Middle-Eastern Illusions

The Middle East and the West

by Bernard Lewis
Indiana, 160 pp., $3.75

The Arabs and the World: Nasser's Arab Nationalist Policy

by Charles D. Cremeans
Praeger, 352 pp., $6.50

III Rzesza i Arabski Wschod (The Third Reich and the Arab East)

by Lukasz Hirszowicz
Ksiazka i Wiedza (Warsaw), 585 pp., 50 zloty

Egypt in Revolution

by Charles Issawi
Oxford, 372 pp., $7.20

Gamal A. Nasser
Gamal A. Nasser; drawing by David Levine

With the exception of Cyprus, the Middle East furnishes few headlines in the world’s press now, nor does it stand high on the list of problems that give diplomats sleepless nights. Yet ten or even five years ago, an American President had to interrupt a round of golf to attend to some sudden crisis in a remote Middle Eastern country that most Americans (and in fact most Russians) had barely even heard of. To the West, the Middle East was important for several reasons, not the least of which were the presence of rich oil fields and strategic bases there. Neutralist in foreign policy—to the consternation of the late Mr. Dulles—the Arab countries seemed in addition to have virtually a monolopy of political instability.

The situation has now changed considerably, for which we have every reason to be grateful. With the development of modern rocket techniques, most of the military bases have been given up, and those that remain are no longer essential. There has been a buyer’s market in oil, and nobody but the oil companies would be worse off if the Middle Eastern installations closed down for a year or two, or even longer. Everybody in the West is now reconciled to the fact that most Middle Eastern countries take money and arms from both East and West, and, generally speaking, pursue neutralist policies. Their monopoly of political instability has long since been destroyed; political developments are far less predictable and events more stormy in some parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America than in the Middle East. The big newspaper headlines of 1954 tended to make us forget that the Middle East was not one of the world’s most important areas, nor, incidentially, one of its most populous ones (its population is not larger than Indonesia).

We can now observe events in the Middle East with greater detachment. A major crisis may recur there in certain circumstances, but, on the whole, there is more calm in the area now than at any time since the end of the Second World War. Middle Eastern political leaders certainly feel less self-important; even President Nasser’s longest speech does not rate more than a few lines in the world’s press, and the most momentous decision of the Turkish, Lebanese, or Israeli parliaments does not get much more publicity.

For better or worse, all this has not influenced the flow of literature about the Middle East. It is my impression, however, that its quality has improved, except for some silly and pretentious books by political scientists who seem to be the worst offenders these days. It is certainly the first time in the memory of the present writer that he has been asked to review four books at once that are highly competent, in which there is hardly a word with which he disagrees, and of which at least one is excellent.

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