The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged Books
Books in the mail

BBC correspondent Jeremy Bowen is a fine journalist, and I enjoyed his book on the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. I just received his latest, on the Arab uprisings, and I have to ask: is this cover really appropriate? I mean, are the Arab uprisings best illustratd by Bowen's face?

This is reminiscent of the John Simpson school of British journalism. 

The book focuses on Egypt, Libya and Syria, and is drawn from Bowen's reporting. Get on Amazon US or UK.

Our friend Yvez Gonzalez-Quijano, of the fantastic blog Cultures et Politiques Arabes, has a new book out on "the Spring of the Arab web," called Arabités Numeriques. It tracks the evolution of the Arab web, its early manifestations on various social services as a political force and its role in the uprisings and the post-uprising period — including the negative role the web plays, including the notion of "cyber-pessimism."

Get it from Amazon France or UK.



Stephen Starr's Revolt in Syria is an account of the early phase of the Syrian insurrection by a journalist who lived there for several years, with insight into Syrian society.

Get it from Amazon UK or US.



John Wright's A History of Libya is an updated edition of well-regarded standard, the first such book to be published since the uprising. I reviewed older books about Libya last year, and this one has the merit of going into pre-modern Libya (Vandals!) in great detail.

Get it on Amazon US.

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Weekend long reads

This is an experimental new feature — every weekend, links to some long articles and essays worth reading. Some of these articles may be behind subscription walls.

1. Sinai: The Buffer Erodes 

Nic Pelham writes for Chatham House on the deterioration of security in Sinai:

For over 30 years, the Sinai peninsula has served as a near-empty territory cushioning the geopolitical aspirations of Egypt, Israel and the Palestinians. With the changes brought about in Egypt by President Hosni Mubarak’s fall from power in 2011, that buffer is in doubt. The state security apparatus that underpinned the Egyptian regime collapsed, creating a vacuum that the territory’s sparse Bedouin population quickly filled with coping mechanisms of its own. Captivated by the prospect of acquiring power, local irregulars reacted fiercely to the regime’s efforts to regain control over its periphery, culminating in the August 2012 operation that targeted an Egyptian base, killing 16 soldiers, and perforated Israel’s border defences at the intersection of its border with Egypt and Gaza. Security officials, police stations, government buildings and Cairo-based institutions have all come under attack. In the eyes of its neighbours, Egypt is losing its grip over Sinai, transforming the peninsula into a theatre for the region’s competing new forces.

2. The Politics of Security Sector Reform in Egypt 

Dan Brumberg and Hesham Sallam, in a report for USIP:

The most pressing priorities for SSR in Egypt entail disengaging military institutions from political and economic activities that are not relevant to their mission of national defense and subjecting these institutions to meaningful oversight by elected civilian bodies, and transforming the police establishment from a coercive apparatus into an accountable, politi- cally neutral organization that upholds the rule of law and protects human rights. These challenges may seem conceptually distinct, but they are interrelated in a broader politi- cal context, in which the military establishment and other entrenched bureaucracies are attempting to limit the scope of institutional reform. Military interest in attenuating civilian control in a post-Mubarak Egypt seems to have deepened its reliance on the coercive capac- ity of the ministry of interior, which has taken the lead in suppressing popular mobilization. Civilian security forces, sometimes in coordination with the military, repeatedly used deadly force in confrontations with protesters calling for ending SCAF’s rule. The intertwining of institutional interests between the military and the police impedes SSR.

On a related note, see this NYT piece by Kareem Fahim on the issue of police reform, and this report by the One World Foundation on the same topic.

 3. The Revenge of the East? 

David Shulman asks some tough questions on Pankaj Mishra's much-praised book From The Ruins of Empire [Amazon US, UK], on Rabindranath Tragore, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Ling Qichao the intellectual roots of "Eastern revival":

Are these men, then, among the major “intellectuals who remade Asia”? One thing is clear: all three are fully modern figures, their consciousness shaped primarily by the terms of the modernist crisis and debate. But can we even speak of a broad “Asian” response to the West and the newfangled technologies and concomitant power equations that the West brought to the East—“printing presses, steamships, railways and machine guns,” as Mishra lists them? Living in Jerusalem and traveling often to India, I find it hard to think of Asia as a cultural unit with any integrity. There is, however, one experience that was indeed shared by the Islamic world, India, China, and Japan in the nineteenth century—that of predatory intrusion and sustained economic violation by the Western powers. The forms this intrusion took varied from place to place, but its traumatic effects were common to all the great Asian states and cultures.

