Reaching for Power

Reaching for Power: The Shi'a in the Modern Arab World

Yitzhak Nakash
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 248
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    Reaching for Power
    Book Description:

    As the world focuses on the conflict in Iraq, the most important political players in that country today are not the Sunni insurgents. Instead, they are Iraq's Shi'I majority--part of the Middle East's ninety million Shi'I Muslims who hold the key to the future of the region and the relations between Muslim and Western societies. So contends Yitzhak Nakash, one of the world's foremost experts on Shi'ism.

    With his characteristic verve and style, Nakash traces the role of the Shi'is in the struggle that is raging today among Muslims for the soul of Islam. He shows that in contrast to the growing militancy among Sunni groups since the 1990s, Shi'is have shifted their focus from confrontation to accommodation with the West. Constituting sixty percent of the population of Iraq, they stand squarely at the center of the U.S government's attempt to remake the Middle East and bring democracy to the region. This groundbreaking book addresses the crucial importance of Shi'is to the U.S. endeavor. Yet it also alerts readers to the strong nationalist sentiments of Shi'is, underscoring the difficult challenge that the United States faces in attempting to impose a new order in the Middle East.

    The book provides a comprehensive historical perspective on Shi'ism, beginning with the emergence of the movement during the seventh century, continuing through its rise as a political force since the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1978-79, and leading up to the Iraqi elections of January 2005. Drawing extensively on Arabic sources, this comparative study highlights the reciprocal influences shaping the political development of Shi'is in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Lebanon, as well as the impact of the revival of Shi'ism on the larger Arab world. The narrative concludes with an assessment of the risks and possibilities arising from the assertion of Shi'I power in Iraq and from America's attempt to play an increasingly forceful role in the Middle East.

    A landmark book and a work of remarkable scholarship,Reaching for Powerilluminates the Shi'a resurgence amid the shifting geopolitics of the Middle East.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4146-2
    Subjects: History, Sociology, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. A Note on Transliteration
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. [Illustrations]
    (pp. xv-xx)
  6. Prologue A Shi‘i-Led Reformation
    (pp. 1-15)

    When U.S. marines stormed into Baghdad in April 2003, there was strong anticipation of political change among Shi‘is in the Arab world. America had pledged to bring reform to the Middle East and put the region on course to democracy. In the initial euphoria that followed the collapse of the Ba‘th, Iraqi Shi‘is vowed to replace the tyranny of the former regime with just governance based on freedom and equality. Saudi and Bahraini Shi‘is contended that a Shi‘i-led government in Iraq would force their own governments to introduce serious reforms that would improve their position in the state. In Lebanon,...

  7. Chapter 1 The Burden of the Past
    (pp. 16-41)

    This chapter illuminates the history underlying the uneasy relations between Shi‘is and governments in modern Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Lebanon. It shows that Shi‘is and ruling elites have used the past to deny or legitimize the existing social order and hierarchy of power. Both the debates between Shi‘is and the governing elite, and the history discussed here, illustrate that Shi‘is in the Arab world entered nationhood feeling excluded from power and seeking to redress political wrong. I will start with Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, where debates about the past between Shi‘is and ruling families have lasted more than two...

  8. Chapter 2 Containment Politics in the Persian Gulf
    (pp. 42-71)

    State policy toward Shi‘is varies throughout the Persian Gulf, often standing in marked contrast to the cases of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain discussed in this book. Consider the example of Kuwait. Saddam Hussein’s invasion of that country in 1990 put to the test the relationship between Kuwaiti Shi‘is, a minority of some 25 percent, and the Sunni Al Sabah ruling family. While Shi‘is constituted the backbone of the Kuwaiti resistance to the Iraqi occupation, and bore the brunt of it, members of the Al Sabah family fled to Saudi Arabia. Yet with the return of the Al Sabah in the...

  9. Chapter 3 The Struggle for Power in Iraq
    (pp. 72-98)

    The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 ended eighty-two years of Sunni minority rule in the country. To appreciate the events that followed the war, and the causes behind the ambivalence of Iraqi Shi‘is toward America, we need to explore the struggle between the Sunni ruling elite and the Shi‘i majority over the right to rule and to define the meaning of nationalism in prewar Iraq.

    Unlike the rulers of Saudi Arabia, who acted as the guardians of “true Islam,” Iraq’s rulers adopted a secular ideology and declared themselves to be the standard-bearers of Arabism. Whereas officials and ulama in...

  10. Chapter 4 The Revival of Shi‘ism in Lebanon
    (pp. 99-128)

    In October 1918, French forces landed in Beirut and were greeted by Maronites and other Christians who cheered their arrival. Proud of their long historical connection with France, the Maronites did not hesitate to collaborate with this Western power, which they perceived as their savior. The French terminated the short-lived Arab government of King Feisal in Beirut and Damascus and created Greater Lebanon as a mandate (1920–1943) separate from Syria and dominated by the Maronites. In the census of 1932 the Maronites were the largest single sect, about 30 percent of the population in Lebanon, followed by Sunnis and...

  11. Chapter 5 Between Aspirations and Reality
    (pp. 129-157)

    By the time a group of Sunni militants connected with al-Qaeda had carried out the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, the trend within Shi‘ism away from violence and toward accommodation was well under way. In the Arab world, Shi‘is have sought to mend fences not only with the West, but also with their governments and with other members of society at home. The cases of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Lebanon, and Iraq (after 2003) all underscore this point. What is more, they illuminate the distinct sociopolitical aspirations of each community, as well as the high stakes, risks and possibilities,...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 158-164)

    In the past few decades there has been a surge in religious expression throughout the Middle East, among both Muslims and non-Muslims. Within Islam, religious revivalism has taken peaceful as well as violent forms, and has manifested itself differently among Shi‘is and Sunnis. The upheaval generated by the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1978–79 emboldened Shi‘is in the Arab world and reinforced a trend toward activism within Shi‘ism that continues to this day. During the late 1970s and 1980s Shi‘is were often associated in the West with Islamic radicalism and terrorism. Yet in the period since the Gulf War of...

  13. Abbreviations
    (pp. 165-166)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 167-206)
  15. Further Reading
    (pp. 207-210)
  16. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 211-212)
  17. Index
    (pp. 213-226)