- Arab Approaches to Conflict Resolution: Mediation, Negotiation and Settlement of Political Disputes by Nahla Yassine-Hamdan and Frederic S. Pearson
In this nine-chapter book, Nahla Yassine-Hamdan and Frederic Pearson set out to understand how Arabs manage conflict when they cannot resolve its root causes, and the approaches they prefer to pursue should its resolution be feasible. They propose that Arabs feel more comfortable in handling conflict through traditional approaches, namely “bargaining and intercession of adjudication by elders” (p. 4). When the conflict situation involves a foreign party that requires a modern approach, Arabs generally seek an active role exercised by a disinterested third party. Regardless of whether Arabs opt for traditional or modern methods of addressing conflict among themselves or with foreigners, they invariably modify them to sit well with their cultural orientation. Therefore, the primary objective of Arab Approaches to Conflict Resolution is to determine the extent to which “Arab forms of conflict resolution might be distinctive from other cultural approaches” (p. 4). The authors justify the direction of the book in chapter 1. They emphasize the unabated relevance of the time-honored historical practices that maintained a semblance of Arab cohesion prior to the 20th century creation of artificial territorial entities that complicated the resolution of disputes.
In chapter 2 on the context of conflict, the authors note Arab preference for a high-status third-party mediator, who is impartial and disinterested. Third-party intervention is mostly needed when Arabs seek to resolve a dispute with a non-Arab actor, especially when they are disadvantaged by power asymmetry (p. 33). As for Arab-Arab disputes, direct interaction is often possible because Arab leaders can readily invoke Arab identity and Islam as cognitive dissonance reducers and peace-facilitators. Chapter 3 discusses further the issues brought up in the previous chapter, highlighting the cultural differences between Arabs and Westerners that decrease their ability to work together to resolve mutual conflicts amicably. Whereas individualistic Westerners prefer direct and one-to-one communication, collectivist Arabs feel more at ease communicating indirectly through the good offices of a trusted intermediary. Task-oriented Westerners negotiate to achieve goals, but their Arab interlocutors seem incapable of detaching themselves from the burdens of history, and they encumber themselves with the illusion of just and fair negotiation outcomes.
Chapter 4 appears more tautological than substantive. It presents and tests nine hypotheses that have no direct bearing on the book’s primary objective. If anything, it stands in the way of linking chapter 3 to chapter 5, which deals with Arab patterns of conflict settlement. It argues that it is easier for Arabs to settle conflicts with other Arabs, as opposed to conflicts with non-Arabs. The authors present the mediation to end the civil war in Yemen (1962–70), and tackle Iraq’s claim of Kuwait (1958–61) as successful examples of intra-Arab conflict resolution because they used common terminology and drew on the same cultural interface of Islam and Arab identity. Yassine-Hamdan and Pearson provide solid information on the case of Yemen; unfortunately, however, some of the information they give on Iraq is either wrong or meaningless. They mention, for example, the “short-lived Ba’ath regime of February 1958 through November 1963” (p. 119). They are probably referring to the coup d’état that overthrew the monarchy on July 14, 1958. The post-coup regime of ‘Abd al-Karim Qasim was not Ba‘thist, and he was overthrown in another coup on February 9, 1963. Yassine-Hamdan and Pearson also mention Iraqi “Aim’s regime” (p. 119). This makes no sense. Even though the book is on Arab approaches to conflict resolution, the authors refer to the Nagorno-Karabakh border conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well as and the Philippines’ Moro conflict (pp. 168-179).
Chapter 6 provides an excellent overview of the genesis of the Arab League in 1945, and its success in settling intra-Arab [End Page 170] disputes diplomatically, as long as it...