Years ago, when the media was filled with optimistic treatments of the Arab Spring, I remember reading a quote from a Mideast bishop, who remarked that there was no such thing as an Arab Spring, “only Winter.” Certainly the Arab Spring hasn’t worked out terribly well for the region’s Christians. It hasn’t been a great success for others, either. A new book from Yale, however, has a more optimistic assessment of the future of the movement. Readers can judge for themselves. The book is The Levant Express: The Arab Uprisings, Human Rights, and the Future of the Middle East, by University of Denver professor Michelene Ishay (international relations). Here’s the description from the Yale website:
The enormous sense of optimism unleashed by the Arab Spring in 2011 soon gave way to widespread suffering and despair. Of the many popular uprisings against autocratic regimes, Tunisia’s now stands alone as a beacon of hope for sustainable human rights progress. Libya is a failed state; Egypt returned to military dictatorship; the Gulf States suppressed popular protests and tightened control; and Syria and Yemen are ravaged by civil war. Challenging the widely shared pessimism among regional experts, Micheline Ishay charts bold and realistic pathways for human rights in a region beset by political repression, economic distress, sectarian conflict, a refugee crisis, and violence against women. With due attention to how patterns of revolution and counterrevolution play out in different societies and historical contexts, Ishay reveals the progressive potential of subterranean human rights forces and offers strategies for transforming current realities in the Middle East.
In February, Oxford University Press released Fridays of Rage: Al Jazeera, the Arab Spring, and Political Islam by Sam Cherribi (Emory University). The publisher’s description follows:
Fridays of Rage reveals Al Jazeera’s rise to that most respected of all Western media positions: the watchdog of democracy. Al Jazeera served as the nursery for the Arab world’s democratic revolutions, promoting Friday as a “day of rage” and popular protest. This book provides a glimpse into how Al Jazeera strategically cast its journalists as martyrs in the struggle for Arab freedom while promoting itself as the mouthpiece and advocate of the Arab public.
In addition to heralding a new era of Arab democracy, Al Jazeera has become a major influence over Arab perceptions of American involvement in the Arab World, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the rise of global Islamic fundamentalism, and the expansion of the political far right. Al Jazeera’s blueprint for “Muslim-democracy” was part of a vision announced by the network during its earliest broadcasts. The network embarked upon a mission to reconstruct the Arab mindset and psyche. Al Jazeera introduced exiled Islamist leaders to the larger Arab public while also providing Muslim feminists a platform.
The inclusion and consideration of Westerners, Israelis, Hamas, secularists and others earned the network a reputation for pluralism and inclusiveness. Al Jazeera presented a mirror to an Arab world afraid to examine itself and its democratic deficiencies. But rather than assuming that Al Jazeera is a monolithic force for positive transformation in Arab society, Fridays of Rage examines the potentially dark implications of Al Jazeera’s radical re-conceptualization of media as a strategic tool or weapon.
As a powerful and rapidly evolving source of global influence, Al Jazeera embodies many paradoxes-the manifestations and effects of which we are likely only now becoming apparent. Fridays of Rage guides readers through this murky territory, where journalists are martyrs, words are weapons, and facts are bullets.
In December, Oxford University Press will release The New Sectarianism: The Arab Uprisings and the Rebirth of the Shi’a-Sunni Divide by Geneive Abdo (Atlantic Council). The publisher’s description follows:
The Shi’a-Sunni conflict is one of the most significant outcomes arising from the Arab rebellions. Yet, there is little understanding of who is driving this tension and the underlying causes. By delving deeply into the historical factors leading up to the present-day conflict, The New Sectarianism sheds new light on how Shi’a and Sunni perceive one another after the Arab uprisings, how these perceptions have affected the Arab world, and why the dream of a pan-Islamic awakening was misplaced.
Geneive Abdo describes a historical backdrop that serves as a counterpoint to Western media coverage of the so-called Arab Spring. Already by the 1970s, she says, Shi’a and Sunni communities had begun to associate their religious beliefs and practices with personal identity, replacing their fragile loyalty to the nation state. By the time the Arab risings erupted into their full fury in early 2011, there was fertile ground for instability. The ensuing clash-between Islamism and Nationalism, Shi’a and Sunni, and other factions within these communities-has resulted in unprecedented violence. So, Abdo asks, what does religion have to do with it? This sectarian conflict is often presented by the West as rivalry over land use, political power, or access to education. However, Abdo persuasively argues that it must be understood as flowing directly from religious difference and the associated identities that this difference has conferred on both Shi’a and Sunni.
