The Arabs

A History


By Eugene Rogan

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The internationally bestselling definitive history of the Arab world, named a best book of the year by the Financial Times, the Economist, and the Atlantic — now updated to cover the latest developments in the Middle East

In this groundbreaking and comprehensive account of the Middle East, award-winning historian Eugene Rogan draws extensively on five centuries of Arab sources to place the Arab experience in its crucial historical context. This landmark book covers the Arab world from North Africa through the Arabian Peninsula, exploring every facet of modern Arab history. Starting with the Ottoman conquests of the sixteenth century, Rogan follows the story of the Arabs through the era of European imperialism and the superpower rivalries of the Cold War to the present age of American hegemony, charting the evolution of Arab identity and the struggles for national sovereignty throughout.

In this updated edition, Rogan untangles the latest geopolitical developments of the region. The Arabs is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the modern Arab world.


This book is dedicated to
Richard Huia Woods Rogan

On February 14—Valentine's Day—2005, a massive car bomb killed former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri in central Beirut. Returning home from a session of Parliament, Hariri had followed a predictable route and was surrounded by a bustling motorcade that made him stand out in the city's notorious traffic. The one-ton bomb left an enormous crater where the waterfront road had been and sheared the façades off neighboring buildings. Twenty-one people died with Hariri—politicians, bodyguards, and drivers, along with innocent bystanders. Even by Beiruti standards, this was a spectacular assassination.
Hariri was the richest, most powerful man in Lebanon. He built his fortune as a contractor in Saudi Arabia and returned home at the end of his country's fifteen-year civil war (1975–1990) to become the architect of Lebanon's postwar reconstruction. He entered politics and was named prime minister in 1992. He served ten of his remaining thirteen years at the head of Lebanon's government.
Hariri's landmark project as prime minister was the reconstruction scheme for downtown Beirut. The revitalized central business district, he argued, would drive the economic regeneration of this once-thriving commercial center. The plan was controversial, and Hariri's blithe indifference to conflicts of interest between his role as contractor in chief and head of government gave rise to well-founded accusations of corruption. Yet many Lebanese saw Hariri as their country's only hope. He bankrolled much of the Lebanese government's expenses from his personal wealth. He gave foreign investors—particularly wealthy Lebanese expatriates and Saudi royals—confidence to place their money in the shaky Lebanese economy. And from the rubble of civil war Beirut, an elegant city with modern infrastructure was beginning to emerge.
In October 2004, Hariri tendered his resignation as prime minister to protest Syria's interference in Lebanon's politics. It was a dangerous move for a man who had made his political career in partnership with Damascus. The Syrians had first entered Lebanon in 1976 as part of an Arab League force to intervene in the Lebanese Civil War—and had exercised a stranglehold on Lebanese politics ever since. Though the Syrian government claimed to be upholding political stability in its fragile neighboring state, many Lebanese chafed under what they saw as a Syrian occupation. The turning point for Hariri was when the Syrian government forced the Lebanese Parliament to grant an unconstitutional three-year extension to President Emile Lahoud's term. The Lebanese constitution allows for a single presidential term of six years. Everyone knew that Lahoud was Syria's man. Syrian president Bashar al-Asad allegedly threatened Hariri, saying: "Lahoud is me. If you want me out of Lebanon, I will break Lebanon."1 Hariri knew the risks but decided to stand up to the Syrian pressures on this issue. He paid for that decision with his life.
When Hariri was killed, his supporters took to the streets and pinned the blame squarely on the Syrians. The demonstrations grew larger and more assertive in the weeks following the assassination, culminating in a mass rally held in central Beirut one month after Hariri's assassination, on March 14. One million Lebanese—one quarter of the country's total population—converged on central Beirut to demand their independence from Syria.
The protests and demonstrations developed into a popular movement that came to be known in Lebanon as the Independence Intifada and was dubbed the Cedar Revolution by the international media. It also gave rise to a political coalition united against Syria's presence in Lebanon that came to be known as the March 14 Alliance. Domestic and international opposition grew so intense in the aftermath of Hariri's assassination that Syria was forced to withdraw its 14,000 soldiers and all intelligence officers from Lebanese soil. The last Syrian troops left Lebanon on April 26, 2005. The Lebanese believed themselves on the threshold of a new age of independence and national cohesion.
Even after its last troops had withdrawn, Syria continued to cast a long shadow over Lebanon. A number of Syria's most outspoken critics from the March 14 movement were silenced by violent assassinations that were clearly intended to intimidate surviving members. Over the next two years, eight anti-Syrian figures, including four members of the Lebanese Parliament, were murdered in car bombings and gun attacks. For many, the callous assassinations of respected cultural and political figures brought to light the powerlessness of the Lebanese to protect themselves from outside forces. They raged against their impotence and demanded justice.
