The Second Arab Awakening: Revolution, Democracy, and the Islamist Challenge from Tunis to Damascus by Adeed Dawisha

Christina Hellmich on the complex dynamics reshaping the Arab world

May 2, 2013

As the first light of dawn broke through the night, ushering in Friday, December 17, 2010, no one in the North African Arab country of Tunisia thought that this would be anything but another uneventful day. In the city of Sidi Bouzid, situated in the arid middle of the country, people woke up and readied themselves for the day’s events and its chores…No one could anticipate the momentous happenings that would sweep through Tunisia and other parts of the Arab world: happenings triggered by one macabre act of self-sacrifice that would turn Muhammad Bouazizi, one of the thousands of down-trodden and anonymous street vendors who suffuse Arab markets, into an iconic hero, imprinting his name into not only Tunisian but Arab and international consciousness.”

When Bouazizi set himself on fire in protest against the ill-treatment he had suffered at the hands of local authorities, it was the catalyst for a series of mass demonstrations that quickly spread from one country to another, with crowds of people occupying the streets of Arab cities to demand better economic opportunities, an end to corruption and the removal of autocratic rulers. Yet the Arab Spring of early 2011 was not the first series of uprisings to sweep the Arab world. An earlier spate of revolutions in the 1950s and 1960s threw off the shackles of colonialism, only to pave the way for a generation of Arab despots. Are the prospects any better this time around? According to Adeed Dawisha, there is reason to be hopeful.

While the jury is still out as to whether true democracies will evolve, even the most conservative actors have been tested, as the decision to tolerate bikinis in return for tourism dollars attests

The Second Arab Awakening offers a nuanced assessment of the fast-changing political landscape in the Arab world that is both engaging and intellectually stimulating. Against the backdrop of Hannah Arendt’s eloquent reflections about the nature and prospects of revolutions, Dawisha places the events of the Arab Spring into the historical context of the “first revolutions” of previous decades before exploring the fates of the current uprisings from Tunisia to Yemen, analysing the jubilant overthrow of tyrants in some cases and even more brutal repression in others. He explores the threats and opportunities facing the victorious revolutionaries, the development of democratic institutions and the meaning of Islamist victories at the polls that have, once again, renewed the debate over the Islamist threat and the compatibility of Islam and democracy.

While the jury is still out as to whether true and genuine democracies will evolve, even the most conservative actors have been put to the test, as the recent decision to tolerate bikinis in return for tourism dollars in Egypt readily illustrates. Islamists, one is led to conclude, are political actors, more pragmatic than religious, seeking power and influence. Politics will trump religion.

For anyone seeking an accessible overview of the complex dynamics reshaping the Arab world, this book is highly recommended.

The Second Arab Awakening: Revolution, Democracy, and the Islamist Challenge from Tunis to Damascus

By Adeed Dawisha
W.W. Norton, 288pp, £17.99
ISBN 9780393240122
Published 17 May 2013

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