4. Indecision as Strategy 

Adam Shatz reviews Israeli historian Avi Raz's The Bride and the Dowry [Amazon US, UK], a book about post-1967 Israeli strategy in the Israel-Arab conflict which uses new material to argue that "Israel's postwar diplomacy was deliberately ineffective because its leaders preferred land over peace with its neighbors":

The story of Israeli policy in the late 1960s has been told before, by Tom Segev and Gershom Gorenberg among others. But no one has provided as thorough – or as damning – an account as Avi Raz, a former reporter for Ma’ariv who has read every pertinent document in every available archive, in Hebrew, Arabic and English. The Bride and the Dowry is a work of meticulous scholarship, but it is also an angry book, burning with the sort of righteous (and sometimes repetitious) indignation to which native sons are particularly susceptible. It covers only the first 21 months after the 1967 war, but it tells us everything we need to know about Israeli policy during this ‘critical and formative phase’ of the occupation. It also sheds considerable light on Israeli diplomacy today: its resistance to a deal that would allow for genuine Palestinian sovereignty; its belief that the Americans will always come to Israel’s defence, however much they privately object to land grabs; and its use of protracted negotiations as a means of buying time. Raz’s book is about the conquest of time as much as it is about the conquest of territory: the fruitless peace processing of the last two decades is only the latest chapter of his story.

5. Why India’s Newspaper Industry Is Thriving

Ken Auletta writes a fascinating essay on the state of Indian publishing and its advertising-driven editorial practices, with many lessons applicable to developing countries:

While profits have been declining at newspapers in the West, India is one of the few places on earth where newspapers still thrive; in fact, circulation and advertising are rising. In part, this is because many Indian newspapers, following an approach pioneered by the Jain brothers, have been dismantling the wall between the newsroom and the sales department. At the Times of India, for example, celebrities and advertisers pay the paper to have its reporters write advertorials about their brands in its supplementary sections; the newspaper enters into private-treaty agreements with some advertisers, accepting equity in the advertisers’ firms as partial payment. These innovations have boosted the paper’s profits, and are slowly permeating the Indian newspaper industry.

From the ruins of empire

From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia

This book by Pankaj Mishra sounds fascinating. From the blurb:

Tagore, Gandhi, and later Nehru in India; Liang Qichao and Sun Yatsen in China; Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Abdurreshi al Ibrahim in the ruins of the Ottoman Empire—are seen as outriders from the main anticolonial tradition. But Pankaj Mishra shows that it was otherwise in this stereotype-shattering book. His enthralling group portrait of like minds scattered across a vast continent makes clear that modern Asia’s revolt against the West is not the one led by faith-fired terrorists and thwarted peasants but one with deep roots in the work of thinkers who devised a view of life that was neither modern nor antimodern, neither colonialist nor anticolonialist. In broad, deep, dramatic chapters, Mishra tells the stories of these figures, unpacks their philosophies, and reveals their shared goal of a greater Asia.

Book excerpt: Josh Stacher's "Adaptable Autocrats"

One-time contributor to the blog Joshua Stacher recently published his book, Adaptable Autocrats: Regime Power in Egypt and Syria. Since the 2011 uprisings, there has been a debate in Middle Eastern academia as to whether regional specialists focused too much on the persistence of authoritarianism (and power elites in particular) and not enough on the societies (and social movements in particular.) Of course, the two are not mutually exclusive, and the debate has had its ups and down according to what’s in the news. In this book, Josh looks the regime structures as an indication of both regime sustainability and adaptability, and applies this research to how Egypt and Syria handled the uprisings and their aftermath.

Josh writes:

Rather than explain the transition, this book compares how the structure of executive power allows for an authoritarian regime to change its ruling coalition (or not). Thus, it explains why Egypt could rapidly begin a transition while Syria could not. In the case of Egypt, this meant a long-time dictator and the neoliberal team could be removed and replaced by SCAF while “the state” remained in tact. Contrastingly, no such coalitional alterations could be made in Syria and is why its state was drawn into a long conflict with society as a consequence of the challenges posed by popular mobilization. The book does this by comparing institution building during the 1970s as well as examines elite and non-elite politics during the last decade in Egypt and Syria.

