I’ve noticed during my last few visits to the public library a slight proliferation of books about last year’s Arab Spring. Honestly, I’m afraid to take a chance on some of them for fear I might wind up with one that’s a “rush job” or equally worse, just a collection of second-rate opinion pieces or news articles gleaned from the Internet. However, during one of those library visits I did find one book, that upon closer inspection, looked promising. Therefore, with nothing to lose I quickly grabbed it and headed to the automatic check-out machine. Published in 2011 by Oxford University Press, The Arab Revolution: Ten Lessons from the Democratic Uprising by Jean-Pierre Filiu, considering it was written last spring (quite literally as the events he was describing were unfolding) is an intelligent, insightful and for the most part readable look at the Arab Spring.
Filiu, in addition to being the Professor of Middle East Studies at Sciences Po in Paris, has also served as a visiting professor at Georgetown and Columbia. In his book The Arab Revolution, he devotes each of the book’s ten chapters to a particular “lesson” learned from the recent uprising. Among many things, he argues that social networks as well as leaderless movements can help bring about political change; the youth of the Arab world are leading the fight for democratic political systems; and perhaps above all, there is no “Arab Exception”, meaning Arabs prefer to live under the iron hand of an authoritative dictator rather than risk living in chaos or under Western domination.
Even though it’s a considerably short book, Filiu’s book contains a surprising amount of historical material. I liked this because it helped put the recent events in a greater perspective. While he does discuss events across the Arab world, he probably pays the greatest attention to Egypt’s revolution, with Tunisia’s coming in at a close second followed by events in the Palestinian Territories. While he does discuss events in Libya and Syria, unfortunately since his book was finished in April of last year understandably he’s unable to address recent events in those two countries. For that same reason, there’s no analysis of the recent elections in Egypt.
My old professor of Latin American politics once told me there’s no assurance in politics. Filiu, throughout his book, seems quite confident this recent wave of Arab revolutionary movements won’t automatically end with a collection of Islamist dictatorships spanning the region. But with the Muslim Brotherhood victorious in Egypt’s last election, I hope like many others that Egypt’s revolution doesn’t get hijacked by extremists much like Iran’s was 30 years ago. For additional discussion concerning this and other related thoughts, feel free to check out a few opinion pieces from New York Times editorial writer Thomas Friedman. Both this one and this one should provide ample food for thought.