The Middle East Channel

MEC Editor’s Reader 4

Welcome to The Middle East Channel Editor’s Reader, my weekly guide to important and interesting new long-form writing and research. None of the books which I read last week merited a recommendation — disappointing! — so this week I will be only be featuring articles and reports on Egyptian Salafism and Egyptian judges, American grand ...

Welcome to The Middle East Channel Editor's Reader, my weekly guide to important and interesting new long-form writing and research. None of the books which I read last week merited a recommendation -- disappointing! -- so this week I will be only be featuring articles and reports on Egyptian Salafism and Egyptian judges, American grand strategy in the Middle East, the Iranian nuclear challenge, and the lessons of Western academic engagement with Muammar al-Qaddafi.

- Marc Lynch, June 11, 2012.

Craig Calhoun, "Libyan Money, Academic Missions, and Public Social Science." (Public Culture: full ungated PDF available here, abridged html version here). A brilliant reflection by the former president of the Social Science Research Council and now President of LSE on exactly what was and wasn't wrong about the engagement by Western academics with the regime of Muammar al-Qaddafi. While his discussion of the deeply problematic issues surrounding the pursuit of financial support from unsavory regimes is important, I was particularly taken with Calhoun's grappling with the choices of individual scholars about whether to accept Qaddafi's invitations to Libya (full disclosure: I received and refused several such invitations). He refuses to denounce such engagement as categorically wrong. The key, he argues, lies in whether the academics take the opportunity to enrich their own research agenda or to challenge the dictator when given the opportunity. As he concludes: "Critical public engagement and making scholarly, research-based knowledge available to inform public discussions are both different from being drawn into the efforts of public actors to manage their public relations or reputations. The boundary is of course not always clear, but the distinction is nonetheless important."

Welcome to The Middle East Channel Editor’s Reader, my weekly guide to important and interesting new long-form writing and research. None of the books which I read last week merited a recommendation — disappointing! — so this week I will be only be featuring articles and reports on Egyptian Salafism and Egyptian judges, American grand strategy in the Middle East, the Iranian nuclear challenge, and the lessons of Western academic engagement with Muammar al-Qaddafi.

Marc Lynch, June 11, 2012.

Craig Calhoun, "Libyan Money, Academic Missions, and Public Social Science." (Public Culture: full ungated PDF available here, abridged html version here). A brilliant reflection by the former president of the Social Science Research Council and now President of LSE on exactly what was and wasn’t wrong about the engagement by Western academics with the regime of Muammar al-Qaddafi. While his discussion of the deeply problematic issues surrounding the pursuit of financial support from unsavory regimes is important, I was particularly taken with Calhoun’s grappling with the choices of individual scholars about whether to accept Qaddafi’s invitations to Libya (full disclosure: I received and refused several such invitations). He refuses to denounce such engagement as categorically wrong. The key, he argues, lies in whether the academics take the opportunity to enrich their own research agenda or to challenge the dictator when given the opportunity. As he concludes: "Critical public engagement and making scholarly, research-based knowledge available to inform public discussions are both different from being drawn into the efforts of public actors to manage their public relations or reputations. The boundary is of course not always clear, but the distinction is nonetheless important."

Stephane Lacroix, "Sheikhs and Politicians: Inside the new Egyptian Salafism" (Brookings Doha). Lacroix, a brilliant French scholar whose book on Saudi Islamism was last year’s Middle East Channel book of the year, has of late been researching the Egyptian Salafi movement. This policy brief reviews the rise of the Salafi movement over the last year, offering a useful and incisive look at how Salafis have responded to their new opportunities and challenges. He offers useful distinctions between religious, political and revolutionary Salafism and a close look at their evolving ideas about politics and the state.

Nathan Brown, "Judicial Turbulence Ahead" (June 6, Carnegie). Egypt’s judiciary has played a controversial and unpredictable role at key junctures in its turbulent transition. Nathan Brown, author of Constitutionalism in the Arab World and a leading expert on the Egyptian judiciary, has published a series of exceedingly useful briefs for the Carnegie Endowment on their place in the transitional political system. His guide to the main actors in the legal system is also helpful, along with his recent article for The Middle East Channel on the prospects for an interim constitution.

Bruce Jentleson, Andrew Exum, Melissa Dalton and J. Dana Stuster, Strategic Adaptation (CNAS). This important new report from the Center for a New American Security argues that the greatest risk for the U.S. in the Middle East is a failure to recognize the magnitude of change. The authors argue that the U.S. is over-invested in non-democratic regimes, which may seem like a prudent hedge against instability but actually exposes it to significant risks. The report is a good, careful cut at an attempt to map out a new grand strategy for the U.S. in the Middle East which should prompt some useful debate. (Full disclosure: I am a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at CNAS and I read several earlier drafts of this report.)  

Colin Kahl, Melissa Dalton and Matt Irvine, Risk and Rivalry: Iran, Israel and the Bomb (CNAS). Ahead of its annual conference, CNAS has also just released this outstanding and authoritative report on the struggle over Iran’s nuclear program. Kahl, until recently a key Obama administration official, sharply lays out the strategic stakes and logic of potential policy options for dealing with the Iranian challenge. It pushes back effectively against arguments for a military strike against Iran from a strategic perspective, and should reframe an often sterile debate and perhaps help avert a disastrous mistake. (Full disclosure: here’s the report I wrote for CNAS last year on the Iranian challenge.)

Marc Lynch is associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, where he is the director of the Institute for Middle East Studies and of the Project on Middle East Political Science. He is also a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. He is the author of The Arab Uprising (March 2012, PublicAffairs).

He publishes frequently on the politics of the Middle East, with a particular focus on the Arab media and information technology, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, and Islamist movements. Twitter: @abuaardvark

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