The Arab Uprising: The Unfinished Revolutions of the New Middle East
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Barely a year after the self-immolation of a young fruit seller in Tunisia, a vast wave of popular protest has convulsed the Middle East, overthrowing long-ruling dictators and transforming the region’s politics almost beyond recognition. But the biggest transformations of what has been labeled as the “Arab Spring” are yet to come.
An insider to both American policy and the world of the Arab public, Marc Lynch shows that the fall of particular leaders is but the least of the changes that will emerge from months of unrest. The far-ranging implications of the rise of an interconnected and newly-empowered Arab populace have only begun to be felt. Young, frustrated Arabs now know that protest can work and that change is possible. They have lost their fear—meanwhile their leaders, desperate to survive, have heard the unprecedented message that killing their own people will no longer keep them in power. Even so, as Lynch reminds us, the last wave of region-wide protest in the 1950s and 1960s resulted not in democracy, but in brutal autocracy. Will the Arab world’s struggle for change succeed in building open societies? Will authoritarian regimes regain their grip, or will Islamist movements seize the initiative to impose a new kind of rule?
The Arab Uprising follows these struggles from Tunisia and Egypt to the harsh battles of Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, and Libya and to the cautious reforms of the region’s monarchies. It examines the real meaning of the rise of Islamist movements in the emerging democracies, and the longterm hopes of a generation of activists confronted with the limits of their power. It points toward a striking change in the hierarchy of influence, as the old heavyweights—Iran, Al Qaeda, even Israel—have been all but left out while oil-rich powers like Saudi Arabia and “swing states” like Turkey and Qatar find new opportunities to spread their influence. And it reveals how America must adjust to the new realities.
Deeply informed by inside access to the Obama administration’s decision-making process and first-hand interviews with protestors, politicians, diplomats, and journalists, The Arab Uprising highlights the new fault lines that are forming between forces of revolution and counter-revolution, and shows what it all means for the future of American policy. The result is an indispensible guide to the changing lay of the land in the Middle East and North Africa.
Combating this anti-Islamic trend at home has never been a more urgent national security priority. America cannot engage effectively with a region struggling to peacefully incorporate Islamists through democracy if it is dominated by ideologues who demonize and attack them at every turn. Nor can it continue its effective campaign to marginalize and defeat al-Qaeda if its own public feeds a narrative about a clash of civilizations that does not exist. Finally, the U.S. will need to accept the
overstated. The Arab protest movements watched, supported, and emulated each other in real time. They identified with each other within a common narrative, one that identified all protestors as the “good guys” and every regime as the “bad guys.” They lived and died together. When one country surged forward, others shared their momentum, and when one suffered a calamitous reversal, the others rallied to their defense. In just one of a million examples, in mid-February, a Yemeni tweeted, “Right now
and downs of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. During the Arab Cold War, Jordan had been one of the most turbulent of battlefields due to the intensely pan-Arabist sentiments in the population. In 1990, Jordanian sympathy with Iraq had been powerful enough to force King Hussein to side against his primary international patrons in Washington. There was no way that the Arab uprising could pass them by. The Jordanian protest movement began earlier than the others, except for Yemen’s, albeit
intervention, even while offering little love for Qaddafi. Days after the fall of Tripoli, al-Akhbar editor Ibrahim al-Amin was already calling on Libyans to rise up against the (nonexistent) NATO occupation of their country.6 The sense of possibility and hope for an escape from one of the region’s worst tyrants gave way to fears about chaos, stalemate, and civil war. Few thought that Qaddafi could win, with the international forces arrayed against him. But simply by surviving, he drained the
Minister Rafik Hariri that had often been blamed on Damascus. Migration to the cities had created an ever-growing urban underclass desperate for work and poorly integrated into existing social and civil networks. And promises of political reforms never materialized, undermining confidence in the regime’s credibility and any hope for change through normal institutional channels. Assad’s “resistance” foreign policy and constant invocation of foreign conspiracies could only go so far to distract and