‘Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East’ by Robin Wright

'Dreams and Shadows' By ROBIN WRIGHT
Reviewed by PATRICK COCKBURN in New York Times Sunday Book Review

  Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East by Robin Wright

….Robin Wright argues that there is “a budding culture of change” in the Middle East — and she sets out to document it in this fluent and intelligent book about the future of the region….

She writes, “Islamic extremism is no longer the most important, interesting or dynamic force in the Middle East.”…

It would be good if this were true, but in general the stories Wright relates of brave reformers battling for human and civil rights show them as having had depressingly small influence. She claims there is “a budding culture of change” represented by “defiant judges in Cairo, rebel clerics in Tehran, satellite television station owners in Dubai, imaginative feminists in Rabat and the first female candidates in Kuwait, young techies in Jeddah, daring journalists in Beirut and Casablanca, and brave writers and businessmen in Damascus.” Sadly, her own research largely contradicts this thesis. Of the many opponents of the status quo she writes about, the only ones to have achieved a measure of success are religious movements: Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank and Hezbollah in Lebanon. She does not cover Pakistan, but the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Rawalpindi in December shows that suicide bombers retain their deadly ability to shape events.

Why have moderate reformers failed so uniformly across the Middle East? Not because of lack of courage. Wright describes how in Syria, Riad al Turk, first arrested for opposing a military government in 1952, spent almost 18 years in solitary confinement in an underground cell the length of his body. He kept himself sane by making pictures on the floor out of thousands of hard and inedible grains he had taken out of the prison soup during his years of confinement. Wright also writes of heroes and heroines in a more minor, but still impressive, key, like Noha al Zeiny, a leading official in the prosecutor’s office of the Egyptian Ministry of Justice, who was so disgusted by blatant official ballot rigging in an election she was supervising that she publicly denounced it in one of the few Cairo newspapers that dared to print her testimony.

Autocratic regimes in the Middle East may be sclerotic, corrupt and detested by their own people, but they are very difficult to remove. Governments in Egypt, Syria and Libya that came to power by military coups in the distant past have learned how to protect themselves against their own armies and security forces. In each of those countries the Mubarak, Assad and Qaddafi families are establishing new political dynasties. President Hosni Mubarak, jokingly known to Egyptians as the last pharaoh, has, according to Wright, now held power longer than all but two other leaders in Egypt’s 6,000-year history, and is grooming his son Gamal to replace him. Political reforms have been purely cosmetic. Osama Harb, the editor of a moderate foreign policy journal, International Affairs, denounced Egypt’s supposed reform efforts as a sham but found he could not withdraw from the government’s inner circle without endangering himself. “It should be easy to resign, to say no,” he observed. “But not here. This is Egypt.”

Just one long-established regime in the Arab world has been kicked out by voters in a closely monitored election. It happened on Jan. 25, 2006, when Hamas won a victory over Fatah, Yasir Arafat’s very corrupt nationalist movement. It was the first time, Wright says, that an Arab electorate ousted an autocratic leadership in a free and fair election — a message that resonated throughout the region. The immediate response of the international community was to boycott Hamas. “The United States is like the prince in search of Cinderella,” the Hamas leader Osama Hamdan told Wright. “The Americans have the shoe, and they want to find the kind of people who fit the shoe. If the people who are elected don’t fit into the American shoe, then the Americans will reject them for democracy.” Fatah was encouraged by the United States, Israel and the Western Europeans to ignore the results of the election and build up its military strength. An armed clash became inevitable, leading to the takeover of Gaza by Hamas gunmen in June 2007.

Wright has long been one of the best-informed American journalists covering the Middle East, and her reputation is borne out here. She is refreshingly skeptical of conventional wisdom about what is happening in the region, and her book will be essential reading for anybody who wants to know where it is heading.

She is particularly good on the moribund nature of the regimes that now hold power and know they are too unpopular to allow any open expression of popular will (though some innovations, like satellite television and the Internet, have prized open their control of information). Both the Algerian election in 1992 and the Palestinian poll in 2006 showed that the West will not accept an election won by its enemies. But since the invasion of Iraq it is difficult to imagine a fair poll having any other result.

Patrick Cockburn, a foreign correspondent for The Independent of London, is the author of “The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq.”

Why I Have New Hope for The Mideast Robin Wright writes about her own book: B01 (Post) Article | 03/02/2008

… Riad al-Turk is the Nelson Mandela of Syria. He was locked in a windowless underground cell about the length of his body without furniture or a toilet for 18 years. He kept from going mad by using uncooked grains of rice from his evening soup to etch geometric designs on the floor. "You must accept hell as a price to pay for remaining faithful to your convictions," he later reflected.

