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Empires of the Sand

Empires of the Sand

The Struggle for Mastery in the Middle East, 1789–1923

Efraim Karsh, Inari Karsh

ISBN 9780674005419

Publication date: 04/02/2001

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.


  • 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.

    —Richard Bernstein, New York Times


  • Efraim Karsh is Professor and Director of the Mediterranean Studies Program at King's College, London.
  • Inari Karsh is a scholar of Middle East history and politics.

Book Details

  • 426 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press