We are reprinting below the abstract of the book and an excerpt from its introduction to give readers a sense of the argument.

From the abstract:

The decades-long resilience of Middle Eastern regimes meant that few anticipated the 2011 Arab uprisings. But from the seemingly rapid leadership turnover in Egypt to the protracted stalemates in Yemen and Syria, there remains a common outcome: ongoing control of the ruling regimes. While some analysts and media outlets rush to look for democratic breakthroughs, autocratic continuity—not wide-ranging political change—remains the hallmark of the region’s upheaval.

Contrasting Egypt and Syria, Joshua Stacher examines how executive power is structured in each country and argues these preexisting power configurations shaped the uprisings and, in turn, the outcomes. Presidential power in Egypt was centralized. Even as Mubarak was forced to relinquish the presidency, military generals from the regime were charged with leading the transition. The course of the Syrian uprising reveals a key difference: the decentralized character of Syrian politics. Only time will tell if Asad will survive in office, but for now, the regime continues to unify around him. While debates about election timetables, new laws, and the constitution have come about in Egypt, bloody street confrontations continue to define Syrian politics—the differences in authoritarian rule could not be more stark.

Political structures, elite alliances, state institutions, and governing practices are seldom swept away entirely—even following successful revolutions—so it is vital to examine the various contexts for regime survival. Elections, protests, and political struggles will continue to define the region in the upcoming years. Examining the lead-up to the Egyptian and Syrian uprisings helps us unlock the complexity behind the protests and transitions. Without this understanding, we lack a roadmap to make sense of the Middle East’s most important political moment in decades.

And is an excerpt from the introduction of Adaptable Autocrats:

While there are similarities for why Syrians and Egyptians revolted against their political elites, there seems to be one key difference in why the outcomes varied. In Egypt, power was centralized prior to the uprising. When the protests occurred, the homogeneous character of society helped protesters overcome their previous collective action problems as they put aside their political differences. Their unified mobilizing pressure, combined with a rapid change in the balance of power between the coercive forces and the demonstrators, enabled a dynamic whereby members of the centralized ruling coalition could be and had to be dropped to save the regime. Then, when Mubarak became untenable at the helm, the SCAF could force his departure and slide into the centralized position of authority. While the SCAF was weak initially, it was in a better position to offset the continuous challenges from below.

Syria had no such luck. The heterogeneity of its society made centralized authority a difficult prospect in the early years of state formation. Hafiz al-Asad rectified this with his development of a cross-sectarian decentralized ruling coalition that shares power and works together to keep the state intact. It is an imperfect system, but it has not provided much governing turnover. After the uprising started in Syria, options for a coalition transition did not exist. This reduced the crisis to a question of the regime’s survival. The constituent parts of the regime would either hang together or collapse. In addition to forcing hands of the state elites to deploy repression, it revealed the decentralized and weak character of the state. When the population had to choose between a life in a weak state and no state and rising sectarianism in a diverse society, it chose the former.

To understand how Egypt and Syria emerged from the 2011 uprisings, researchers need to identify and explain how power was configured prior to them. By doing so, we must recognize and analyze the differences of systems that are often grouped together. Although researchers working on the Middle East regularly distinguish between monarchies and republics, scholars of comparative politics have not explored other differences within these categories in an explicit way. Examining the staple textbooks on Middle East politics proves this point. Yet, as the uprisings suggest, authority is structured and operates differently in these cases. This poses an important question: Which autocrats are most successful at adapting their political systems?

By exposing the differences in how autocrats adapt these systems, we gain new perspectives and understandings about regime power in the Middle East. Whether elites like it or not, political change is inescapable. Government officials have vested interests in apprehending and managing this process. As the Cairo bureau chief of the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat explains, “It is in a regime’s interest to change so that it can stay in power. They reform to keep the [political] system going.” Such “reforms” help rulers avoid more radical changes in the future.

