Arab Digest is pleased to bring you our summer reading list, with all the books written by our newsletter and podcast contributors. From deep dive geopolitical analyses, to personal essays and reflections, from fiction to a delightful children’s book, it is a MENA festival of good reads. Today we feature seven books and tomorrow we will feature seven more. Enjoy!
Yemen: Poverty and Conflict by Helen Lackner (Routledge). One of the foremost Yemen experts, Helen is a regular AD newsletter and podcast contributor. She has worked in Yemen since the 1970s, and lived there for 15 years. Her acute and accessible analyses of the country’s economic, political and social issues are critical to an understanding of a complex, troubled and troubling story. Helen’s ‘Yemen in Crisis, the Road to War’ published, by Verso, is a seminal and highly readable study of the current war. Her latest book, ‘Yemen: Poverty and Conflict’ is published 15 July. Here is Helen’s most recent podcast.
Beyond the Two-State Solution by Jonathan Kuttab (Nonviolence International). Jonathan is the co-founder of Nonviolence International and the Palestinian human rights NGO Al-Haq. As he told us in our podcast the book is “an attempt to radically alter the concept of Palestinian nationalism and the concept of Zionism, to somehow incorporate and include the other rather than exclude it, delegitimize it, demonize it, disenfranchise it, or even physically eliminate it. So can the two live together? Is it possible to think of a hybrid solution that is fully Jewish and Arab at the same time? That addresses the needs, the fears, and the history of both sides, and gives them basically everything they want except for exclusivity, except for the denial of the other.” You can find the podcast here.
Reinventing the Sheikhdom by Matthew Hedges (Hurst). AD contributor Matthew Hedges while doing research for the book was detained in the UAE. He was held in solitary confinement, brought to trial and sentenced to life in prison on the bogus charge of spying. After an international outcry he was pardoned and released. The LSE’s Madawi al-Rasheed calls his study “a theoretically nuanced and empirically rich book…a must read for anyone concerned with how far regimes can penetrate every aspect of citizens’ lives in the name of security.” Matthew’s podcast is here.
Once Upon a Time in Iraq by James Bluemel and Renad Mansour (Penguin Books). Co-written by AD podcast contributor Renad Mansour and based on a five part BBC documentary the book draws on first person accounts from Iraqis whose lives were shattered by the 2003 war and from soldiers who fought in it and journalists who covered it. A war that was supposed to be an easy win was in fact a huge mistake, one that the people of Iraq continue to pay a very heavy price for. You can find Renad’s most recent podcast Iraq in a suddenly changed world here.
Qatar and the Gulf Crisis by Kristian Coates Ulrichsen (Hurst). A thoughtful, deeply researched assessment of the Gulf crisis of 2017-2021 that saw Qatar blockaded by land, air and sea by three of its GCC neighbours, Bahrain, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. Kristian details the background to the blockade, the sudden manner in which it was invoked and the bitterness it has left behind. His grasp of how a tiny, albeit extremely wealthy, country stood up to bigger and more powerful foes is invaluable to an understanding of the region and Qatar’s place in it. Kristian’s most recent podcast is here.
Nothing but Soot by Sirwan Kajjo (Red Racecar Books). A rollicking coming-of-age novel by the Kurdish writer and journalist, it tracks the journey of a young refugee from a Kurdish village in Syria, to Beirut and then to America. And if that sounds very much like the journey that Sirwan took that’s because it very much is. As his protagonist Kawa says “I was born as an oppressed Syrian who also happened to be a disenfranchised Kurd. At the age of 19, I was a working man in Lebanon, a place I didn’t belong to. Two years after that I was already living my life in America.” Here is Sirwan’s most recent AD podcast, So what about the Kurds?
What Next for Britain in the Middle East? Edited by Michael Stephens and Christopher Phillips (I.B. Tauris). The UK’s unique relationship with the Middle East, one shaped by a colonial history and commercial links with origins in empire faces new challenges in the wake of Brexit. Contributors assess the drivers of foreign policy successes and failures and asks if there is a way to revitalise British influence, and even if this is desirable. Among its contributors is the late Rosemary Hollis, to whom the book is dedicated. She concluded her essay thusly: “If there is a single thread …it is that HMG has tried consistently to find a way to manage its relations with numerous dictatorial regimes…while adhering to the norms it likes to espouse, without much success.” Michael’s podcast conversation about the book is here.
Tomorrow seven more books from our newsletter and podcast contributors.