One of the first to be killed was the journalist and author Samir Kassir, who died in his booby-trapped Alfa Romeo as he drove to work on the morning of June 2, 2005. Writing in the Lebanese daily An-Nahar, Kassir was one of the leading voices of the anti-Syrian March 14 movement. Kassir saw Lebanon's problems as a microcosm of the ills of the Arab world as a whole. Shortly before his death, Kassir had published a remarkable essay exploring what he termed the "Arab malaise" of the twenty-first century. It reflected the disenchantment of Arab citizens with their corrupt and authoritarian governments. "It's not pleasant being Arab these days," he observed. "Feelings of persecution for some, self-hatred for others; a deep disquiet pervades the Arab world."
"Yet the Arab world hasn't always suffered such a 'malaise,'" he continued. He contrasted the twenty-first-century malaise with two historic periods in which the Arabs had attained, or aspired to attain, greatness.
The first five centuries after the emergence of Islam, spanning the seventh to the twelfth centuries of the current era, was the age of the great Islamic empires that dominated world affairs. Arabs had an international presence stretching from Iraq and Arabia to Spain and Sicily. The era of early Islam is a source of pride to all Arabs as a bygone age when the Arabs were the dominant power in the world, but resonates in particular with Islamists, who argue that the Arabs were greatest when they adhered most closely to their Muslim faith.
Kassir argued that the second era of Arab greatness, or at least of great expectations, began in the nineteenth century. "The cultural renaissance of the nineteenth century," he wrote, "the famous nahda, illuminated many Arab societies." The nahda shaped a distinctly secular modern culture in the Arab world in the twentieth century. "Egypt founded the world's third-oldest film industry, while from Cairo to Baghdad and from Beirut to Casablanca painters, poets, musicians, playwrights and novelists shaped a new, living Arab culture." Society began to change, education began to spread, and women emerged from behind the veil.
The culture of the nahda also shaped Arab politics in the twentieth century, and as Arabs emerged from colonialism to independence they came to play a prominent role in world affairs. Kassir listed a number of noteworthy examples: "Nasser's Egypt, for instance, one of the pillars of Afro-Asianism and the subsequent Non-Alignment movement; independent Algeria, the driving force of the entire African continent; or the Palestinian resistance which was called on to further the cause of democratic rights without succumbing to the ideology of victimhood now so prevalent."
Kassir, himself a secular nationalist, held the modernizing reforms of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to be more relevant to the present day than the golden age of the first five centuries of Islam, and he described the nahda as an era "when Arabs could look to the future with optimism." This is clearly no longer the case. The Arab world views the future with growing pessimism, and the secular vision no longer inspires the majority of the population. In any free and fair election in the Arab world today, I believe the Islamists would win hands down.
Kassir then asked the hard questions: "How did we become so stagnant? How has a living culture become discredited and its members united in a cult of misery and death?"2 He posed questions that have troubled Arab intellectuals and Western policymakers alike in the post-9/11 age. Many in the West see the greatest threat to their security and way of life coming from the Arab and Islamic worlds, in what is now known as jihadi terror. They don't understand that many in the Arab and Islamic worlds see the greatest threat to their security and way of life coming from the West. What should be apparent to both sides is that there is a real connection between Arab stagnation and frustration, on the one hand, and the terror threat that so preoccupies Western democracies, on the other.
Western policymakers and intellectuals need to pay far more attention to history if they hope to remedy the ills that afflict the Arab world today. All too often in the West, we discount the current value of history. As political commentator George Will has written, "When Americans say of something, 'That's history,' they mean it is irrelevant." Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, Westerners need to pay far more attention to the way that history has been experienced and understood by the Arabs themselves. This could spare them not from repeating history so much as from repeating historic mistakes.
To take but one example, over the centuries Western leaders have tried to present their invasions of the Arab world as liberations. When Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798, he issued a proclamation to the Egyptian people to assure them of his good intentions before invading their land. "People of Egypt," he asserted, "you will be told that I have come to destroy your religion; do not believe it! Reply that I have come to restore your rights, to punish the usurpers, and that I respect God, his Prophet, and the Qur'an." So Napoleon would have the people of Egypt believe he was invading their country to liberate them and to promote Islam, rather than to advance French geostrategic interests over their British rivals.