After his release in 1998, Turk went at it again, lashing out at the Assad dynasty in Damascus for "relying on terror" and demanding that it move "from despotism to democracy." In 2001, he was arrested a fourth time. Freed in 2005 at age 75, the reformed Marxist refused to be silent, even while acknowledging that he was only a starting point.

"The regime will eventually collapse on its own, due to isolation internally and internationally," he told me. "That's what happened in the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia. That's what will happen here." …

Not all of the Middle East's new actors will succeed. For all the signs of promise, the region is still full of shadows.

Democracy is about differences, which are bound to explode once disparate sides of society are free to speak and make demands. Opening new space also does not guarantee who or what will fill it. And all the factors contributing to change make the region susceptible to greater turmoil.

Yet what I found most inspiring in my travels was not the dreams that the outside world has for the people of the Middle East. It was the lofty goals they have set for themselves, and begun — only begun — to act on.

Books: 'Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East' Discussion | 03/06/2008
Washington Post diplomatic correspondent Robin Wright takes questions on her new book, "Dreams and Shadows"

Comments (63)

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51. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

I cannot democratize anything. The Arabs can democratize themselves.

As for your questions: A democratically elected government in an Arab country may elect to go to war against Israel but it will never be re-elected. Accountability favors peace. Eventually, all democratic elected governments will at least be against war if not for peace.

As for the many excuses people give for not wanting democracy, it is not my job to explain to them that they are bogus. It is yours and QN’s. They won’t listen to me.

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March 6th, 2008, 7:03 pm


52. wizart said:


We’re not asking for your help achieving Democracy if you can’t help us and help yourself by achieving peace which we consider more basic.

Calling something real which concerns the majority Muslim population is not a bogus excuse whether it comes out of me or anybody else.

Hamas listened to their population and got elected. Now you think you have a valid excuse for not wanting or not being able to negotiate peace with them while accusing your other opponents of making bogus excuses which are not bogus because they will lead you to similar problems!

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March 6th, 2008, 7:16 pm


53. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

There is a difference between peace, no war and war. If Hamas thought that it were really accountable to the people of Gaza, it would not have shot the rockets at Israel. Hamas knows that it will not allow additional elections so it doesn’t care. With Hamas it is one person, one vote, one time. That is not democracy.

I am talking about the appearance of democratic regimes that are really accountable and that can be voted out and replaced without violence if people are displeased. I don’t mind if such regimes take power with a platform hostile to Israel. How long do you think they will stay in power if all they bring their citizens is war and no growth economics?

The reasons for not having a democracy are bogus. How can dictatorships be better than democracies in achieving national aims? In fact, all the dictatorships failed miserably in this. Unless you can provide a counter example, this argument is bogus.

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March 6th, 2008, 9:52 pm


54. wizart said:


If there was an example of how a Democratic regime really solved its territorial dispute with Israel then we will never need a counter example. There’s no example to the Israel experiment producing enduring peace. Manipulating public opinion through the free press in the name of Democratic ideals will benefit Israel at the expense of the population who stand to face bloody instability.

Can you give me an example of a country that was created the way Israel was created. Was it not designed at the expense of others?

How easy is it to manipulate a democracy? If Israel is so readily able to manipulate the US foreign policy towards the Middle East and the U.S is a huge successful Democracy don’t you think Israel will find it much easier to manipulate any future Arabic Democracy?

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March 7th, 2008, 6:05 am


55. wizart said:

How has The Holocaust been affecting Israel’s political psychology?

PTSD (post traumatic stress disorders) are common among war victims and Holocaust survivors and they are extremely hard to treat fully.
How could that not be related to the persistent absence of peace between Israelis (past survivors) and (new survivors) Gazans?

“Holocaust Syndrome explains the behavior of victims exposed to a constant, prolonged danger over which they have no control, no recourse, use the denial mechanism to cope with life threatening situations. The Germans were fully aware of this phenomena, and deliberately starved, terrorized and dehumanized the victims, to make the killing easier.” from a website on the Holocaust.

Conditions in Gaza today may subject some victims to ..”the Gaza” Syndrome where some victims maybe facing similar “solutions.”

Victims of past traumas often need to relive the pain to feel cured and sometimes they manage to re-experience their pain through others. Humans can get very sick. Peace flows from the inside out. If there’s no peace inside the human psyche there’ll be no peace.

