Sunday, August 5, 2012

The twilight of the dictators: A spring of unrest, an autumn of discontent


Four must read books:

The Battle for the Arab Spring: Revolution, Counter-Revolution and the Making of a New Era. By Lin Noueihed and Alex Warren. Yale University Press; 350 pages; $28 and £18.99.

The Rise and Fall of Arab Presidents for Life. By Roger Owen. Harvard University Press; 248 pages; $24.95 and £18.95.

The Syrian Rebellion. By Fouad Ajami. Hoover Institution Press; 240 pages; $19.95 and £14.95 .

Revolt in Syria: Eye-Witness to the Uprising. By Stephen Starr. Columbia University Press; 226 pages; $20. Hurst; £14.99.

WHY did they fall? In the months that followed the advent of the Arab spring, authors have rushed to explain why some dictators have been unseated but not others; whether Islamist revolutions will flourish in their wake; and whether there is anything sensible the West can do other than hold its breath.

These are not easy questions, but one of the strongest attempts to answer them is “The Battle for the Arab Spring” by Lin Noueihed, a Reuters correspondent, and Alex Warren, who runs a Middle East consultancy. This book describes what happened, considers the role of new media among frustrated youths and provides a wealth of data about the economies and demographics of the countries at the heart of the drama—Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Syria and Yemen.

The authors refrain from predicting the fate of the newly empowered Islamist movements, particularly in Egypt and Tunisia. But they imply that Islamist revolutions are unlikely. The Arab spring, they suggest optimistically and persuasively, has created a new frame of mind—an unwillingness to accept humiliation and corruption, a readiness to transcend fear. There is a new faith that people can resist tyranny and change their lives.


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