Arab Spring: Reflections on Political Changes in the Arab World and its Future

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By: Anwar Alam, Editor

Delhi, India: New Century Publications, 2014. 433 pp. $87.50 ISBN: 978-8177083958.

Volume: 2 Issue: 12

December 2014

Review by:

Issa J. Boullata, PhD

McGill University

Montreal, QC, Canada

Most of the nineteen chapters of this book were originally papers read at an international conference held February 15-17, 2012 at Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi, India, and organized by the Center for West Asian Studies, then edited for this volume; some other chapters were later added to complete the plan of the book.

It begins with a magisterial Introduction by Anwar Alam entitled “Making Sense of Arab Spring,” followed by an essay by M. K. Bhadrakumar entitled “Arab Spring is in Great Distress,” which could have been better placed at the end of the book as an Afterword. The nineteen chapters come next and are neatly divided into five thematic parts. Their authors deal with various aspects of the Arab Spring, including the social and political forces that led to it; and they examine the contending ideas that eventually brought it about in various forms in different Arab countries.

Western colonialism had been ousted from the Arab world for some time before the Arab Spring, but it had been replaced by indigenous autocratic and authoritarian rule. Democracy, freedom, individual dignity, and fulfillment of aspirations were still a far cry when, on 17 December 2010, the self-immolation of a fruit vendor, Mohammed Bouazizi, happened in Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia in an exasperated protest against authorities harassing him. This simple but horrible act heralded what came to be called “the Arab Spring,” for it was followed by riots and a revolt that brought down the Tunisian government structure in favor of democratic principles. It was succeeded by similar and mostly spontaneous riots and revolts in Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and other Arab countries and, likewise, it prompted democratic change and promises of better life conditions.

It is not only the details and results of how, for example, Gaddafi was removed from power and killed by the people in Libya, or how Hosni Mubarak was deposed, imprisoned, and brought to trial in Egypt that are interesting, but also larger issues like the place of Islam in the Arab Spring (Part 4) or the responses of the international community to it (Part 5).

Regarding the place of Islam in the Arab Spring, Shajahan Madampat’s article, “Islamism and Democracy: Between Tactical and Pragmatic Imperatives and Doctrinal Inflexibility,” argues that Islamism contravenes the idea of equal citizenship irrespective of religious affiliation and says that an Islamic state contradicts the essential elements of democracy, based as it is on the idea of the Muslim majority coming to power without internalizing democratic values, including secularism in public life. Democracy would necessitate doctrinal flexibility and tactical pragmatism in the political give-and-take of governance. It is not that Islam is anti-democratic but it is theideological construction of Islam — or Islamism — that is undemocratic.

As demonstrated in this book, the Arab Spring succeeded in bringing about certain democratic changes in the Arab world, but not all that the Arab people wanted; nor was it similar in all Arab countries — in some, its successes were muted or followed by dissensions. Institutional transformations and stability are bound to eventually emerge, and this book helps in understanding what is happening and what may still be expected to happen.

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