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March 7th, 2008, 2:07 pm


56. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

I am not sure I understand your view. Are you claiming that democratic changes will make the Arabs weaker vis a vis Israel? If what you say is true, why don’t the Arabs manipulate the free Israeli press to make Israel weaker? If it is so easy to manipulate a democracy, then why aren’t the Arabs manipulating Israel?

Are you against democratic reforms in Arab countries? Do you believe only strong men can rule Arab countries? It sure sounds like it.

Is there ONE country in the world that was not created at the expense of others? All Arab countries are the result of the Arab conquests. More recently Iraq and Syria were created at the expense of the Kurds. All South American and North American countries were created at the expense of the local population.
In England the Anglos pushed out the Celts and were later pushed themselves by the Saxons and Vikings and finally taken over by the Notmans. All this was at the expense of many people. In Spain the Arabs took over at the expense of the local population and were then pushed out at the expense of even more people. Do I need to continue?

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March 7th, 2008, 2:57 pm


57. wizart said:


It’s rather telling you’re always pushing for a regime change somewhere in the region and never taking responsibility for peace.

The Arabs, unlike Israelis, don’t need an excuse for a regime change. They’re growing along while in a dynamic survival mode although not practiced in the arts of international cognitive distortion and P R manipulation that Israel has perfected through years of highly dedicated and organized efforts since surviving the Holocaust. The Arabs have been made to pay the price of solving the Holocaust complex and you’re suggesting they should role with the punches and recover through Democratizing! I tend to believe real Democratic ideas and secularism develop in peaceful times not under the duress of emergency situations where nations feel under siege.

Historical land grabs in the stone and middle ages are no excuse for modern day nation building through aggression. Gone are the days when there was no United Nations, binding laws and orders. We need to restructure and strengthen these international organizations and the U.S (minus Israel’s lobbying pressure) can lead the way to make sure we live in a more secure and just world.

Every case for peace is different so custom made solutions seem more appropriate to me. Why not focus exclusively on the factors undermining peace rather than rationalizing current predicaments by blaming them on irresponsibly lame excuses such as “the need for regime changes?”

China is not Democratic yet it’s growing fast in peace with its neighbors. England returned Hong Kong a prospering city after a 100 years. Why not be proactive in bringing prosperity to places like Gaza unstead of coming up with an other regime change excuse?

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March 7th, 2008, 4:25 pm


58. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

I am not pushing for regime change. I am only saying that real peace can only be made with democracies.

As for democracy being developed in peaceful times, that is just false. Democracy was brought to Europe via revolutions and wars, except for the UK. Democracy in the US was earned by fighting for years against a superpower (Britain). Democracy in Japan was tailor made by the Americans who dictated a constitution to the Japanese. The Indian democracy is a direct result of the colonial system weakning the local mahrajahs. Democracy is usually gained by war. Freedom is not cheap. Your whole assertion is just wrong.

Israel brought prosperity to Gaza from 1967 till 1987 (the start of the second intifada). Gaza was more prosperous and its economy grew much faster than that of Egypt or Syria by huge amounts. Did that bring peace? No it didn’t.

Your arguments are all based on wishful thinking and are not based on any fact. Also, you rationalize the fact that Israel convinces people because we have better PR. Did you consider the option that it is because we have a better argument? Just examine the holes in your argument.

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March 7th, 2008, 4:43 pm


59. wizart said:


Your suggestion is a prescription for another Holocaust courtesy of Israel’s stock piles of tactical nukes because you’re saying Arabs can revolt or go to war to democratize and only then they’ll have peace with Israel (whoever survive modern day gas chambers.) What a self disinterested suggestion? It’s lunacy! It will not happen. Pipe dream.

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March 7th, 2008, 5:06 pm


60. AIG said:

How are Israeli nukes related to anything? All I am saying that there will have to be a decades long process of democratization in the Arab world and that Israel has no role to play in that. If the Arabs do not want or can’t democratize, they won’t. I am not forcing anything on them. I am just saying that anything Israel does cannot help the process. So do what is good for you. If you think that democracy is not good, then stay non-democratic.

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March 7th, 2008, 5:23 pm


61. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

How are the Israeli nukes related to anything? Israel is not forcing any regime change on the Arabs. If they want to stay non-democratic that is up to them. I think there will be a decades long process of democratization in the middle east. In fact, Israel is hampering regime change by supporting Abdallah and Mubarak. I think this is a long term mistake.

