In December 1975, just as the presidential election campaign was getting underway, the Brookings Institution published the report of a study group entitled Toward Middle East Peace. Several members of the group (Zbigniew Brzezinski, Philip Klutznick and William Quandt) joined the Carter administration, and this document reportedly helped shape President Jimmy Carter’s receptivity to the idea of a “Palestinian homeland” in the early months of his presidency. Now, once again on the eve of a presidential election, Brookings has issued a new study group’s report, Toward Arab-Israeli Peace (Washington, DC, 1988). Both reports urge the incoming administration to place Middle East peacemaking high on its foreign policy agenda. But the programmatic difference between the two documents reveals how much of a setback eight years of Reaganism have been to achieving a just peace in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The 1975 report recommended that peace be concluded on the basis of Israeli withdrawal from all Arab territories occupied in the 1967 war with only mutually acceptable modifications; that the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination be recognized either in the form of an independent state or a federation with Jordan, and that there be unimpeded access to Jerusalem, free movement throughout the city and substantial autonomy to each national group in areas of the city where it predominated. The security and territorial integrity of all states in the region would be guaranteed. By contrast, the new report fails to specify the extent of Israeli territorial withdrawal beyond the general formula of “territory for peace as envisaged in UN Resolution 242,” recommends an enhanced role for Jordan in shaping a peace agreement and stops short of explicitly proposing the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
The 1988 study group is distinguished from the previous one by the inclusion of two outspoken proponents of Palestinian national rights — Fouad Moughrabi and Rashid Khalidi. (One Palestinian, Fred Khouri, was a member of the first study group, but he had not been nearly as outspoken as Moughrabi and Khalidi.) They recommended that a Palestinian state be established on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip alongside the state of Israel, that the relationship between Jordan and the Palestinians be freely negotiated and that legal obstacles to US contacts with the PLO be removed. Their dissident views are noted in the report’s preface. These points, not very far from the language of the 1975 report, could not be included as consensus language in the new document because to “balance” the Palestinian presence Brookings included individuals associated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the American Jewish Congress and the American Jewish Committee. Kenneth Wollack, former legislative director of AIPAC, objected to a Palestinian state, to PLO participation in any peace negotiations and to US contact with the PLO. His position is also noted in the preface to the report. Thus, rather than advance the cause of peace, Toward Arab-Israeli Peace stands as yet another monument to the Zionist lobby’s consistent rejectionism.
Two years ago in Cairo, an Egyptian friend helped me pass a few hot, dreary late afternoons during Ramadan by giving me a xeroxed copy of Beer in the Snooker Club, an obscure, long out-of-print novel by Waguih Ghali. Ghali was a British-educated Copt who participated in the left opposition to the Nasser regime as a student in the mid-1950s. He left Egypt to take up residence in Germany and England when his passport was confiscated because of his political activity. He committed suicide in London a few years after Beer in the Snooker Club appeared in 1964, before he finished his second novel. My friend promised me that this was the funniest book ever written about Egypt. I was wary of this praise, as I had not heard of the book or the author, and foreigners often get into the nasty habit of mentally discounting superlatives about contemporary Egypt. Not only was my friend right, but what a refreshing surprise to find, surrounded by the many small hypocrisies that accompany the observance of Ramadan during this age of Islamic revival, that Beer in the Snooker Club is also one of the most searingly honest books about Egypt. Its republication (New York: New Amsterdam Books/The Meredith Press, 1987) is most welcome.
Ghali directs his realistic and hilarious barbs in all directions with equal skill. The empty-headed and obscenely wealthy former landed aristocracy of Egypt (the class to which the novel’s narrator, Ram, belongs), the romantic and self-indulgent upper class Egyptian communists, the petty racists of British officialdom, the guilt-ridden, paternalistic British left — all receive their share of deserved abuse. Throughout the novel Ram is searching for his “true” Egyptian self. The cultural schizophrenia of post-colonial society is a common trope in Third World fiction, and Ghali’s work has much in common with that of Salman Rushdie (Shame), Al-Tayyib Salih (Season of Migration to the North) and Ayi Kwei Armah (The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born). Ram finally “finds” his identity in his humor, the maddening and endearing characteristic for which Egyptians are known and sometimes derided throughout the Arab world. Ghali’s achievement is to exercise this humor, not as a folklorish artifact but as an accurate and unsentimental weapon of cultural and political criticism.
Womanpower: The Arab Debate on Women at Work (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988) grew out of a cover story Nadia Hijab wrote for the London monthly, The Middle East (a far better magazine during her tenure as editor than it is today), and “Family Ties,” a film she scripted for the highly acclaimed ten-part BBC series, “The Arabs.” Karl Marx wrote that a society’s level of development could be judged by the status of its women, and thus this is not “only” a book about women, but a comprehensive sociological overview of Arab society. Hijab accepts this maxim and links the gender question to fundamental social issues like the official status of religion and strategies of economic and political development. With sensitivity to the wide range of experiences within the Arab world, she discusses the tension between shari‘a and civil law in determining matters of personal status, the role of women according to competing political ideologies, women’s participation in the labor force and women’s political and economic rights. Hijab frankly acknowledges the enormous difficulty of the tasks facing Arab society and argues that integration of women into the labor force and achievement of full equality are necessary for the economic development and democratization of Arab society, yet cannot be achieved independently of those processes.