Empires of the sand - Efraim Karsh



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Empires of the sand - the struggle for mastery in the Middle East, 1789-1923
Efraim Karsh
Paperback / softback
Harvard University Press
UK Publication Date

Empires of the Sand offers a bold and comprehensive reinterpretation of the struggle for mastery in the Middle East during the long nineteenth century (1789-1923). This book denies primacy to Western imperialism in the restructuring of the region and attributes equal responsibility to regional powers. Rejecting the view of modern Middle Eastern history as an offshoot of global power politics, the authors argue that the main impetus for the developments of this momentous period came from the local actors.

Ottoman and Western imperial powers alike are implicated in a delicate balancing act of manipulation and intrigue in which they sought to exploit regional and world affairs to their greatest advantage. Backed by a wealth of archival sources, the authors refute the standard belief that Europe was responsible for the destruction of the Ottoman Empire and the region's political unity. Instead, they show how the Hashemites played a decisive role in shaping present Middle Eastern boundaries and in hastening the collapse of Ottoman rule. Similarly, local states and regimes had few qualms about seeking support and protection from the "infidel" powers they had vilified whenever their interests so required.

Karsh and Karsh see a pattern of pragmatic cooperation and conflict between the Middle East and the West during the past two centuries, rather than a "clash of civilizations." Such a vision affords daringly new ways of viewing the Middle East's past as well as its volatile present.

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Efraim Karsh is Professor and Director of the Mediterranean Studies Program at King's College, London.

A readable, scholarly re-examination of a long and complicated Middle Eastern history...The Karshes provide useful historical backgrounds to the emergence of independent countries in Egypt, Greece, the Balkans and former Danube principalities like Serbia and Romania. But the main purpose of this very detailed and broad-shouldered history is to revise many of the standard interpretations that have been given to Middle Eastern history over the last two centuries. Most generally the Karshes dispute the idea that the main events and developments in the region stem from the machinations of the great powers, especially Britain and France. The 'main impetus behind regional developments,' they write, was 'the local actors'...The authors write clearly and authoritatively and with great geographical sweep. They provide crisp and informed accounts of the main events involving the Ottomans and the rest of the world...Those who do not know much of these events will learn a great deal from this book, while specialists with views differing from the Karshes' will face a robust challenge to their interpretations.
New York Times - Richard Bernstein

A provocative new history of the Middle East that in important respects is different from any one had read before...The Ottomans were around for a thousand years, the European portion of their empire for about half of that time. That the ramifications are still with us--so soon afterwards in the long view--should not surprise. The Karshes' important book throws new, in places probing, light on many of those ramifications.
Washington Times - Colin Walters

Contrary to the supposition, popular with historians from the East and the West, that the Ottoman Empire was slowly bled to death by the great powers of Europe who later fed upon its imperial remains, Efraim and Inari Karsh argue that the great powers repeatedly bolstered the toppling empire, that the Ottomans played a considerable part in their own demise, and that 'the main impetus for the developments of this momentous period came from the local actors'...All in all, the Karshes make a strong case that 'greed rather than necessity drove the Ottoman Empire into the First World War.'
Boston Book Review - Charles M. Stang

In a tour de force that offers a profoundly new understanding of a key issue in modern Middle Eastern history, Efraim and Inari Karsh review the relations between Europe and the Ottoman empire in the final century-and-a-half of the latter's existence, and in the process nearly reverse the standard historical interpretation...Drawing on a wide range of original sources, and writing in a clearly organized fashion and in fast-paced prose, the Karshes make a very compelling case for their revisionist position, establishing it point by point and in elegant detail...In all, I can hardly remember last reading so important and daring a reinterpretation of Middle Eastern history, or one so laden with implications.
Commentary - Daniel Pipes

According to most accounts, the British sold dreams of Arab unity and sovereignty down the river with the Sykes-Picot Agreement. But in their revisionist history The Empires of the Sand, Efraim Karsh and Inari Karsh argue that this tale of betrayal and Western culpability is itself a mirage...Efraim and Inari Karsh will not escape the cloud of controversy that surrounds them with this new history...Whatever the historical record yields on [their] points, one thing is clear: Pan-Arabism, despite its decline as an active political agenda in the region, remains a live wire. Karsh and Karsh, with their blunt contention that the allies 'generously rewarded' the Hashemites 'in the form of vast territories several times the size of the British Isles,' are likely to spark a maelstrom of debate.
Lingua Franca - Anna Secor

A complex and challenging revision of Middle Eastern political history.
Sunday Times - Anthony Sattin

This is a fascinating book.
Sunday Telegraph - Geoffrey Wheatcroft

In this striking reinterpretation of the modern history of the Middle East, the authors discard the traditional view of Middle Eastern rulers and peoples as passive, near helpless victims of Western imperialist machinations. Rather, they convincingly portray both Ottoman and Arab leaders as active players in the game of power politics...The authors have superbly integrated an interesting cast of characters with broad historical forces. The result is an original and provocative reexamination of the recent history of this vital region.
Booklist - Jay Freeman

Keyword Index
Middle East - History - 19th century.|Middle East - History - 20th century.
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