Cover image for Mullahs, merchants, and militants : the economic collapse of the Arab world
Mullahs, merchants, and militants : the economic collapse of the Arab world
Glain, Stephen.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
350 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
General Note:
Originally published under title: Dreaming of Damascus : Arab voices from a region in turmoil.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HC498 .G65 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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A thousand years ago, a vast Arab empire stretched from the Asian steppe across the Mediterranean to Spain, pioneering new technologies, sciences, art and culture. Arab traders and Arab currencies dominated the global economy in ways Western multinationals and the dollar do today.

A thousand years later, Arab states are in decay. Official corruption and ineptitude have eroded state authority and created a vacuum that militant Islam has rushed to fill. Glain takes us on a journey through the heart of what were once the great Islamic caliphates, the countries now known as Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel/Palestine, Iraq and Egypt, to illustrate how a once prosperous and enlightened civilization finds itself at a crossroads between a Dark Age and a New Dawn.

As late as a century ago, what we call the Levant was a prosperous trading bloc. By carving the region into proxy states and emirates after the First World War, the Western powers Balkanized and undermined the Levantine economy. That in turn prepared the ground for a regional autocracy that rejected economic openness and religious tolerance, qualities that had made the old Islamic caliphates great. Today the Arab world has opted out of the global economy, with tragic consequences. It is up to the new generation of leaders -- and the Western governments that created the modern Middle East -- to reverse the sclerosis and revive the region.

Author Notes

Stephen Glain joined The Wall Street Journal in 1991. From 1998 to 2001, he was the Journal's Middle East correspondent, based in Amman, Jordan. He now covers the U.S. economy for The Boston Globe.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Journalist Glain contributes to the growing number of titles trying to interpret for Americans the current state of mind and heart of the Arab world, now inescapably the focus of American and world attention. Glain's particular perspective examines the collapse of a thriving pan-Arab economy that reached its zenith in the fifteenth century. He identifies the Arab world's descent from this golden age into economic chaos as the chief barrier to stability and progress and as the root cause underlying the current spate of terrorism. For this sorry state of affairs, Glain calls to account errors made by the Anglo-French empires after World War I that left the Arab world divided into impotent and jealous tyrannies. Arab education has also suffered to the point that even the region's rulers lack command of the Koran's tongue. Glain introduces readers to a host of characters, including a Lebanese restaurateur and an Iraqi taxi driver who profess love and admiration for Americans while struggling against American policy. A chronology of the Middle East from the birth of the Prophet through the latest Iraq invasion encapsulates the region's history. --Mark Knoblauch Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Glain's study is largely anecdotal, and while it provides a good deal of color about the Middle East, it often fails to advance a real thesis about the factors, realities and consequences of the region's economic decline. Glain gives the reader the sense that there's a great cast of characters who play their roles according to their own scripts, but his account is short on serious commentary about how these figures fit into the larger narrative. However, the stories do often provide a unique look into the Arab world. Boston Globe reporter Glain, previously Middle East correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, covers Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq and Egypt, all with close journalistic attention. He accurately conveys the longstanding tensions between Jordan's affluent "East Bankers" and its large, commercially oriented but disenfranchised Palestinian population. Glain cleverly explains Iraq as a "beach ball" because it is such a major market in the region that "it cannot be submerged." He explains how wasta, or "the primacy of relationships over legality," affects the general political and economic landscape by encouraging backwardness and corruption. As an impressive corpus of anecdotes and a testament to Glain's exciting and wide-ranging career as a journalist, this book is a success. As a breakthrough work about the economic decline of the Arab world, it misses the mark. (June 18) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

For centuries, the Arab world was the center of a prospering Islamic realm that once stretched from central Asia to the Iberian Peninsula. Thriving intellectually, politically, and culturally at a time when much of Europe was mired in the Dark Ages, it also had a vibrant economy that fueled change and prosperity in the lands under its jurisdiction. But the economic demise of the Arab world eventually engendered its political disintegration and the subsequent rise of hidebound authoritarian systems. Through interviews with a cross section of people in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, and Egypt, Glain, a former Middle East correspondent for the Wall Street Journal who now covers the region for the Boston Globe, explains how some of the most endemic problems facing the Arab world today are caused by the decline of its once dominant economy. His approach in bringing to life the everyday struggle of ordinary people is one of the book's most distinctive aspects. Illuminated by the author's astute observations, this is a lively analysis of the causes and consequences of the Arab world's economic collapse. Highly recommended for all public libraries.-Nader Entessar, Spring Hill Coll., Mobile, AL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

List of Photographsp. ix
Mapsp. x
Introductionp. 1
1. Lebanon: The Sluice Gatep. 23
2. Syria: The Circlep. 59
3. Jordan: The Royal Expediencyp. 109
4. Palestine: The Last Colonyp. 142
5. Iraq: The Showp. 187
6. Egypt: The Towering Dwarfp. 238
Conclusion: Whither Asabiyya?p. 285
Chronologyp. 307
Sourcesp. 315
Bibliographyp. 323
Glossaryp. 329
Acknowledgmentsp. 333
Indexp. 337