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March 7th, 2008, 5:29 pm


62. wizart said:

Israel Training With Tactical Nukes

November 19, 2007
Jack Kinsella – Omega Letter Editor

The government of Israel has let it be known that Israeli Air Force pilots are currently undergoing training for a tactical NUCLEAR strike against Iran’s nuclear program to prevent Ahmadinejad from getting the Bomb.

The Israelis intend to use precision laser bombs followed up by low-yield tactical nuclear bunker-buster bombs to hit Iran’s hardened underground facilities. The training exercise calls for the use of two Israeli Air Force squadrons to carry out the attack.
The London Sunday Times quoted one of its sources saying, “As soon as the green light is given, it will be one mission, one strike and the Iranian nuclear project will be demolished.”

Israeli intelligence assessments conclude that conventional weapons won’t be enough to totally annihilate the three main targets, a uranium conversion plant near Isfahan, the heavy water reactor at Arak, and the Natanz facility that Ahmadinejad boasted now has 3,000 centrifuges online.

Israeli officials believe that destroying all three sites would delay Iran’s nuclear program for years and prevent the Jewish State from living in fear of sudden nuclear destruction from the east.

Noted Israel Insider, “Dr. Ephraim Sneh, the former deputy Israeli defense minister, said last month: “The time is approaching when Israel and the international community will have to decide whether to take military action against Iran.”

But he lamented that; “At the end of the day it is always down to the Jews to deal with the problem.”

The Insider also reported that the US “is believed to be backing away from military action in Iran, and the new US defense secretary, Robert Gates, has described a strike against Iranian targets as a “last resort”, leading Israelis to believe that it will be left to the IAF to strike.”

Moreover, the Insider said Israeli officials do not expect to get a green light from the US to use tactical nukes — the IAF intends to operate unilaterally as necessary.

If the IAF plans proceed to fruition, Israel will be the first nation to use a nuclear weapon against an enemy since the United States dropped “Fat Man” and “Little Boy” on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, 1945.

A number of US analysts believe that Israel leaked the story to the London Sunday Times deliberately as a message to Iran.

The Israeli Insider quoted one such analyst, who told them;

“In the cold war, we made it clear to the Russians that it was a virtual certainty that nukes would fly and fly early. Israel may be adopting the same tactics: ‘You produce a weapon; you die’.”

I don’t doubt that Israel wants Iran to know that it intends to deploy tactical nuclear weapons. Israel no doubt also wanted the world to know of its intentions in advance in order to gauge global reaction.

It is worth remembering that this story originated with the London Sunday Times, which is Great Britain’s answer to the New York Times as that nation’s newspaper of record — (except the London Times still has the international credibility once shared by the Gray Lady in New York).

The point is, this story is NOT some unsourced rumor picked up from an internet blog. It was the featured report in one of Great Britain’s oldest and most prestigious newspapers, read in capitals the world over.

And it reported that Israel was preparing for a first-use nuclear strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities! The world’s reaction was. . . it was . . well, ummm . . . I ran a Google news search on the keywords “Israel” “tactical” and “nuclear” to see.

There were TWO articles — one from YnetNews and the other from the Israel Insider. Both hyperlinked to the London Times report, but apart from that, there appears to be a deafening silence. No outraged editorials from the Saudis or Egyptians or from al-Jazeera. No protests in the streets.

In 1981, when Saddam was about to flip the switch that would bring his Osirek nuclear processing plant online, Israel began conducting training simulations that telegraphed their intention to destroy it.

The global reaction in 1981 was not unlike the reaction to the Times’ report. Even the Arabs remained silent, and in the decades since, there has been an unspoken acknowledgment that Israel did the world a favor.

It would seem the world is prepared to accept another favor from the Jewish State.
A one day strike gone wrong can do more damage than Hitler did. Given IDF’s reputation for accuracy I wouldn’t want to be around.

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March 8th, 2008, 1:20 pm


63. wizart said:

Big Pharma Pushes ‘Miracle Cure’
for Holocaust Denial Syndrome

Written by Michael James
Tuesday, 11 December 2007

FRANKFURT, Germany — Governments, police services, and prison
authorities around the world are reportedly “overjoyed” by the launch of a new prescription drug that cures people who doubt the veracity of the Zionist-inspired atrocity allegations, the so-called Jewish Holocaust.

Shares in Israel-based Goy & Goy Pharmaceuticals Incorporated
rocketed to 89 US dollars following the long-awaited announcement of a miracle cure for Holocaust Denial Syndrome (HDS)

Soon to be marketed and sold under the name Holozac, the drug works
by closing down the brain’s center of intellectual inquiry. It also
blocks the re-uptake of politically incorrect neurotransmitters
involved in critical thought processes, making it more difficult to
distinguish between truth and lies.