The New Sectarianism considers the causes for this conflict in key countries such as Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Bahrain and the development of regional trends. Abdo argues that in these regions religion matters, not only in how it is utilized by extremists, moderate Islamists, and dictators alike for political purposes, but how it perpetually evolves and is perceived and practiced among the vast majority of Muslims. Shi’a and Sunni today are not battling over territory alone; they are fighting for their claim to a true Islamic identity.
This month, the Oxford University Press releases “Constitutionalism, Human Rights, and Islam after the Arab Spring,” by Rainer Grote (University of Heidelberg) and Tilmann J. Röder (Max Planck Foundation for International Peace and the Rule of Law). The publisher’s description follows:
Constitutionalism, Human Rights, and Islam after the Arab Spring offers a comprehensive analysis of the impact that new and draft constitutions and amendments – such as those in Jordan, Morocco, Syria, Egypt, and Tunisia – have had on the transformative processes that drive constitutionalism in Arab countries.
This book aims to identify and analyze the key issues facing constitutional law and democratic development in Islamic states, and offers an in-depth examination of the relevance of the transformation processes for the development and future of constitutionalism in Arab countries. Using an encompassing and multi-faceted approach, this book explores underlying trends and currents that have been pivotal to the Arab Spring, while identifying and providing a forward looking view of constitution making in the Arab world.
In March, the Oxford University Press released “Civil Resistance in the Arab Spring: Triumphs and Disasters,” edited by Adam Roberts (University of Oxford), Michael J. Willis (University of Oxford), Rory McCarthy (University of Oxford), and Timothy Garton Ash (University of Oxford). The publisher’s description follows:
Civil resistance, especially in the form of massive peaceful demonstrations, was at the heart of the Arab Spring-the chain of events in the Middle East and North Africa that
erupted in December 2010. It won some notable victories: popular movements helped to bring about the fall of authoritarian governments in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. Yet these apparent triumphs of non-violent action were followed by disasters–wars in Syria, anarchy in Libya and Yemen, reversion to authoritarian rule in Egypt, and counter-revolution backed by external intervention in Bahrain. Looming over these events was the enduring divide between the Sunni and Shi’a branches of Islam.
Why did so much go wrong? Was the problem the methods, leadership and aims of the popular movements, or the conditions of their societies? In this book, experts on these countries, and on the techniques of civil resistance, set the events in their historical, social and political contexts. They describe how governments and outside powers–including the US and EU–responded, how Arab monarchies in Jordan and Morocco undertook to introduce reforms to avert revolution, and why the Arab Spring failed to spark a Palestinian one. They indicate how and why Tunisia remained, precariously, the country that experienced the most political change for the lowest cost in bloodshed.
This book provides a vivid illustrated account and rigorous scholarly analysis of the course and fate, the strengths and the weaknesses, of the Arab Spring. The authors draw clear and challenging conclusions from these tumultuous events. Above all, they show how civil resistance aiming at regime change is not enough: building the institutions and the trust necessary for reforms to be implemented and democracy to develop is a more difficult but equally crucial task.
Next month, Palgrave Macmillan will release “The Arab World and Iran: A Turbulent Region in Transition,” edited by Amin Saikal (Australian National University). The publisher’s description follows:
This volume focuses on interpreting the changing domestic and regional dynamics in the Arab world and Iran. Its chapters discuss an array of countries, events, actors, and issues – from an examination of the Arab Spring and the Tunisian democratic transition, to an exploration of the role of Saudi-Iranian geostrategic rivalry, to the impact of ethnic and sectarian politics in Syria, Iraq, and across the region. Chapters from expert contributors are organized into three parts. The first section of the volume covers the aspects and dynamics of change in the Arab world. The second examines the role of Islam, Islamism, Islamic governance, and sectarian and ethnic politics in the region. The third section focuses on Iranian domestic and regional politics. Yet the theme of transition is constant throughout as this multidisciplinary book draws connections across countries and events to not only inform about the prevailing regional situation, but also to invite readers to draw their own conclusions as to the future of the Middle East. Collectively the volume provides a fresh interpretation of the changing dynamics of the Arab world and Iran, unpacking the complexities of the disputes, conflicts, rivalries, failed goals, and processes of change and development that have made the Muslim Middle East so turbulent, directionless, and perpetually contested by both regional and international actors.