The people of Egypt were not so naïve. Cairo's leading intellectual at the time was a man named al-Jabarti, who left a remarkable account of the French invasion. Al-Jabarti was derisive of Napoleon's proclamation: "Saying 'I have not come to you except for the purpose of restoring your rights from the hands of the oppressors' is the first lie he uttered and a falsehood which he invented." Al-Jabarti dismissed Napoleon's profession of respect for Islam, its Prophet, and scripture as "a derangement of his mind, and an excess of foolishness."3
The hollow echo of Napoleon's reassurances can be heard in the proclamation of Lieutenant General Sir Stanley Maude when he entered Baghdad in March 1917 at the head of a British invasion force at the height of the First World War. Maude claimed his army had entered Mesopotamia to drive the Ottoman enemy from Arab lands. "Our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators. Since the days of Hulagu [the Mongol leader who sacked Baghdad in 1258] your citizens have been subject to the tyranny of strangers . . . and your fathers and yourselves have groaned in bondage." Maude went on to promise British assistance to the people of Iraq to achieve self-rule and prosperity so that "the people of Baghdad shall flourish."4
There was no more substance to the British liberation of Baghdad in 1917 than there had been to the Napoleonic liberation of Egypt in 1798. Britain had already agreed to the partition of the Arab world with its wartime ally France in 1916. Maude was conquering lands Britain had every intention of adding to its empire. By 1920, frustration with Britain's failure to deliver the promised self-rule gave rise to a nationwide insurgency. A lawyer in the town of Najaf published a short-lived newspaper called al-Istiqlal ("independence"). In October 1920, he reflected on Maude's false promises: "We kept waiting for what we had been promised, only to see the [British] army officers strip us of our rights and eliminate our independence. So we resolved to demand our legitimate natural rights, and to remind the government to fulfill its promises in a legal and correct manner. The [British] officers responded with great repression, to undermine our efforts to secure our legitimate rights."5 The Iraqi Revolt of 1920 was suppressed by the British with great violence. Iraq then was placed under direct British imperial rule for the next twelve years, and under informal British control until the overthrow of the Iraqi monarchy in 1958.
By the time U.S. president George W. Bush was preparing to invade Iraq in 2003 to liberate its people from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein's rule, the Arabs had heard it all before: the wolf of occupation dressed in the lamb's fleece of liberation.
It is bad enough to invade a people without insulting their intelligence. Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi reflected widespread anger when he threw his shoes at President Bush in a valedictory press conference in Baghdad in December 2008. "This is a farewell kiss, you dog!" al-Zaidi shouted as he threw his first shoe. "This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq," he added, throwing his second shoe. Though he was subsequently arrested and tried by the Iraqi authorities for his act, al-Zaidi became an overnight hero across the Arab world for telling the most powerful man in the world that the Iraqis knew the difference between liberation and occupation.
Al-Zaidi's outburst, and Arab sympathy for his actions, revealed a profound sense of anger and frustration—that the Iraqis had neither been able to rid themselves of a tyrant like Saddam on their own nor were able to prevent foreigners from invading Iraq to do so for their own reasons. This was the kind of impotence Samir Kassir had in mind when writing about the Arab malaise: "The Arab people are haunted by a sense of powerlessness . . . powerlessness to suppress the feeling that you are no more than a lowly pawn on the global chessboard even as the game is being played in your backyard."6 Unable to achieve their aims in the modern world, the Arabs see themselves as pawns in the game of nations, forced to play by other peoples' rules.
This is not an entirely new phenomenon. The Arabs have negotiated the modern age largely by the rules set by the dominant powers of the day. In this sense, modern Arab history begins with the Ottoman conquest of the Arab world in the sixteenth century, when the Arabs first came to be ruled by an external power. The European imperial powers and the superpowers of the Cold War era each perpetuated the subordination of the Arab world to outside rules. After five centuries of playing by other peoples' rules, the Arabs aspire to mastery over their own destiny—such as they had enjoyed in the first five centuries of Islam. Most Arabs today would say they have never been farther from realizing that ambition.
Viewing Arab history through the prism of the dominant rules of the age yields four distinct periods in modern times: the Ottoman era, the European colonial era, the era of the Cold War, and the present age of U.S. domination and globalization. The trajectory of Arab history across these different periods has been marked by peaks and troughs of greater and lesser sovereignty and independence of action. For to say that the Arab world has been subject to foreign rules does not mean the Arabs have been passive subjects in a unilinear history of decline. Arab history in the modern age has been enormously dynamic, and the Arab peoples are responsible for their successes and failures alike. They have worked with the rules when it suited them, subverted the rules when they got in the way, and suffered the consequences when they crossed the dominant powers of the day.