“We’re simply overwhelmed by the response of the governments we
control in the Zionist West,” says Ari Scheister, Marketing Director for Goy & Goy’s regional office in Germany. “Particularly so in the European Union where prisons are bursting at the seams with professors, journalists, and academics who each suffer the symptoms of advanced and potentially fatal HDS and other diseases associated with human awareness and a passion for the truth.”

Europe’s most prominent sufferers, Ernst Zündel, Germar Rudolf, and
David Irving are said to be in a stable condition following
incarceration in high-security prison facilities for People Who Read Books (PWRBs).

“Next to People Who Have the Audacity to Actually Write Books
(PWHTATAWBs), the PWRBs are our most urgent concern,” says Guenther
Gutmensch, Parliamentary Chairman of the Federal Commission for
Confiscating and Burning Books That Make People Think Something Ain’t Right (FCFCABBTMPTSAR). “They ask lots of questions and they have an unnatural and very unhealthy obsession with finding out the truth. They simply do not believe a word we say.”

Goy & Goy Pharmaceuticals were given the green light by EU health
regulators yesterday following extensive double-blind tests involving twenty HDS sufferers. Over a seven-day period, the patients were allowed unrestricted access to a library of detailed and scientifically authenticated studies of the so-called Jewish
Holocaust. Ten of the patients were given a placebo, whereas each of the other ten was administered 500 mg of Holozac twelve times a day.

“However,” continues Haggler, “by Wednesday morning the group treated with Holozac had actually pushed aside Carlo Mattogno’s ‘Auschwitz: Rumor and Reality’ and Norman Finkelstein’s ‘The Holocaust Industry’ in favor of the semi-mythical ‘Schindler’s List’. At the end of the experiment they were actually fighting over the only available copy of Germany’s favourite self-loathing, government-controlled newspaper ‘Bild Zeitung’.”

There are however side effects associated with Holozac. Its active
ingredient, Zionine, has been shown to cause a pathological hatred of Palestinians and Muslims in general.

“It’s not for cartoonists or editor’s of Mossad-controlled
newspapers,” Haggler explained. “We are also cautioning doctors not
to prescribe to patients who have a habit of harming either
themselves or complete strangers and who then blame that harm on
imaginary Arab terrorists.”

Haggler’s colleagues also stress that giving the drug to Christians
who have been artfully persuaded to believe a false, unscriptural,
satanic doctrine known as the Zionist Dispensation would be sheer

Despite such reservations about possible side effects, the European
Union has already invested 15 billion euros in what it describes as
the most ambitious mental health campaign in modern times.

“We’re talking about targeted pre-emptive measures,” says an EU
spokesman for Mental Hygiene and Correct Thinking. “Holocaust Denial Syndrome begins at home and in the classroom. Does your child ask questions? Does he or she read books? Does he or she get bored with television news programmes and surf the Internet for uncensored history sites and the truth about September 11? If the answer is ‘yes’ to any one of these painfully necessary questions, then your child should be treated with Holozac immediately before his or her brain has a chance to fully develop its dangerous critical faculties.”

Much to the delight of Goy & Goy shareholders, that recommendation
was heartily echoed by psychiatric professionals throughout the
European Union yesterday.

“We often find ourselves being called out at short notice to help the police deal with highly intelligent people who question the official version of history and who therefore require urgent medication,” says first-responder Heidi Stomp. “At the end of the day, all we want is a society of normal, well-adjusted people who watch television, trust the government, don’t ask questions, pay taxes, and love Israel.”

“Governments are limited in terms of what they can do to keep young
men dying in wars for Israel premised upon our cleverly scripted
history and other scams,” reiterates Ari Scheister. “They can burn
books and lie and deceive over and over again, but there’s always a
hard core of dangerously self-educated and wilfully informed people
who persist in asking troublesome questions about our precious and
wonderfully unique Holocaust, despite the threat of imprisonment or
worse. The only way to deal with this terrible disease and stop the
truth from infecting other people is by treating sufferers with our
new miracle Holozac.”

“To paraphrase one of our cleverest non-attributable disinformation
slogans of all time,” concludes Scheister, “it may not be the only
solution, but it’s sure as hell the final solution. Pass the Sushi,
will ya?”

Michael James is a British freelance journalist and translator,
resident in Germany for almost 14 years.

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March 8th, 2008, 1:43 pm


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