A Brutal Friendship: The West and the Arab Elite
by Saïd Aburish
New York: St. Martin's, 1998. 416 pp. $25.95.
Reviewed by Daniel Pipes
Middle East Quarterly
"There are no legitimate regimes in the Arab Middle East." With this eye-opening first line, A Brutal Friendship promises a Muslim Arab's insider's expose of the tyrannical governments that dominate his region. Indeed, Aburish does bitingly assess the regimes in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, plus the Palestinian Authority. But alas, his indictment is brief and superficial. It only sets the stage for Aburish's true topic—finding a scapegoat for this dismal state of affairs. All his attention is focused outward, blaming nearly every problem of the Middle East on a vast British and American conspiracy that aims to perpetuate what he calls "Western political hegemony" in the Middle East. As for the Arab leaders, he deems them nothing more than the West's "deputy sheriffs."
This "blame-the-West" perspective leads Aburish to the curious conclusion that Arabs are hopelessly passive. He finds the House of Saud so witless, he thinks it lacked the imagination to fund the Muslim Brethren on its own, but could only follow the CIA in doing so. By similar reckoning, the Kuwaitis have no real say over their oil production; it was a "U.S.-inspired decision" that prompted them to pump so much oil in 1990 and led to the Iraqi invasion. Finally, blaming the West leads Aburish to present a topsy-turvy version of the Middle East, where the good are bad, the bad are good. The West's allies he castigates as "hideous" and "abominable." In contrast, he praises Saddam Husayn for his "eradication of literacy, his health care programmes and his championing of women's rights."
However outlandish this book may be, it unfortunately represents the mainstream of Arab thinking, as expressed repeatedly by leading politicians, military officers, religious authorities, journalists, and academics. Its message is implausible, but Aburish's rant needs to be taken seriously by all who hope to understand the Middle East.
Related Topics: Middle East politics | Daniel Pipes | September 1998 MEQ
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