Indeed, the Arabs were always most empowered when there was more than one dominant power to the age. In the colonial era, the Arabs took every opportunity to play the British off the French, as they tried to play the Soviets off the Americans during the Cold War. But with each historic watershed, leading to the fall of the dominant power(s) and the rise of a new world order, the Arabs were driven back to the drawing board until they had mastered the new rules of the age. The moments of transition always heralded a new opening or opportunity, though experience has shown that the impulse of foreign powers to dominate the region becomes more pronounced with each new age.
Modern Arab history begins with the Ottoman conquests of 1516–1517, during which a modern gunpowder army with muskets defeated a medieval army wielding swords. The conquests established Ottoman power across the Arab lands until the end of the First World War. They also represented the beginning of Arab history as played by other people's rules. Until this point, the Arabs had been ruled from their own great cities—Damascus, Baghdad, and Cairo. Under the Ottomans, the Arabs were ruled from distant Istanbul, a city spanning the two continents of Europe and Asia astride the Straits of the Bosporus.
The Ottomans ruled the Arabs for four of the past five centuries. Over this expanse of time the empire changed, and the rules changed accordingly. In the first century after the conquest, the Ottoman rules were none too demanding: the Arabs had to recognize the authority of the sultan and respect the laws of both God (sharia, or Islamic law) and the sultan. Non-Muslim minorities were allowed to organize their own affairs, under their own communal leadership and religious laws, in return for paying a poll tax to the state. All in all, most Arabs seemed to view their place in the dominant world empire of the age with equanimity as Muslims in a great Muslim empire.
In the eighteenth century, the rules changed significantly. The Ottoman Empire had reached its zenith during the seventeenth century, but in 1699 suffered its first loss of territory—Croatia, Hungary, Transylvania, and Podolia, in the Ukraine—to its European rivals. The cash-strapped empire began to auction both state office and provincial agricultural properties as tax farms to generate revenues. This allowed powerful men in remote provinces to amass vast territories through which they accumulated sufficient wealth and power to challenge the authority of the Ottoman government. Such local lords emerged in the Balkans, in Eastern Anatolia, and across the Arab provinces. In the second half of the eighteenth century a string of such local leaders posed a grave challenge to Ottoman rule in Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, Damascus, Iraq, and Arabia.
By the nineteenth century the Ottomans had initiated a period of major reforms intended to quell the challenges from within the empire and to hold at bay the threats of their European neighbors. This age of reforms gave rise to a new set of rules, reflecting novel ideas of citizenship imported from Europe. The Ottoman reforms tried to establish full equality of rights and responsibilities for all Ottoman subjects—Turks and Arabs alike—in such areas as administration, military service, and taxes. They promoted a new identity, Ottomanism, which sought to transcend the different ethnic and religious divides in Ottoman society. The reforms failed to protect the Ottomans from European encroachment but did allow the empire to reinforce its hold over the Arab provinces, which took on greater importance as nationalism eroded the Ottoman position in the Balkans.
Yet, the same ideas that inspired the Ottoman reforms gave rise to new ideas of nation and community, which made some in the Arab world dissatisfied with their position in the Ottoman Empire. They began to chafe against Ottoman rules that increasingly were blamed for the relative backwardness of the Arabs at the start of the twentieth century. Contrasting past greatness with present subordination within an Ottoman Empire that was retreating before stronger European neighbors, many in the Arab world called for reforms within their own society and aspired to Arab independence from the Ottoman world.
The fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1918 seemed to many in the Arab world the threshold of a new age of independence and national greatness. They hoped to resurrect a greater Arab kingdom from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire, and they took heart from U.S. president Woodrow Wilson's call for national self-determination as set out in his famous Fourteen Points. They were to be bitterly disappointed, as they found that the new world order would be based on European rather than Wilsonian rules.
The British and French used the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 to apply the modern state system to the Arab world, with all Arab lands bar central and southern Arabia falling under some form of colonial rule. In Syria and Lebanon, newly emerging from Ottoman rule, the French gave their colonies a republican form of government. The British, in contrast, endowed their Arab possessions in Iraq and Transjordan with the trappings of the Westminster model of constitutional monarchy. Palestine was the exception, where the promise to create a Jewish national home against the opposition of the indigenous population undermined all efforts to form a national government.