This book argues that Arab elites are not initiating reform processes, but rather are engaging in adaptation. Autocratic adaptation helps regime elites maintain their dominant position and hierarchical authority over society. Adaptation can be defined as political change that adjusts a state to changes in its environment (such as a more mobilized, complex society, weakening state economic capabilities, external pressures, and so on) without giving up power or sacrificing the cohesion of elites. Adaptation takes place through controlled openings. Specifically, researchers can see adaptation when new groups are incorporated into the ruling coalition or when previously privileged members are dropped. Co-optation, or the inclusion of new figures and groups, shifts the state’s social base and allows ruling elites to pursue organizational innovations in state institutions. However, adaptation does not mean that incumbent elites seek intentionally to transform or restructure existing relationships between the rulers and the ruled. In examining adaptation, we journey behind the iron curtain to examine the microdynamics of co-optation in such political systems.

Excerpted from Adaptable Autocrats: Regime Power in Egypt and Syria by Joshua Stacher, by permission of the author. © 2012 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. For more information, or to order the book, click here or visit the AUC bookstore. It is also available on Amazon.

Joshua Stacher is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Kent State University. He was recently selected to be a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC during the 2012–2013 academic year. He is a regular contributor to and on the editorial board of MERIP’s Middle East Report.He has made media appearances and written commentary for NPR, CNN, BBC, Al-Jazeera, Foreign Affairs, Jadaliyya, and The Boston Globe, among others. He is also a founding member of the Northeast Ohio Consortium on Middle East Studies. His personal website is here.

New Book: The Journey to Tahrir

A new collection of articles about Egypt that appeared in Middle East Report in the last decade or so is now out. It's edited by Chris Toensing and Jeannie Sowers, and includes a piece by me as well as other blog contributors, friends, and leading Egypt experts (Mona El-Ghobashy, Tim Mitchell, Joel Beinin, etc.). It's a great way to review late Mubarak Egypt and the January 2011 uprising, as well support the excellent MERIP.

Get your copy now.


Suzanne Mubarak's memoirs

I would approach this story with caution – after all it was published in the trashy Rose al-Youssef – but I'd like to confirm some of these tidbits:

In “Egypt’s First Lady: 30 Years on the Throne of Egypt,” to be published this year, Mubarak says that the United States gave her and her family asylum. A special envoy from the United States, she wrote, arrived in Cairo in early February 2011 with all the documents required to have in order to leave Egypt, but her husband refused to leave.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Kuwait gave the Mubarak family the same offer. However, the author adds, all those asylum documents were taken from the family in the Red Sea city of Sharm al-Sheikh on February 11, 2011, the day the president stepped down.

In the memoirs, Mubarak recounts how she had a nervous breakdown when she knew she was to be arrested, which drove her to try to commit suicide through overdosing on sleeping pills.

She was later rescued and her husband conacted several countries and begged many officials to let her stay with him in the hospital. His wish was granted, provided that she does not leave the hospital.

I like the bit where she says her childhood dream was "to become a flight attendant." After all, she was married to a man whose hope for retirement was to run Egypt Air. And also this nugget:

Among the secrets Mubarak reveals in her memoirs is that her husband did not think that he would be able to leave the palace and was almost certain that he would be assassinated. That is why he asked the Presidential Guard not to leave him alone for one minute and even used to let them accompany him to the bathroom.

Update: Reader "S" writes in with a reminder – "AUC Press was on the verge of publishing her memoirs in time for the 2011 Cairo Book Fair and was copy editing them just as the January protests started... "

Liberation Square

Today, Ashraf Khalil's riveting account of the Egyptian uprising, Liberation Square: Inside the Egyptian Revolution and the Rebirth of a Nation, it out! Go ahead and click on that link to buy from Amazon, or rush to your nearest bookstore and demand your copy NOW.

Ashraf — who contributes to our podcast and is an old friend of ours — has really done a great job here. Here's a passage of his experience in the "Battle of the Bridge", at the moment when riot police abandon the fight on January 28, allowing more people to stream into Tahrir Square:

At about four in the afternoon, the phalanx of Central Security troops broke ranks and ran, leaving their paddy wagons behind. For a while it was hard to even grasp what had happened. Protesters gleefully spray-painted slogans on the trucks—some of which still contained terrified Central Security guys.

