Mullahs, Merchants, and Militants The Economic Collapse of the Arab World

Stephen J. Glain

St. Martin's Griffin



Trade Paperback

384 Pages


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A thousand years ago, a vast Arab empire stretched from the Asian steppe across the Mediterranean to Spain, pioneering new technologies, sciences, art, and culture. Arab traders and Arab currencies dominated the global economy in ways Western multinationals and the dollar do today. A thousand years later, Arab states are in decay. Official corruption and ineptitude have eroded state authority and created a vacuum that militant Islam has rushed to fill.

A former Middle East correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Stephen Glain takes us on a journey through the heart of what were once the great Islamic caliphates—the countries now known as Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, and Egypt—to illustrate how a once prosperous and enlightened civilization finds itself at the precipice of a Dark Age.

As late as a century ago, the Levant was a flourishing trading bloc. By the 1920s, the imperial powers had Balkanized and plundered the Levantine economy by carving it into a cluster of proxy states and emirates. The backlash that followed replaced Europe's lackeys with homegrown autocrats who rejected economic openness and religious tolerance, qualities that made the old Islamic caliphates great.

The Arab world has opted out of the global economy, with tragic consequences. The Bush administration's efforts to mold the Middle East into a centerpiece of democracy will fail, Glain argues, unless it first rehabilitates the Arab world's once-mighty middle class. Short of that, there is little the United States or its European partners can do to rebuild a region the West did so much to undermine.

Mullahs, Merchants, and Militants is a story of both hope and despair, an intimate account of how the Arab world—once the spearhead of what we call globalization—is torn between courageous reformers who would revive the region and a corrupt establishment that would preside over its collapse.


Praise for Mullahs, Merchants, and Militants

"Fascinating study filled with memorable firsthand accounts . . . Mullahs, Merchants, and Militants represents a major contribution to our knowledge of the inner economic workings of the harried Arab business class."—The Middle East Journal

"Galin provides the crucial juxtaposition of human contact and background that will animate the [Arab] region and give it a much-needed human face."—The Boston Globe

"A shelf full of other books have explained the politics and religious tensions of the Middle East, but none have taken Stephen Glain's holistic approach to show how economic mismanagement has also contributed to the region's malaise. This wonderful book, beautifully written and well reported, does much to help our understanding of the Arab world today."—Peter L. Bergen, bestselling author of Holy War., Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden

"Journalist Glain contributes to the growing number of titles trying to interpret for Americans the current state of mind and heart of the Arab world, now inescapably the focus of American and world attention. Glain's particular perspective examines the collapse of a thriving pan-Arab economy that reached its zenith in the fifteenth century. He identifies the Arab world's descent from this golden age into economic chaos as the chief barrier to stability and progress and as the root cause underlying the current spate of terrorism. For this sorry state of affairs, Glain calls to account errors made by the Anglo-French empires after World War I that left the Arab world divided into impotent and jealous tyrannies. Arab education has also suffered to the point that even the region's rulers lack command of the Koran's tongue. Glain introduces readers to a host of characters, including a Lebanese restaurateur and an Iraqi taxi driver who professes love and admiration for Americans while struggling against American policy. A chronology of the Middle East from the birth of the Prophet through the latest Iraq invasion encapsulates the region's history."—Booklist (starred review)

"An impressive corpus of anecdotes and a restaurant to Glain's exciting and wide-ranging career as a journalist . . . this book is a success."—Publishers Weekly

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Stephen Glain joined The Wall Street Journal in 1991. From 1998 to 2001, he was the Journal's Middle East correspondent, based in Amman, Jordan. He now covers the Middle East for The Boston Globe.
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  • Stephen J. Glain

  • Stephen Glain joined The Wall Street Journal in 1991. From 1998 to 2001, he was the Journal's Middle East correspondent, based in Amman, Jordan. He now covers the Middle East for Newsweek.