Set in Egypt prior to the Free Officers Revolution that ended the monarchy, Moussa’s novel chronicles the degeneration of the society elites and their...moreSet in Egypt prior to the Free Officers Revolution that ended the monarchy, Moussa’s novel chronicles the degeneration of the society elites and their exploitation of nature, the Bedouins and other ordinary folks. The novel presents the contrast between these “outsiders” - the urban upper caste of various Ottoman, Albanian, and European industrialists - and in their quest to satisfy their appetites and fill their coffers, engaged in acts of violation against the innocents (Ilya, the fisherman, and the Bedouins in general), and against the land.
The urban elites’ perversion against nature and its laws is a recurring theme in the novel, especially in contrast to the morality of the desert that Nicola came to admire in the Bedouins. The episode where Issa “stole” the gold bar, plundered from the bowels of the Darhib to pay respect to the mountain made the reader wonder who committed “theft” in the first place.
The events after the King’s entourage arrived emphasized how these city dwellers and elites brought their corrupt, “sophisticated” (“western”?) ways to contaminate the desert and shores, where Nicola found solace. Through contact with the royal entourage and their perverse ways, even the local folklore of the mermaids was corrupted into a sickening, absurd reality. Their crimes against nature’s ways - both in their exploitation of people and land for pleasure - would ultimately destabilize Nicola mentally, until he imagined that he too was complicit in the violation of his daughter.
Nicola’s role with respect with the Darhib and Ilya was an interesting contradiction. Though he was sympathetic to the Bedouin’s ways and worked to improve the working conditions, he continued to excavate the mountain, hollowing it out for minerals to feed into Antun Bey’s factories. In a similar way, he was unable to prevent Ilya’s corruption by the King despite it was ostensibly in his power to reject the invitation. Nicola’s madness could be viewed as his inherently unstable position of being trapped beween the two worldviews, therefore simultaneously obliged to engage in the exploitation that the other elites and foreigners took part in, and his fatal weakness was his ability to feel guilt for his acts. (less)
Owen’s accessible work focuses on the republic regimes of the Middle East, examining their paradoxical durability as well as particular vulnerability...moreOwen’s accessible work focuses on the republic regimes of the Middle East, examining their paradoxical durability as well as particular vulnerability after the Arab Spring. The book asks the broad question: How did these presidents stay in power for so long (despite the stagnant economy and an unhappy populace). Why did some of the others that had experienced conflicts in the past manage to stay intact (Algeria, Lebanon, Iraq etc)? To a lesser extent, Owen explores the reasons for the collapse for some of them after 2011.
To answer the question on the regime’s durability, Owen takes a structural analysis on the different types of republics and leadership that each country had, as well as demographics, natural resources, the military and security apparatus, the existence of lack of particular social clsses, and other features to propose an explanation for each “type” of republic and their survival up until Arab Spring.
Since much of the book was completed before Arab Spring happened, more of the material is focused on explaining the strengths of of these "gumlukiyyas" (monarchal republics). However, the book gives the impression that the Arab autocrats come from a similar "strongmen" mold, whereas there are considerable regional differences and power structures that had considerable influence on events (ie. not all autocrats are created equal. For instance, I'm skeptical of the inclusion of Bouteflika among the same group of strongmen presidents as Mubarak or Qaddafi, as Algeria is an oligarchy of military and security elites, as opposed to a strong head of state. Even among those autocrats who held much of executive authority, there are difference in style of leadership and their relationships with other powerful institutions (such as the army) that had deterministic effects on the revolution's outcomes. To get a fuller sense of the complexity involved, one should also consult literature on political and societal structures, each country's history and demographics dynamics, rentier systems, the role and interests of the military, etc after finishing this book. (less)
An informative art history/ socio-cultural account of the palace and its inhabitants incorporating scholarly sources as well as speculative folklore t...moreAn informative art history/ socio-cultural account of the palace and its inhabitants incorporating scholarly sources as well as speculative folklore that has since become a part of its history. (less)