It was a powerful moment—the exact turning point when the police realized the people weren’t afraid of them and that they were badly outnumbered. There was a surreal interlude while the protesters casually flowed around the remaining pockets of disoriented police on the bridge. A few shell-shocked Central Security troops remained behind, taking shelter inside their trucks. At least one paddy wagon driver was hopelessly and tear- fully pleading with protesters not to trash his truck, saying he would be punished if anything happened to it. (They left him alone but totaled the truck.)

Interior Ministry officers gathered impotently on the small bridge, while the protesters merely ignored them and surged past. I walked past one group of officers hud- dling around a walkie-talkie and heard one of them say, “Nobody’s answering.” In an instant, the fearsome and hated bullies of the Interior Ministry had become pathetic and irrelevant. 

It's shock-full of intimate moments of the uprising like this one. We'll be talking about the book on the next podcast, and you can already read a very positive review on Salon.

Brian Whitakers' books now on Kindle

I'm a big of fan of Brian Whitaker's work at the Guardian (where he was Middle East editor for many years and now edits the Comment is Free part of the website), of his longstanding website al-Bab and have liked his books. They are now available on Kindle, so if you have one take a look at the Amazon links below (both US and UK stores) — or get the dead tree versions.

Unspeakable Love was one of the first looks at LGBT activism in the Middle East, while What's Really Wrong with the Middle East is a bracing critique not just of Middle Eastern politics but also of the social oppression (famiial, religious, etc.) that many face. Great reading for the bigger post-revolutionary picture in many Arab countries. 

Five Books interview

I was recently interviewed by the great website Five Books, about the Arab world and books worth reading about it. I decided to give some broad (and somewhat idiosyncratic) recommendations. It was very difficult to choose what books to talk about, so in the end I went partly with books that give context to the current situation, and partly with very personal choices (and yes I fully expect to be branded an Orientalist for picking the Arabian Nights as my fifth choice, and I don't care — it's my favorite book.)

It made me think that I need to get around to making a longer list about what to read about the Arab world. I'd be interested to hear what readers believe should be included, and in what category (for instance, fiction, politics, history, religion, etc.) Putting together of 100 books might be a fun summer project.  

Review of ElBaradei's "The Age of Deception"

I must have been traveling when it came out, but I have a  review of Mohammed ElBaradei's new book, The Age of Deception, out in The National. The book is entirely about his time at the IAEA, so don't look for commentary on Egyptian politics here, but it does tell us about the man's character. That character has undergone several waves of assassination, from the propaganda of the Mubarak-controlled press in 2010 to those who see ElBaradei as some kind of Trojan horse for secularism post-revolution. Consider the lawyer who is currently trying to strip him of his Egyptian nationality (alongside Gamal Mubarak):

Meanwhile the lawsuit accuses ElBaradei of turning a blind eye to Israel's nuclear weapons during his term as IAEA director. “ElBaradei had a stake in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which makes him unworthy of carrying Egyptian nationality”, it said.

ElBaradei's book is not the most riveting read — at the end of the day, it's a company man's diary — but it certainly puts to rest any notion that ElBaradei did not try to prevent (within his abilities as IAEA chief) the invasion of Iraq and the sexing up of its WMD dossier, or try to broker a negotiated outcome to the Iranian nuclear issue. From the review:

"Early on, I often got the feeling that the Arab world - and many westerners - expected me, as an Egyptian Arab and a Muslim, to show bias in favour of Iraq. Of course, I also heard that I was being tough on Iraq to prove my lack of bias. My only bias was that of an international civil servant: an insistence on independence, professionalism and treating all parties with equal respect."
Although ElBaradei's views are fairly well known among those who followed the last decade of nuclear diplomacy, he reiterates them in this book lest there be any doubt. He was adamantly opposed to the invasion of Iraq even as the agency came under extreme pressure to find evidence of a non-existent nuclear programme. He could not intervene on the matter of Israel's nuclear arsenal because it is not a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, although he raised the issue nonetheless. On Iran, he felt that Tehran was ready to negotiate on its nuclear programme in exchange for economic and political concessions from the West, but that mistrust reigned and the domestic politics of Iran and the United States perpetually vexed a resolution.
In one particularly memorable incident, shortly before he meets the president, George W Bush, Cheney informs him matter-of-factly that if he doesn't lean towards the US position on Iraq, the administration will personally discredit him in the media. Bush comes across as affable but not particularly sharp - in meetings, they talk about baseball. At a later point, ElBaradei states his belief that the former president and his administration should face charges of war crimes at the International Criminal Court and is criminally responsibly for manipulating the WMD dossier to provide a pretext for the war.
Read the rest here.