Each new Arab state was given a national capital, which served as the seat of government. Rulers were pressed to draft constitutions and to create parliaments that were elected by the people. Borders, in many cases quite artificial, were negotiated between neighboring states, often with some acrimony. Many Arab nationalists opposed these measures, which they believed divided and weakened an Arab people that could only regain its rightful status as a respected world power through broader Arab unity. Yet in keeping with the European rules, meaningful political action was confined to the borders of the new Arab states.
One of the enduring legacies of the colonial period is the tension between nation-state nationalism (e.g., Egyptian or Iraqi nationalism) and pan-Arab nationalist ideologies. National movements emerged in the first half of the twentieth century within individual colonial states in opposition to foreign rule. No meaningful Arab-wide nationalist movement was possible so long as the Arab world was divided between Britain and France. And by the time the Arab states began to secure their independence from colonial rule in the 1940s and 1950s, the divisions between Arab states had become permanent. The problem was that most Arab citizens believed smaller nationalisms based around colonial creations were fundamentally illegitimate. For those who aspired to Arab greatness in the twentieth century, only the broader Arab nationalist movement offered the prospect of achieving the critical mass and unity of purpose necessary to restore the Arabs to their rightful place among the powers of the day. The colonial experience left the Arabs as a community of nations rather than a national community, and the Arabs remain disappointed by the results.
European influence in world affairs was shattered by the Second World War. The postwar years were a period of decolonization as the states of Asia and Africa secured independence from their former colonial rulers, often by force of arms. The United States and the Soviet Union emerged as the dominant powers in the second half of the twentieth century, and the rivalry between them defined the rules of the new age, which came to be called the Cold War.
It was then that Moscow and Washington entered into an intense competition for global dominance. As the United States and the USSR attempted to integrate the Arab world into their respective spheres of influence, the Middle East became one of several arenas of superpower rivalry. Even in that age of national independence, the Arab world found its room to maneuver constrained by outside rules—the rules of the Cold War—for nearly half a century (from 1945 to 1990).
The rules of the Cold War were straightforward: a country could be an ally of the United States, or of the Soviet Union, but could not have good relations with both. The Arab people generally had no interest in American anticommunism or Soviet dialectical materialism. Their governments tried to pursue an intermediate path through the Non-Aligned Movement—to no avail. Eventually, every state in the Arab world was forced to take sides.
Those states that entered into the Soviet sphere of influence called themselves "progressives" but were described in the West as "radical" Arab states. This group included every Arab country that had undergone a revolution: Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and South Yemen. Those Arab states that sided with the West—the liberal republics like Tunisia and Lebanon, and conservative monarchies like Morocco, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States—were dubbed "reactionaries" by the progressive Arab states but were considered "moderates" in the West. These labels came to be used by Western journalists and policymakers alike. What followed were patron-client relations, in which Arab states secured arms for their military and development aid for their economies from their superpower patrons.
Arab states proved able participants in the Cold War, deploying a range of weapons in a bid to level the playing field with the superpowers. In the 1950s and 1960s the Arabs placed their faith in the politics of Arab nationalism. However, repeated defeats to Israel and the death of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser undermined the movement's credibility. In the 1970s some Arab states used their oil resources to gain leverage in international affairs. In the 1980s many in the Arab world turned to the politics of Islam to provide strength and unity against external powers. None of these strategies liberated the Arab world from the rules of the Cold War.
So long as there were two superpowers, there were checks and balances in the system. Neither the Soviets nor the Americans could afford to take unilateral action in the region for fear of provoking a hostile reaction from the other superpower. Analysts in Washington and Moscow lived in fear of a third world war and worked day and night to prevent the Middle East from sparking such a conflagration. Arab leaders also learned how to play the superpowers off each other, using the threat of defection to secure more arms or development aid from their patron state. Even so, by the end of the Cold War the Arabs were well aware that they were no closer to achieving the degree of independence, development, and respect they had aspired to at the start of the era. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Arab world was to enter a new age—on even less favorable terms.
The Cold War came to an end shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. For the Arab world, the new unipolar age began with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. When the Soviet Union voted in favor of a UN Security Council resolution authorizing a U.S.-led war against the Kremlin's old ally Iraq, the writing was on the wall. The certainties of the Cold War era had given way to an age of unconstrained American power, and many in the region feared the worst.