In February, Praeger released “Hamas: Terrorism, Governance, and Its Future in Middle East Politics,” by Jennifer Jefferis (National Defense University). The publisher’s description follows:
Structured around key elements at the regional, political, institutional, and personal levels of analysis, this is a complete and forward-leaning view of Hamas that provides a deep and detailed examination of the history, ideology, political prospects, and regional opportunities of an often poorly understood organization that is redefining 21st-century terrorism.
The Palestinian resistance movement Hamas has long been an influential player in the tumultuous Middle East, but as the region’s instability grows, so does the importance and potential influence of this organization. The fact that the Hamas of today defies most of the traditional categorizations of both terrorist organizations and political parties makes the group an ideal study on how states in the Middle East are likely to continue to change. This book offers a clear picture of how Hamas fits into a dramatically evolving region, enabling readers to see how Hamas itself has evolved ideologically, militarily, and politically as well as how it will continue to shape and be shaped by the broader Middle East region.
Author Jennifer Jefferis, PhD, provides the first comprehensive consideration of Hamas in the context of the post-Arab Spring climate, the rise of ISIS, and the consequential emerging politics of the region, presenting information that is highly detailed yet written to be accessible to all audiences whether or not they have previous knowledge of the organization. The book provides coverage of Hamas’s current relationship with Israel and its impact on the Palestinian territories while focusing on the significance of the organization’s role in the broader region—particularly critical in light of the recent political uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Syria.
In March, the Oxford University Press will release “Salafism After the Arab Awakening: Contending with People’s Power,” edited by Francesco Cavatorta (Université Laval) and Fabio Merone (Dublin City University). The publisher’s description follows:
One of the most interesting consequences of the Arab awakening has been the central role of Salafists in a number of countries. In particular, there seems to have been a move away from traditional quietism towards an increasing degree of politicization. The arrival on the political scene of Salafist parties in Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen, as well as the seemingly growing desire of Salafists in other Arab countries to enter institutional politics through the creation of political parties, highlights quite clearly the debates and divisions on how to react to the awakening within Salafist circles.
This book examines in detail how Salafism, both theologically and politically, is contending with the Arab uprisings across a number of countries. The focus is primarily on what kind of politicization, if any, has taken place and what forms it has adopted. As some of the contributions make clear, politicization does not necessarily diminish the role of jihad or the influence of quietism, revealing tensions and struggles within the complex world of Salafism.
In December, Routledge will release “The Muslim Brotherhood: The Arab Spring and its Future Face,” by Beverley Milton-Edwards (Queen’s University Belfast). The publisher’s description follows:
The Muslim Brotherhood is the most significant and enduring Sunni Islamist organization of the contemporary era. Its roots lie in the Middle East but it has grown into both a local and global movement, with its well-placed branches reacting effectively to take the opportunities for power and electoral competition offered by the Arab Spring.
Regarded by some as a force of moderation among Islamists, and by others as a façade hiding a terrorist fundamentalist threat, the potential influence of the Muslim Brotherhood on Middle Eastern politics remains ambiguous. The Muslim Brotherhood: The Arab Spring and its Future Face provides an essential insight into the organisation, with chapters devoted to specific cases where the Brotherhood has important impacts on society, the state and politics. Key themes associated with the Brotherhood, such as democracy, equality, pan-Islamism, radicalism, reform, the Palestine issue and gender, are assessed to reveal an evolutionary trend within the movement since its founding in Egypt in 1928 to its manifestation as the largest Sunni Islamist movement in the Middle East in the 21st century. The book addresses the possible future of the Muslim Brotherhood; whether it can surprise sceptics and effectively accommodate democracy and secular trends, and how its ascension to power through the ballot box might influence Western policy debates on their engagement with this manifestation of political Islam.
Drawing on a wide range of sources, this book presents a comprehensive study of a newly resurgent movement and is a valuable resource for students, scholars and policy makers focused on Middle Eastern Politics.