Yasmine Rashidi's "The Battle for Egypt"

My friend Yasmine Rashidi has chronicled Egypt's revolution for the New York Review of Books. Her writings are now being published in a collected form as a ebook, which you can get from Amazon for Kindle or in various other formats.

Yasmine writes "The book is dedicated to the memory of those who have died in this battle for Egypt, and what proceeds I get from its sales will go to one of the youth-based movements that is working to help build a better, freer, country."

Get your copy now!

New books on Egypt: Alaa Al Aswany and David Sims

Imbaba, an informal neighborhood of Cairo that was agricultural land a few decades ago, seen from the skies.

The National has just run my joint review of two interesting new Egypt books. One is Alaa Al Aswany's On the State of Egypt -- a collection of his newspaper columns from the year and a half or so preceding the revolution, which is a good introduction to both the tenor and substance of many of the big cultural/political debates preceding (and in some cases laying the groundwork for) the uprising.

One of the things about the Egyptian revolution is the way it gave so many -- famous and unknown -- their chance to shine. I open the piece with what I believe was Al Aswany's moment: a now-historic TV debate in March, in which the novelist wiped the floor with then prime minister Ahmad Shafiq (Shafiq resigned the next day). 

The other book I discuss is David Sims' original, measured and hugely informative reference on Cairo, Understanding Cairo: The Logic of a City Out of Control. The book delves into how and why the capital's staggering informal neighborhoods have come into being; into the patronage and speculative networks that explain the city's heedless expansion into the desert; and into the way governance (of traffic systems, municipal authorities) just barely functions in a "minimalist" city in which officials have little independence, authority or accountability. 

Support by getting your copies of these books from

In LRB: Is there a Libya?


I have a new review of the two books above, on Libya's 20th-century history, out in the London Review of Books (subscription). I really recommend both of the books above if you want some background to the ongoing civil war, they're both excellent. Vandewalle focuses on the creation of Libya, in terms of its establishment as a state but also the experimentation Qadhafi conducted. Martinez focuses on the Qadhafi era and provides a condensed overview of the transformation of Libya from a revolutionary state to a mafia state.

Here's an excerpt from the end of the (long) review:

The uprising that began in February was unexpected, but so were the other Arab rebellions, even though there had been indications that a rough patch lay ahead as the question of who would succeed the elderly rulers loomed. These succession crises were only part of the picture, however. Mubarak and Ben-Ali were plainly corrupt; in Libya, Gaddafi’s sons controlled vast chunks of the economy. All three countries were mafia states. Over the last decade, the Libyan regime had held the country together through a combination of sticks and carrots: on the one hand, repression; on the other, the promise of rising oil and gas income as international oil companies returned after the lifting of sanctions and invested in new fields Libya did not possess the technology to tap, as well as the façade of a reform process whereby Saif Gaddafi, the Guide’s second son, promised partial liberalisation in return for an acceptance that he would inherit power. What was in effect being promised was a Libyan adaptation of the market-friendly, pro-Western dynastic authoritarianism evident until now in Egypt and Tunisia. In the end, what undid Gaddafi’s revolution was a wider pan-Arab revolution with which young Arabs across the region instantly identified. This is why diplomatic attempts to guarantee the succession for Saif, as advocated by the African Union and Curt Weldon, a former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania who conducted ‘private diplomacy’ financed by oil lobbyists, have been rejected out of hand by the rebels.

Throughout his 42-year reign, Gaddafi used Libya as a test-case for his ideal of statelessness, based on a mishmash of Marxist ideology, his own peculiar distillation of Islamic history and idealised bedouin values (egalitarianism, self-reliance). Despite his tribal background, there is now, thanks to him, a greater sense of a united Libya than ever existed before. What brought this about was the redistribution of oil income, which in the 1970s and 1980s dramatically increased the living standards of Libyans and made them more dependent on the state, particularly after Gaddafi banned private businesses for more than a decade, a measure that led to the exile of the country’s entrepreneurs and created a deep well of resentment, notably in Benghazi’s merchant class, now strong supporters of the uprising. The growing urbanisation of the country has resulted in the slow decline of tribal and regional identity, while standardised education and globalisation have made the old debate about whether Libya should exist at all obsolete. And yet, as Vandewalle’s history shows, Gaddafi’s fixation on statelessness and the haphazard administration of the country means that state-building has been ‘lopsided and incomplete’.

