Cover image for Black wave : Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the forty-year rivalry that unraveled culture, religion, and collective memory in the Middle East
Black wave : Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the forty-year rivalry that unraveled culture, religion, and collective memory in the Middle East

1st ed.
Physical Description:
xvii, 377 pages : map ; 25 cm.
PART I. REVOLUTION -- Cassette Revolution -- Today Tehran, Tomorrow Jerusalem -- Bleeding Heart -- Darkness. PART II. COMPETITION -- I Killed the Pharaoh -- No Dupatta -- Kerbala in Beirut -- Shia Kafir -- Mecca is Mine -- Détente -- Black Wave -- Generation 9-11. Part III. WAR -- Cain and Abel -- Fracture -- Surrender -- Counter-Revolution -- Between ISIS and IRGC -- Achilles' Heel -- Murder on the Bosporus.
Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran, once allies and twin pillars of US strategy in the region, became mortal enemies after 1979. Ghattas weaves together history, geopolitics, and culture to show how the 1979 Iranian revolution-- fueled by American policy-- fed intolerance, suppressed cultural expression, and encouraged sectarian violence from Egypt to Pakistan, leading to the assassination of countless intellectuals, the birth of groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon, the September 11th terrorist attacks, and the rise of ISIS. --


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"[A] sweeping and authoritative history" ( The New York Times Book Review ), Black Wave is an unprecedented and ambitious examination of how the modern Middle East unraveled and why it started with the pivotal year of 1979.

Kim Ghattas seamlessly weaves together history, geopolitics, and culture to deliver a gripping read of the largely unexplored story of the rivalry between between Saudi Arabia and Iran, born from the sparks of the 1979 Iranian revolution and fueled by American policy.

With vivid story-telling, extensive historical research and on-the-ground reporting, Ghattas dispels accepted truths about a region she calls home. She explores how Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran, once allies and twin pillars of US strategy in the region, became mortal enemies after 1979. She shows how they used and distorted religion in a competition that went well beyond geopolitics. Feeding intolerance, suppressing cultural expression, and encouraging sectarian violence from Egypt to Pakistan, the war for cultural supremacy led to Iran's fatwa against author Salman Rushdie, the assassination of countless intellectuals, the birth of groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon, the September 11th terrorist attacks, and the rise of ISIS.

Ghattas introduces us to a riveting cast of characters whose lives were upended by the geopolitical drama over four decades: from the Pakistani television anchor who defied her country's dictator, to the Egyptian novelist thrown in jail for indecent writings all the way to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Black Wave is both an intimate and sweeping history of the region and will significantly alter perceptions of the Middle East.

Author Notes

Kim Ghattas is an Emmy-award winning journalist and writer who covered the Middle East for twenty years for the BBC and the Financial Times . She has also reported on the U.S State Department and American politics, and is the author of The Secretary: A Journey with Hillary Clinton from Beirut to the Heart of American Power . She has been published in The Atlantic , the Washington Post , and Foreign Policy and is currently a non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. Born and raised in Lebanon, she now lives between Beirut and Washington D.C.

Reviews 3

Guardian Review

In the course of 1979, three events changed the Middle East. The first was Iran's Islamic revolution. That saw the overthrow of the shah, the autocratic, modernising ally of the west, by Ayatollah Khomeini. The second was the attack, led by a Saudi Arabian fundamentalist, on the Grand Mosque of Mecca, the heart of the Muslim world. The third, further afield but equally important, was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The three were separate but the combination proved disastrous: the shah's demise was supported initially by leftists as well but those who wanted to see a theocratic Shia state quickly gained the upper hand. The Mecca assault was mounted by extremists who saw the Al Saud dynasty as traitors to the strictures of Wahhabi Islam. Afghanistan became the first battleground for transnational jihad in modern times. Forty years on, Kim Ghattas has not only drawn the big picture of how those events shaped the region but offers timely and thought-provoking insights into their continuing destructive influence. The weaponisation of sectarianism, women's rights, the frustrated hopes of the Arab spring, the rise of Al-Qaida and Islamic State are all richly contextualised and illustrated. Black Wave deals not only with rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia, but also Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Egypt. The Israel-Palestine conflict, too often placed at the centre of Middle Eastern geopolitics, plays only a supporting role. US foreign policy is presented as secondary to trends, ambitions and decisions in Tehran, Riyadh and Cairo. It avoids Orientalist tropes and accords agency, not just victimhood, to Arabs and Muslims. Ghattas spent a successful career as a journalist for the BBC. It shows in her wonderfully readable account. Intellectuals, clerics and novelists are highlighted because they represent ideas and suffering in the face of repressive regimes and intolerant ideologies. The contrast with many academic studies of these countries and issues is striking - and very much in the author's favour. The story begins in Lebanon in 1977 when her home country was in the throes of civil war. Iranian exiles such as Imam Musa Sadr bonded with local Shia activists who recorded cassettes calling for the shah to go. Egypt's president, Anwar Sadat, then stunned the world by flying to Jerusalem to offer unconditional peace to Israel. Following Khomeini's triumphant return to Tehran, the PLO's Yasser Arafat was his first VIP visitor. The Saudis were appalled by Iran's revolution before the seizure of the Mecca mosque a few months later. But both events triggered a less visible but oppressive change - "a slow but forceful expansion of Salafist puritanism" that wasaccelerated by the Soviet move into Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein's invasion of Iran in 1980. That was the start of an eight-year war that both sides narrated as Arabs versus Persians, employing divisive language dating back to the seventh century. Ghattas has an enviable gift for going beyond politics. Arabic dialects, the music of the Egyptian diva Umm Kulthum, Beirut restaurants serving caviar during ceasefires and witty anecdotes about Hezbollah all serve as a backdrop. Peshawar in Pakistan became a mini-Arabistan thanks to the Saudi-financed (and US-backed) mujahideen in Afghanistan, while Baalbek in Lebanon was an outpost of Tehran. Another big theme is the exploitation of Islam by dictators. In the 1970s, 30% of Egyptian women wore the headscarf; by the mid-1990s, under Hosni Mubarak, that had risen to 65%. Migrant workers returned from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan and Syria to build mosques to show off their newfound wealth and piety. By 2003, in the wake of 9/11 and Saddam's overthrow, Iraq was fertile ground for a Sunni insurgency. Syria's dark chapter of the Arab spring found it caught between Isis and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, backing Bashar al-Assad. Qassem Suleimani, commander of its elite Quds (Jerusalem) force, was the public face of Tehran's growing influence - fuelling Saudi animosity from Iraq to Yemen - until he was assassinated by a US drone in Baghdad. Ghattas quotes Suleimani explaining how a gruesome incident involving an IRGC officer beheaded by Isis in Syria was divinely inspired. The officer's widow declared "her husband had lost his head so the women of Iran could keep covering theirs". Her final chapter focuses on Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist who was murdered in his country's consulate in Istanbul. Khashoggi's life and horrific death embody large elements of this story - from early support for the Afghan mujahideen to his later, fatal realisation that the reforms of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman were designed, above all else, to maintain his dynasty in power. "Obfuscation and the feigning of ignorance would become favourite forms of Saudi subterfuge to evade responsibility for any violence or intolerance connected to the kingdom," as the author wrote - before five hitmen were sentenced to death by a Riyadh court while those who issued their orders never faced trial. Iran and Saudi Arabia took steps to ease tensions during the rule of the reformist President Khatami and the easier-going King Abdullah - and there are signs they may be doing so again since Iran's devastating attack last September on the Aramco oil refinery at Abqaiq - for which the ever-unpredictable Twitterer-in-chief in the White House conspicuously failed to retaliate despite his policy of "maximum pressure" on Tehran. Whatever happens next in this long-running, oppressive and dangerous Middle Eastern drama, Black Wave will be a vivid, indispensable guide to the