  • "A fascinating [story], and exceedingly well told.... What makes this book particularly useful is the way it situates [the Arab-Israeli conflict] within the wider context of the Arabs' long, and still unsuccessful, struggle to come to more equal terms with the West.... An exemplary history."—Economist
  • "An outstanding, gripping and exuberant narrative, full of flamboyant character sketches, witty asides and magisterial scholarship, that explains much of what we need to know about the world today."—Simon Sebag Montefiore, Financial Times
  • "An entertaining, gracefully written, and eye-opening look at a diverse people whose history, culture and character are often badly misunderstood (if not actively distorted) here in the United States. Read it. You'll learn a lot."—Stephen M. Walt,
  • "[Rogan] provides a prism through which the lay Westerner can view five centuries of tumult, zealotry, and complication.... Deeply erudite and distinctly humane, Rogan consistently plays up (and never papers over) the bountiful East-West parallels."—Atlantic
  • "Readable and reliable, this sweeping survey balances the unity of a coherent story with due attention to detail. As such, Rogan's contribution belongs in the company of the earlier classics by Hitti and Hourani."—Foreign Affairs
  • "Rogan manages the somewhat staggering feat of outlining nearly 500 years of history in a way that is neither cursory nor overwhelming--and is based in the experiences of the people themselves.... [Rogan's] ability to gather and synthesize such a wealth of information, showing both the humanity and malice present on all sides, while neither bowing to nor accepting conventional wisdom, is truly remarkable. It's to be hoped that America's decision makers get their hands on a copy of The Arabs--and take very good notes."—Dallas Morning News
  • "A straightforward, careful primer on Arab political history from the rise of the Ottoman Empire to the forging of modern fundamentalist Islamic entities.... A sweeping history."—Kirkus Reviews
  • "An excellent book.... Eugene Rogan has written an authoritative and wide-ranging history."—Times LiterarySupplement
  • "There can be few books better than this one to put in context the ongoing protests throughout the Middle East."—Guardian (UK)
  • "An eloquent grand narrative of optimism and despair.... Rogan's book is evocative, timely and illuminating for the general reader. The individual Arab voices that he uses to structure the narrative--ordinary people, intellectuals, activists and political leaders--provide a much needed insider perspective, which nuances stereotypical images of the Arab world in the media. Moreover, The Arabs discloses unfamiliar and unsettling truths on the vexed and often over-simplified relationship between the Arab world and its historical 'others,' Europe, the west and Israel. Compelling as it is in its own right, this is indeed food for thought also for its relevance to world affairs at large."—BBC History Magazine
  • "Eugene Rogan writes about the Middle East with exceptional empathy, wisdom, and insight. His book is a landmark in scholarship on this complex and controversial region. Western scholars have written extensively about the Middle East but mostly from the outside looking in. The Arabs often feature in their accounts as mere driftwood on the sea of international affairs. Rogan, by contrast, has narrated the history of the region over the last five centuries from the inside looking out. He tells the history of the Arabs from their own perspective, using an impressive range of Arabic sources. It is a fascinating story and in Eugene Rogan it has found its most gifted chronicler."—Avi Shlaim, author of The IronWall: Israel and the Arab World