The question that must now be asked is whether there will be enough centripetal force to keep Libya together. Today, the rebels protest that they have no intention of dividing the country and insist that tribal and provincial considerations are largely irrelevant. But the reality is that their movement is mostly a Cyrenaican one, and that recruitment has taken place largely through tribal affiliation. Beyond a rejection of the Gaddafi regime, the Transitional National Council has given little indication of what its version of a post-Gaddafi Libya might look like. For his part, Gaddafi has rallied loyal tribes around him, and now relies on them for support more publicly than ever. With time, the historical Tripolitanian-Cyrenaican divide could gain new permanence.

FP's new Arab revolutions ebook

Foreign Policy has published a compilation of its recent writing on the uprisings in the Arab world, including two pieces by yours truly (on Omar Suleiman and on Mubarak jokes). You can get it here in PDF or from Amazon for your Kindle (and soon other electronic readers). Full press release after the jump.

Foreign Policy Magazine Publishes eBook on the Arab Revolutions 

Foreign Policy magazine today announced the publication of Revolution in the Arab World: Tunisia, Egypt, and the Unmaking of an Era, an exclusive new ebook that offers an authoritative look at the rapid reordering of the world's most strategic region and the dilemmas it presents for American power - in real time. Revolution in the Arab World is the first major publication on the unrest that has swept across the Middle East and North Africa in recent weeks.


This special report from Foreign Policy, available for download directly on the Foreign Policy website and in the Amazon Kindle bookstore marks a unique effort to understand the upheaval as it's happening, featuring some of the world's leading experts, authors, and journalists offering 217 pages of news, views, and insight into the dramatic events unfolding in the Arab world.


"Publishing this ebook is a great experiment for FP," said Susan Glasser, Foreign Policy's editor in chief. "These new publishing tools give us the chance to produce a book about the revolutionary upheaval in the Middle East -- as it's still unfolding. Whether you read this on the Kindle, the iPad or download it on your computer, we're hoping that Revolution in the Arab World will add valuable context, understanding, and analysis to events as they play out, and we're looking forward to updating the ebook regularly to keep on reflecting them."


The book, edited by Glasser, FP managing editor Blake Hounshell and George Washington University professor Marc Lynch, the co-editor of The Mideast Channel on, includes all-new introductions by Lynch and Hounshell and updated contributions from authors ranging from noted Egyptian writers Issandr El Amrani and Ashraf Khalil to bestselling authors such as Robert Kaplan and leading U.S. policy experts like Aaron David Miller. Over six chapters, the book includes the prescient rumblings of revolution noted by Amrani and other writers in FP over the last year, a dramatic re-telling of the drama in Cairo's Tahrir Square, deeply reported articles on the behind the scenes players who drove the revolutions, and insights on Washington's back-stage drama over how to respond.

"What is the perfect day for Hosni Mubarak? A day when nothing happens." - Egyptian joke, December 2010

"A bunch of incognizant, ineffective young people" - Egyptian Interior Minister Habib al-Adly on the Tahrir Square protesters, Jan. 25, 2011


In just 18 short days, the young protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square upended global politics. Not even three weeks after the peaceful demonstrations began, not even two weeks after pro-government thugs charged into the square on camels and horses to force them out, one of the most entrenched leaders in the Middle East and a longtime U.S. ally, Hosni Mubarak, was gone-and autocratic leaders from Morocco to Bahrain were feeling the heat.


Where did this wave of anger come from? Why did it begin in Tunisia, and what does it mean? FP's special ebook starts with a revelatory first chapter that shows how the revolutionary rumblings were ignored, dating back to Issandr El Amrani's prescient warning to Barack Obama in January 2010: Egypt, he wrote, could be the ticking time bomb that overwhelms your international agenda. The coverage also includes a dramatic day-by-day retelling of the battle for Tahrir Square, insider accounts of Washington's flip-flopping and struggle to keep up with events, and some of the world's leading authors and experts, from James Traub to Gary Sick to Robert D. Kaplan, on where we go from here.