Kirkus Review

Illuminating account of the origins of sectarian violence and the current political shape of the Muslim world."What happened to us?" So runs a common refrain in households from Pakistan to Libya. Beirut-born journalist Ghattas (The Secretary: A Journey With Hillary Clinton From Beirut to the Heart of American Power, 2013), now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, locates an answer in three events of the same year, all tightly linked: the overthrow of the shah and the revolution in Iran, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the attack on the Grand Mosque of Mecca by Saudi militants. "Nothing has changed the Arab and Muslim world as deeply and fundamentally as the events of 1979," she writes. Her fluid, fast-moving narrative ably proves the thesis. The Iranian Revolution put into sharp relief the ancient division between Shia and Sunni Islam, an argument at once religious and political, with the Ayatollah Khomeini and his successors vying for power with an implacably opposedthough just as conservativeform of Islam. The struggle has played out in many times and places over centuries, but since 1979, it has taken a form more familiar to Westerners. While occasionally Shia and Sunni clerics allied to battle a common enemy, such as the secularist Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the two powers of Iran and Saudi Arabia have more often squared off through proxies in Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and particularly Pakistan after the withdrawal of the Soviets from neighboring Afghanistana defeat paid for by Saudi money but whose aftermath was swayed by Iran. One constant in the narrative: Wherever Americans have been involved, the aftereffects have been worse, whether attacking Iraq in 1991 and 2003 or attempting to shift the balance of power in the Middle East, with the bumbling of the current administration enabling such things as the savage murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The headlines from the Middle East make a little more sense through the lens Ghattas provides.Essential for all who follow world events. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

Ghattas (The Secretary) sheds insight on the relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The personal narrative details the ongoing impact of the Iranian Revolution in 1978--79, along with siege of Mecca in 1979. It was this year, notes the author, that Iran and Saudi Arabia, once close allies, become rivals, each facing differing amounts of religious intolerance and fanaticism. Ghattas explores political unrest in her native country of Lebanon along with other countries, including Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, and Egypt. She continues by recounting the lingering effects of economic stagnation, political repression, and widespread sectarian violence in the Middle East. Ghattas combines journalistic and academic references with firsthand narratives from political leaders and civilian activists throughout the region in order to better portray how suppression and intimidation impacts religious and cultural pluralism. The book highlights people who resist intolerance and violence; Ghattas maintains optimism that people, especially the silenced majority, can enact societal change. VERDICT A wide-ranging, lively historical overview of current geopolitical relationships within the modern Middle East and how they came to be. These profiles in courage are an informative, enlightening read. [See Prepub Alert, 7/15/19.]--Elizabeth Hayford, formerly with Associated Coll. of the Midwest, Evanston, IL

Table of Contents

Note on Names and Spellingsp. xiii
Peoplep. xv
Mapp. xviii
Introductionp. 1
Part I Revolution
1 Cassette Revolutionp. 7
2 Today Tehran, Tomorrow Jerusalemp. 31
3 Bleeding Heartp. 51
4 Darknessp. 71
Part II Competition
5 I Killed the Pharaohp. 93
6 No Dupattap. 110
7 Karbala in Beirutp. 129
8 Shia Kafirp. 146
9 Mecca Is Minep. 164
10 Culture Warsp. 175
11 Black Wavep. 183
12 Generation 1979p. 200
Part III Revenge
13 Cain and Abelp. 219
14 Fracturep. 237
15 Surrenderp. 249
16 Counterrevolutionp. 263
17 Between ISIS and IRGCp. 279
18 Achilles' Heelp. 293
19 Murder on the Bosporusp. 308
Conclusionp. 328
Notesp. 335
Acknowledgmentsp. 359
Indexp. 365