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The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation is Changing the Middle East Hardcover – July 1, 2014
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“Engaging, powerful and comprehensive. … [Cole] structures chapters with a handsome amount of narrative, peppering them with stories from his own travels and conversations undertaken in fluent Arabic. …The book feels as indispensable to scholars as it is insightful for a more casual reader.” (Nathan Deuel The Los Angeles Times)
“[A] rousing study of the Arab Spring. … Cole’s deep, nuanced exploration of political and social currents underneath the uprisings shines; he shows Westerners who think the Arab world is divided between corrupt despots and Islamist zealots just how strong and pervasive the tendencies towards liberalism and democracy are.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))
"Paints a nuanced picture of a fascinating generation. . . . The value of the book becomes apparent in the depth it provides to the simplistic, sound bite-ready explanations for the Arab Spring." (William O'Connor The Daily Beast)
“An elegant, carefully delineated synthesis of the complicated, intertwined facets of the Arab uprisings.” (Kirkus)
“Ambitious and largely successful… Cole’s account is rich and textured, and unexpectedly optimistic. Western readers may be surprised by the idealistic liberality and secularism of the young people he profiles. At the same time, Cole doesn’t shy away from the ugliness of his story. … The New Arabs distinguishes itself by presenting a full, rich spectrum of ideas and observations [and] is an indispensable work for the contemporary reader of Middle East history and politics. It grants backstage access to one of the 21st century’s most important social movements and illuminates the motives and methods of the young people who are remaking the region. Our first reaction to dramatic change is usually to oversimplify in order to 'understand.' Cole has the courage to tell a more complicated story, and that makes The New Arabs a vital read.” (James Norton The Christian Science Monitor)
“[The New Arabs] is at its most illuminating when it takes the reader inside the youth movements in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, showing us how activists used technology and social media to amplify their message and connect with like-minded citizens across the region. … Mr. Cole chronicles it in fascinating detail here, recounting the stories of prominent dissidents and their often pioneering use of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and cellphone technology to network and organize.” (Michiko Kakutani The New York Times)
"[Cole's] comprehensive narrative of political events will long serve as a vital resource for those wanting to understand this era." (Lawrence Rosen The Guardian (UK))
About the Author
Juan Cole is Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan. He is the author of Engaging the Muslim World and Napoleon’s Egypt. He has been a regular guest on PBS NewsHour and has also appeared on ABC World News, Nightline, the Today show, Charlie Rose, Anderson Cooper 360, The Rachel Maddow Show, The Colbert Report, Democracy Now!, Al Jazeera America, and many others. He has commented extensively on al-Qaeda and the Taliban, Iraq, the politics of Pakistan and Afghanistan, Syria, and Iranian domestic struggles and foreign affairs. He has a regular column on TruthDig.com. Visit JuanCole.com.
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The chronology of the Arab revolutions, as we commonly know it, began in Tunisia. Ben Ali’s Tunisia was corrupt and repressive. Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire in protest against the regime, sparking a revolution, which, in January 2011, led to Ben Ali’s overthrow, resulting in fundamental social change in this country on the Mediterranean. The political upheaval in Tunisia then inspired revolutions in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria.
This is the shorthand of a much more complex series of events. The story of the Arab revolutions, as delineated in “The New Arabs,” is both longer and more intricate. What began in December 2010 in the Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid did not take place in a vacuum and was preceded by years of organizing, networking, protests- in which the youth played a monumental role. The organizing began primarily in the 2000s. Young people, as Prof. Juan Cole writes, including courageous individuals like Zouhair and his cousin Amira Yahyaoui in Tunisia, for instance, organized online and in person, confronting a police state and risking imprisonment. At the time, the country faced 20-30 % unemployment among educated youth. Simultaneously, organizing was taking place in Egypt, with the April 6 movement, co-led by Ahmed Maher, emerging as crucial in the 2011 revolution. In Libya, the life of dissident Al Ghazal is emblematic. The Libyan youth was very active in the revolution that began on February 17th .
The book details the intricacy of the so-called “sclerotic” police states in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the pervasive cronyism (with the presidential families and their acolytes in the lead), the rampant corruption, the increasing repression and lack of opportunities for the young. These abuses help explain why there were textile worker strikes in El Mahalla El Kubra as early as 2008.
The vivid, multi-level analysis of the pre-revolutionary societies is only the beginning. Professor Cole’s analysis examines the elaborate network of civil society- movements, parties, organizers, bloggers, which disproportionately emerged from the “millennial” generation, and how they made the revolutions possible. The examination of the 2011 revolutions and the rapid change in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, is nuanced and persuasive: how the New Left in the region differs from the Left of the 1950s and 1960s; how the dynamics unfolded in urban and rural areas, etc. The Egyptian revolution (as the other two) is treated in its entirety, not merely examining the events in Cairo’s Tahrir square.
“The New Arabs’” account of the Libyan revolution is also noteworthy. I followed Libya in the media closely in 2011. Unlike many of these descriptions, Prof. Cole brings the events to life with erudition and clarity. As I read the book, I was astounded at the number of towns where direct action occurred. The chapter on Libya even has details on the revenge expulsion of Tawerghans at one point, and on how and why Benghazi and Tripoli had differing dynamics in 2011.
Another of the strengths of the book is the analysis of the post-2011 transitional governments. For example, the explication of the political change in post-Mubarak Egypt is wonderfully elucidating and includes the first parliamentary and presidential elections in that era. Prof. Cole supports his narration by including interviews with activists and delineating the participation of the youth at the ballot box.
There is a sophisticated account of how the Morsi era transpired, as well as the role of the youth, the tensions between millions in the population and the government, and the July 2013 takeover of power by the military. The treatment of Egyptian politics continues into December 2013 and includes the arrest of icon activist and blogger Alaa Abd El-Fattah.
(The actions of Alaa, in my view, are comparable to those of Solzhenitsyn in the USSR).
The account in “The New Arabs” is balanced and not designed to portray details in a rosy light. For example, the 2009 anniversary of the El Mahalla El Kubra strike exposed the limits of youth activism and campaigns. The book makes a case for the Millennials’ tremendous significance- but does so in an honest and equitable way.
The discussion of post-revolutionary Tunisia’s transition success and its political party distinctions is illuminating, especially the comparison of the Renaissance party with Islamist parties elsewhere.
Given my strong interest in the role of women, the attention to and acknowledgement of the participation of women in the revolutions and in the post-revolutionary era, as well as reference to how policy changes (i.e. new constitutions) would impact women especially appealed to me.
The discussion covers Egypt (until December 2013), Tunisia (until January 2014), and Libya (March 2014) in both economic and socio-political terms, and will help you navigate through the barrage of names that have circulated in the political spectrum recently, in the framework of political realities. The conclusion draws parallels among the three cases- making references to revolutions in world history; briefly analyzes Yemen, and draws linkages with other protests in the Middle East and in the West.
“The New Arabs” is an exceptional work on the Arab revolutions and the post-revolutionary transitions, which were disproportionately impacted by the countries’ Millennial generation. It is extremely illuminating and written with great clarity.
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This book was a little dry and a little too detailed.Read more