  • "A masterful, thorough, and well-written survey of the entire sweep of modern Arab history. Full of lively vignettes but comprehensive at the same time, this book will be of great interest both to general readers and students of the Arab world."—Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies, Columbia University
  • "This history focuses on the last 100 years of Arab politics, offering the perfect primer for anyone following the news right now."—Daily Telegraph (UK)
  • "Anyone who seeks to understand why the Islamic world bears a grudge against the West should read The Arabs. Few scholars know their subject better than Eugene Rogan, while even fewer are capable of rendering so complex a subject so engagingly readable. It is a joy to open, and a deprivation to put down."—Sir Alistair Horne, authorof A Savage War of Peace
  • "No better guide to the modern history of the Arab world could be found than Eugene Rogan. He is attentive as much to the insider accounts in Arab memoirs as to the imperial schemes hatched in drawing rooms in Paris and London, as concerned with popular movements and uprisings as with elite reformism, and unafraid to confront directly and with the best evidence and documentation available the vexed issues of colonialism, Orientalism, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Rogan achieves a rare, and realistic synoptic vision of the way in which Arabness has been shaped by both indigenous forces and Western imperial ones. In recent years, the United States has attempted to rule Arabs while carefully avoiding knowing anything about them, a strategy that has yielded all too predictable results. Those in the West who aspire to engage the Arab world in more productive ways in the future will find Rogan an indispensable companion."—Juan Cole, Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History, University of Michigan, and author of Engagingthe Muslim World
  • "Eugene Rogan writes about the Middle East with exceptional empathy, wisdom, and insight. His book is a landmark in scholarship on this complex and controversial region. Western scholars have written extensively about the Middle East but mostly from the outside looking in. The Arabs often feature in their accounts as mere driftwood on the sea of international affairs. Rogan, by contrast, has narrated the history of the region over the last five centuries from the inside looking out. He tells the history of the Arabs from their own perspective, using an impressive range of Arabic sources. It is a fascinating story and in Eugene Rogan it has found its most gifted chronicler."—Avi Shlaim, author of The IronWall: Israel and the Arab World
  • "Anyone who seeks to understand why the Islamic world bears a grudge against the West should read The Arabs. Few scholars know their subject better than Eugene Rogan, while even fewer are capable of rendering so complex a subject so engagingly readable. It is a joy to open, and a deprivation to put down."—Sir Alistair Horne, author of A SavageWar of Peace
  • "With eloquence, verve, and understanding, Eugene Rogan rightly reminds us that the world, and the Arabs themselves, need to remember the past. If we are to build a better relationship between the Arab world and the West, if we are to avoid making the same mistakes again and again, we need to know Arab history from its many high points to its low ones. I can think of no better guide on this crucially important journey than The Arabs."—Margaret MacMillan, author of Paris1919 and Nixon and Mao

On Sale
Apr 10, 2012
Page Count
608 pages
Basic Books

Eugene Rogan

About the Author

Eugene Rogan is professor of modern Middle Eastern history at the University of Oxford and the director of the Middle East Centre at St. Antony’s College, Oxford. The author of numerous books, including the international bestseller The Fall of the Ottomans, Rogan is the recipient of the Albert Hourani Prize. He lives in Oxford, England.

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