Consider it a guidebook for these revolutionary times.


Chapter One: Rumblings of Revolution The rumblings of revolution in the Arab world were not difficult to hear, fueled as they were by political stagnation, crumbling public services, endemic police brutality, mass unemployment, and a building sense of failure and humiliation. Across the Middle East, populations bulging with restive, angry youth dreaming of better lives were ruled by geriatric tyrants. For years, the only question had been when they would explode, not if.

And yet even those who should have known better refused to acknowledge reality. On Jan. 25, 2011, the day Egypt's revolt began, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, "Our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people"-an assertion that managed to be as politically inastute as it was factually untrue.

Chapter Two: Tunisia: An Unlikely Spark
The Arab revolt began in a place nobody expected: Tunisia, a pleasant Mediterranean enclave long thought to be a model for the rest of the region, where the Islamists were kept out, unemployment was kept down, and test scores were kept up. Sure, President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was brutal, but, unlike his neighbors in Algeria and Libya, he built a functioning education system, a thriving middle class, and a relatively efficient public sector. Wasn't that better than the alternative?

Chapter Three: 18 Days in Cairo
There's a joke that's been making the rounds in Egypt lately, and it goes something like this: Hosni Mubarak meets Anwar Sadat and Gamal Abdel Nasser, two fellow Egyptian presidents, in the afterlife. Mubarak asks Nasser how he ended up there. "Poison," Nasser says. Mubarak then turns to Sadat. "How did you end up here?" he asks. "An assassin's bullet," Sadat says. "What about you?" To which Mubarak replies: "Facebook."

Chapter Four: Revolution Makers
Every uprising has its unheralded heroes, be it the army general who refuses orders to fire on innocent civilians, the broadcaster who denounces his former puppet masters on state television, the musician who pens the anthem that awakens the masses, or the elderly grandmother who stares down the shock troops of the ancien regime and refuses to submit.

But it is the true believers, the visionaries who dare to dream in isolation and bravery of a new order, who make revolutions possible. The Arab world is no different. From youthful Facebook organizers to retired diplomats, crusading journalists to Serbian activists, these revolutions have seen their share of inspiring protagonists. And yet, in this new age of social networks, text-messaging, and satellite television, the Arab revolt is remarkable for its lack of charismatic leaders. In Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen-and wherever the revolution ultimately spreads-previously apolitical young people, not politicians, have so far been leading the way. But to where?


Chapter Five: Barack Obama and the New Mideast In August 2010, months before a streetcar vendor's cri de couer lit the flame of revolution in Tunisia, U.S. President Barack Obama ordered a secret report on the potential for instability in the Arab world. What, he wanted to know, might push these regimes over the edge?

And yet, there were few signs that the Obama administration saw the Arab revolt coming. Not only did the State Department say little at high levels about the grossly rigged Egyptian parliamentary elections of November 2010, but U.S. officials continued to insist-against all evidence to the contrary-that quiet diplomacy was bearing fruit.

And once the first inklings of revolutionary fervor hit the streets of Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, the United States was slow to realize what was happening. At a democracy conference in Doha, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton turned heads merely by pointing out the obvious: that Arab regimes were "sinking into the sand." Still, it was not until Jan. 14, 2011-the day Tunisia's strong-man President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fled to Jeddah-that President Obama issued a statement on the month-long uprising in Tunisia.


Chapter Six: Now What? Revolution and Its Discontents The Arab revolutions are far from over-including those that have already toppled dictators. The mood on the streets is exuberant as a stagnant political order gives way to the first stirrings of liberty and freedom. Yet only two Arab autocrats, Tunisia's Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, have fallen, and the corrupt systems they left behind have not been completely dismantled. Far nastier regimes, with fewer ties to the West, are determined to avoid the same fate. They will be far less reticent to employ deadly force. And by crushing legitimate democratic yearnings, tyrants may be birthing yet more extreme movements in the future.

Then there is the vexing question of just what kinds of governments will replace those regimes that do fall. Will long-suppressed Islamist movements sweep free and fair elections, as many fear? Will labor strikes and other forms of instability make economic recovery impossible, discrediting democracy in the process? And will new strongmen emerge, promising to restore order amid the chaos?



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