The Second Arab Awakening: Revolution, Democracy, and the Islamist Challenge From Tunis to Damascus
By Adeed Dawisha
W. W. Norton & Company, 2013, 288 pp.
Dawisha is an experienced and prolific historian of the contemporary Arab world. It is puzzling, therefore, that his insights do not come through clearly in this chronicle of the recent Arab uprisings and their aftermath. His ideas are not based on firsthand observations, so any distinctive value added must come from interpretation. But aside from a brief salute to Hannah Arendt’s theory of revolution, there is no attempt to situate the uprisings in a comparative context. Dawisha does rehearse the history of the first Arab “awakening,” which came in the 1950s and 1960s and led to the nationalist-populist military regimes in Egypt, Iraq, Syria, and other countries in the region. These were uniformly authoritarian, bent on liberating their societies from colonialism but consistently hostile to democratic practice. They yielded the deep slumber of Libya under Muammar al-Qaddafi, Syria under the Assad family, Egypt under Hosni Mubarak, and Tunisia under Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, from which Arab society is now awakening. Curiously, Dawisha makes no reference to George Antonius, whose classic 1938 book, The Arab Awakening, analyzed an even earlier transformation that took place in the region, during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Nonetheless, this is a useful and simple primer on the uprisings, stronger on their aftermath than on their causes.