political situation, more than 100 pages about the subject is hardly necessary. The book would become even better with a more throughout coverage of Saudi-Arabia. And what happened to the Chapter about the Kurds? Ok, the Kurds, Iranians and Turks are not Arabs, but the Israelis are not either...

Some comments to the other reviews about this book. Those who claim this is a book about the historical background for the current situation in The Middle East and the Arab world and not a book about the Arabs is in essence right. It is neither true that 1/3 of the book is about the Israel-Palestina conflict or that Rogan has any Anti-Israeli agenda.
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4.0 out of 5 stars History Front and Center, 16 Nov 2013
By 
Histories of the Arabs are seldom described as "refreshing," but this one is. The author, an Oxford historian, uses Arabic sources to give his material unexpected perspectives.

His book focuses on the last 500 years of Arab history, from the Ottoman conquest to the present time, and his narrative techniques put us front and center on the stage of history.

We share the horror of the aging Mamluk sultan Qansuh in 1516 as he watches his army of sword-wielding knights disintegrate before modern Ottoman troops--"gunpowder infantry," armed with muskets--ushering in new technology and a new era. Four centuries later, as we witness Cairo street demonstrations and army plotting drive Egypt toward the 1952 revolution, our experience is enriched by the reminiscences of Nawal El Saadawi, celebrated physician and feminist intellectual.

Rogan views the Arab experience over the last half millennium as "playing by other people's rules"--Ottomans, Europeans, Cold War superpowers or Americans alone--and hopes that the Arabs may be able to break the "cycle of subordination." But he concedes this would require the leading powers to pursue balanced conflict resolution and the Arab countries to move on in the direction of broad-based reform and government accountability.

(A version of this review appeared in the September/October 2010 issue of Saudi Aramco World magazine.)
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book, 7 Jun 2010
By 
Mr. Leong Wai Hong (Malaysia) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Arabs: A History (Hardcover)
This is an excellent history of the Arabs in the modern age. Rogan, who teaches Modern History of the Middle East at the University of Oxford, is able to read both Arabic and Turkish. His book therefore cites a lot of Arabic and Turkish writings to present a history of the Arabs from Arab sources.

The history here begins with the Ottoman's defeat of the Mamluks in 1516 and ends in the year 2007. He charts the evolution of Arab identity from Ottomanism to Arabism to Islamism. Present day Islamists argue that the Arabs were strong and all-powerful when they adhered most closely to their Muslim faith. This is one of the main reasons for the resurgence of Muslim movements worldwide.

Rogan writes well. His presentation and analysis are excellent. He has taken a fair and balance stand on many polemic issues. I would highly recommend this book.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very readable and coherent history, 23 Nov 2012
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This review is from: The Arabs: A History (Paperback)
Rogan offers a sweeping, clear sighted and easy to read account of the political history of the Arab world from the time of the Ottomans. It is not a cultural history. This seems as good an introduction as any to this subject and a helpful background to events in this part of the world today. If like me you get frustrated by news coverage of the middle east that it limited to the latest sensations and doesn't attempt to explain how the modern middle east came to pass, this one is for you. Not in the least, being able to understand more clearly the part the imperial powers have played in creating such a mess and so many tragedies. Persevere with the interminable names of key figures in each country over the last few hundred years and you will find this book gathers pace as a real page turner which throws light on such misunderstood peoples.
The book may have its more scholastic critics and there may I'm sure be more academic treatises out there. So far as this lay reader is able to tell, Rogan takes care to be even handed when it comes to appraising the historic foreign overlords of the Arab peoples, inter-Arab conflict and the Israeli-Palestine question. His is a 'stuff happened' approach but suggests a handful of key themes driving the development of this part of the world as we see it today. Rogan ends the book optimistic that things can change for the better - I'm not so sure as every day we see old emnities and rivalries being acted out which only serve to frustrate the arab man and woman in the street who just want what we all want in life. I learnt a lot and unhesitatingly recommend it.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential background to todays events in the Middle East, 2 Jun 2011
By 
Ukhuman1st "Mike" (Gloucester, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Arabs: A History (Paperback)
The main newspaper reviewers have said it all about this book. Although it is fairly long and closely-typed, it is an eminently engaging and readable account of the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the attempts of the emerging independent Arab states to forge an identity either individually or as part of some wider pan-Arab bloc. It has certainly greatly expanded my understanding of the history of this often tragic struggle and I would thoroughly commend it.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very good read by a very good author..., 26 Sep 2011
By 
S. MOHAMADI (London,SW) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Arabs: A History (Paperback)
A very good read by a very good author. With the recent and still continuing turmoil in the Arab world this book is all you would need in terms of background and history as far as a one volume book is concerned. It is interesting, concise, and enlightening. Highly recommended.
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