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Forces of Fortune

The Rise of the New Muslim Middle Class and What It Will Mean for Our World

Author: Vali R. Nasr, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies

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Publisher A CFR Book. Free Press

Release Date September 2009

Price $26.00 paper

320 pages
ISBN 978-1416589686

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Overview

"The Middle East is a place of struggling and thriving economies, where new classes and business elites are elbowing their way higher in the power structures of many countries, changing religious, social and political life along the way," writes Vali Nasr, former senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. It is time to look past Islamic "fundamentalism's hard-hitting rhetoric and the venom spewed by extremists" because change is coming to the Middle East through an upwardly mobile middle class of entrepreneurs, investors, professionals and consumers, he asserts in his new book, Forces of Fortune: The Rise of the New Muslim Middle Class and What It Will Mean for Our World. Nasr reveals that it is this rising business class, and the thriving world of Islamic finance (banking and financial services compatible with sharia regulations) that are the emerging centers of power in the Middle East; they are instrumental to tipping the scales of power away from Islamic extremism, he argues.

Currently senior adviser to Richard C. Holbrooke, special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Nasr explains that the blending of Islamic values and economic vitality is an "important development in the Muslim world that should shape [the United States'] approach to building better relations with the region." He demonstrates that these devoutly Islamic, yet highly modern Muslims, of the "critical middle" (particularly in Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey) constitute the middle class the region has desperately needed. They are building a whole new "Muslim world economy"―as demonstrated in the rapid growth of capitalist Dubai. Their distinctive blend of Islam and capitalism is crucial to bringing lasting reform to the region, says Nasr.

If the global values of "peace, security, democracy, freedom and human rights, moderation, and religious tolerance," have not yet taken hold in Muslim lands, concludes Nasr, it is not because of the "fundamental nature of Islam," but because the "commercial class that must spearhead the process of propagating [those values] is still too small." Helping this "critical middle" grow and come to "dominate their societies is the best way of making sure those global values will take deep root as Muslim values, paving the way to democracy."

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