Jon B. Alterman
Can a New Middle Class Make a New Middle East?
By Vali Nasr.
It was not long ago that word of "the
Vali Nasr's new book, Forces of Fortune,
was written largely in the exuberant phase of
This is not merely a book about
DUBAI OR NOT DUBAI
Of the three models of social and political change presented in the book,
Yet for all of its success,
But all of this proved too much for
To Nasr, Turkey represents a happier balance between the state and the public. Under the logic of Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish republic, the government pushed economic and social development from the top down throughout the middle years of the twentieth century. The state planned the economy, built industries, and managed trade. The state also enforced strict secularism as a necessary component of modernization. But in recent decades, a more bottom-up, free-market, and religious logic has emerged in the country, tied to the rising fortunes of the Justice and
The Turkish General Staff, the keeper of the Kemalist flame, still regards the AKP warily, and Turkish politics is rife with accusations that the AKP is little more than a gang of fundamentalists in suits who seek to overthrow the Turkish republic. For his part, Nasr is satisfied with the state of competition in
So what went right in Turkey, and what went wrong in
Yet it was a broad swath of this group that grew frustrated by continued poverty and felt alienated by rulers who seemed more comfortable in the salons of
Nasr disagrees, arguing that a more Islamic form of nationalism throughout the region would sit more easily with the middle class, liberalize politics, and lead to new moderation throughout the
A WAY OUT
But Nasr's view is by no means universally held. Many Christians and secularists in the Middle East would quarrel with it, and their exodus from the region is a sign that they distrust the Islamist forces.
Another flaw is that Nasr does not put forward a plan for opening the region economically, religiously, and politically or suggest how such an evolution might be managed. At points, Forces of Fortune feels as if it is guided more by sentiment than argument. Nasr points consistently to the Turkish model, but he does not dwell on its nuances and particularities -- for example, the way in which prospective membership in the
But the most puzzling omission is
In Nasr's defense, one might argue that
Even so, Nasr has written a rewarding and impressive book. He is a lively guide to a maze of issues that rarely get discussed, and he uses the fruits of his wide travels in the Middle East with great skill. Forces of Fortune is full of knowing insights, telling jokes, and subtle personal portraits, and it is an easy -- although not breezy -- read.
Judging by this book, it is no mystery that Nasr has risen to such prominence in U.S. government circles as a preeminent explainer of the complex phenomena that define the modern Middle East. Since writing it, he has become a senior adviser to
Available at Amazon.com: Forces of Fortune: The Rise of the New Muslim Middle Class and What It Will Mean for Our World
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(C) 2009 BY THE COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES.