The Arab Uprising: The Unfinished Revolutions of the New Middle East, by Marc Lynch. New York: Public Affairs, 2012. 269 pages. $26.99.
Reviewed by Curtis R. Ryan
Five years before the events of the "Arab Spring," a term that many credit to author Marc Lynch, the same author had written a prescient book titled Voices of the New Arab Public. Lynch had argued that youth activists, social media, and satellite television such as Al Jazeera were changing the region. In the years that followed, his arguments have been proven correct several times over. Now, drawing on extensive field work and personal connections that range from journalists and revolutionary activists to Arab and US government officials, Lynch has written a comprehensive account of the Arab revolutions.
The Arab Uprising is a superb book. If you are able to read only one account of the Arab Spring, this should be it. It is a highly readable narrative of the unfolding of these events, with appropriate historical background and context. Yet it is also a rich analysis that nonetheless manages to avoid social science jargon. It is written in an accessible way, of interest not only to scholars and policy-makers, but also to a much broader audience, including the general public. Lynch at times switches to writing in the first person, for good reason, since he is able to relate specific personal conversations with key figures from Tahrir Square to the White House.
Lynch notes that the roots of the revolutions run deeper than any single event (such as the death of Tunisian vendor Muhammad Boazizi), and that political mobilization and social protests are not in any way new to the region. The revolutions were not caused by Facebook, Twitter, or Al Jazeera; yet these media forms did contribute to a broader awareness across the Arab world of otherwise distant regional events, and they have - for several years - created a new and more inter-connected Arab public sphere in which activists and regimes pay close attention to the tactics, strategies, and fates of their counterparts throughout the Arab world.
In delving into the roots of the uprisings, Lynch examines the Arab Cold War of the 1950s and 1960s, an era associated largely with Nasser and the struggles between revolutionary pan-Arab regimes and conservative pro-Western monarchies. The years 2011 and 2012, in short, were not the first time that the region was embroiled in mass mobilizations, regime change, ideological conflict, and inter-Arab rivalries. Understanding this period is crucial, since modern Arab politics is in large part "based on the repressive, authoritarian state structures that developed in response to the turbulence of the Arab Cold War" (p. 30).
Lynch then moves on to examine other rounds of activism over the years: bread riots and anti-austerity protests of the 1980s, defensive democratization efforts in the 1990s, and finally what he calls the "Kefaya wave" of protests in the early 2000s (p. 56). The latter wave centered on the efforts of Egyptian activists to prevent a dynastic succession from Husni Mubarak to his son, Gamal. …