In This Review

Roots of the Arab Spring: Contested Authority and Political Change in the Middle East
Roots of the Arab Spring: Contested Authority and Political Change in the Middle East
By Dafna Hochman Rand
University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013, 184 pp

Should Western governments have seen the Arab Spring coming? Rand, who is currently serving on the U.S. National Security Council, carried out the research for this revealing book in Bahrain, Morocco, and Tunisia well before the region was rocked by popular revolts in 2011. She believes the West should have sensed that something was coming, since systemic changes had already been roiling Arab societies for some time. Her explanation acknowledges but does not stress the role of structural factors, such as youth unemployment, in producing the 2011 uprisings. Rather, she focuses on the economic liberalization campaigns that Arab governments launched in the 1990s and early years of this century, in part to placate internal opposition and respond to pressure from the West to reform. But the regimes soon began to reverse those reforms, which they believed had encouraged unwanted dissent. The reversals were meant to stifle opposition but served only to encourage more of it. Through top-down, antidemocratic constitutional and legal maneuvers, Arab regimes sent a message that bargaining for change was futile and so, too, was the quest for incremental reform. For many dissidents, that meant the only hope for change was the fall of the regimes.