Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 5/08/2012
The slogan of the 2011 Arab Spring made clear the demands of activists in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Yemen and Syria:
The people want the fall of the regime.
Middle East specialist Lin Noueihed covered the uprisings for Reuters, while North Africa expert Alex Warren researched and consulted there in 2011. They are co-authors of The Battle for the Arab Spring: Revolution, Counter-Revolution and the Making of a New Era to be released in May by Yale University Press.
The book provides a journalistic analysis of the events as well as the challenges facing the region in the aftermath.
The Arab Spring activists made specific what they sought to end: martial law, the cult of personality, intimidation of opponents and political corruption.
Noueihed and Warren write that some in “the Western media were already lamenting the speed with which the Arab Spring had turned to Islamist Winter.” Washington, London and Paris suspect that overtly religious groups might take over what secular protestors had initiated.
Would an Islamist resurgence spell disaster for the promise of equality in the Arab Spring? What happens to women’s rights, a secular Constitution, Christians and other non-Muslims?
The co-authors of The Battle for the Arab Spring are more optimistic by what they have witnessed first-hand. Islamists have proven to be more popular at the ballot box and able to garner parliamentary seats, but Noueihed and Warren disagree with Western misconceptions about their motives.
The Arab Spring has provided an opportunity to revise those views, to engage with new democratically-elected Islamists and to allow their own constituents to test their skills in bringing the dignity, prosperity and freedom that so many protesters risked their lives for in 2011.
After free and fair elections in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the Ennahda and Muslim Brotherhood will get down to the business of governing. Noueihed and Warren propose debate, consultation and compromise with groups of divergent views “will likely push Islamist parties towards increasing pragmatism and moderation.”
The vast majority of people in the Arab world had felt helpless to change the course of events. Youth unemployment, cronyism and economic injustice fed this frustration, while dissent carried too many risks.
Technology would be the hero that galvanized people to take their opposition public. Al-Jazeera and blogs offered uncensored political views, while the Internet, mobile phones and social media linked people together to jumpstart activism.
Noueihed and Warren write that Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution was a model for the activism in the rest of the region. They trace Al-Jazeera reports that President Ben Ali and wife Leila Trabelsi had left the country back to vegetable seller Mohammed Bouazizi’s desperate suicide that enraged activists into action.
Tunisia had demonstrated how protest could overcome fear and remove a corrupt Arab dictator.
Unelected rulers in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Tunisia had been propped up by the United States with political, economic and security interests that conflicted with its mission to promote democracy and free markets in the region.
According to Noueihed and Warren, all of the Arab monarchies (the UAE, Qatar, Morocco, Jordan) are likely to survive in the short term. The removal of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the intervention that helped topple Gaddafi in Libya, however, would force the United States to quickly rewrite their policy in the region.
The fate of the 24 million people of Syria remains uncertain. Bashar al-Assad retains power.
His armed thugs, the shabbiha, intimidate dissenters and his elite army divisions enforce order with heavy artillery and tanks.
Resolution is complicated by the threat of civil war and the vulnerability of border countries and ethnic minorities. These are cards Assad holds despite his loss of legitimacy and his increasing isolation in the region.
The Battle for the Arab Spring by Lin Noueihed and Alex Warren is a highly worthwhile read for a clear analysis of the discontent that fed the popular uprisings and what the aftermath might bring to the Arab world.
Category: Nonfiction, Middle East, North Africa, 21st Century