Islam and the Arab Awakening

Islam and the Arab Awakening

Islam and the Arab Awakening

Islam and the Arab Awakening


One of the most important developments in the modern history of the Middle East, the so-called Arab Spring began in Tunisia in December 2010, bringing down dictators, sparking a civil war in Libya, and igniting a bloody uprising in Syria. Its long-term repercussions in Egypt and elsewhere remain unclear. Now one of the world's leading Islamic thinkers examines and explains it, in this searching, provocative, and necessary book.

Time Magazinenamed Tariq Ramadan one of the most important innovators of the twenty-first century. A Muslim intellectual and prolific author, he has won global renown for his reflections on Islam and the contemporary challenges in both the Muslim majority societies and the West. In Islam and the Arab Awakening, he explores the uprisings, offering rare insight into their origin, significance, and possible futures. As early as 2003, he writes, there had been talk of democratization in the Middle East and North Africa. The U.S. government and private organizations set up networks and provided training for young leaders, especially in the use of the Internet and social media, and the West abandoned its unconditional support of authoritarian governments. But the West did not create the uprisings. Indeed, one lesson Ramadan presents is that these mass movements and their consequences cannot be totally controlled. Something irreversible has taken place: dictators have been overthrown without weapons. But, he writes, democratic processes are only beginning to emerge, and unanswered questions remain. What role will religion play? How should Islamic principles and goals be rethought? Can a sterile, polarizing debate between Islamism and secularism be avoided?

Avoiding both naive confidence and conspiratorial paranoia, Ramadan voices a tentative optimism. If a true civil society can be established, he argues, this moment's fragile hope will live.


Analysis in the heat of the action is never easy, especially as events unfold and their causes—and the future itself—remain clouded with uncertainty.

This book makes no claim to reveal secrets, to unveil what may be strategic goals, and even less to predict the future. To do so would be madness, a combination of presumption and vanity. It would also be futile. Today, as terms like “Arab Spring,” “revolutions,” and “upheavals” are thrown about to describe what has happened across the Middle East and North Africa, I seek only to reexamine the facts, study the realities, and suggest some lessons, not only for the Arab world and the Muslim majority countries, but also for observers of these startling and unexpected developments.

What really happened in Tunisia and in Egypt? “What is happening in the broader region that makes up mena (Middle East and North Africa)? Why now? These are the first questions that spring to mind. To answer them we must submit the recent past and the personalities involved to fresh scrutiny and evaluate the available political, geopolitical, and economic data. Only a holistic reading that encompasses these three dimensions can provide the keys needed for us to begin to understand what lies ahead. As huge shock waves shake the Arab countries, such an approach is essential if we are to make sense of the issues, if we are join hands with those societies in their march toward freedom, democracy, and economic autonomy.

As vital as it appears to give the Arab uprisings a name, we should be cautious about rushing to define them. Not knowing exactly what the components of these nonviolent, transnational mass movements are, we know even less about their eventual outcome. Like people around the world, I rejoiced at the fall of the dictators and their regimes. But after a close analysis of the facts and the objective data available, I prefer to take a position of cautious, lucid optimism. Recent history has by no means yielded all its secrets; the analysis I offer in this volume will most certainly have to be revised, refined, and perhaps challenged.

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