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Capsule Review

The Second Arab Awakening; Will the Middle East Implode?

In This Review

The Second Arab Awakening: And the Battle for Pluralism
The Second Arab Awakening: And the Battle for Pluralism
By Marwan Muasher
Yale University Press, 2014, 232 pp. $30.00 Purchase
Will the Middle East Implode?
Will the Middle East Implode?
By Mohammed Ayoob
Polity, 2014, 208 pp. $12.95 Purchase

These succinct and accessible texts explore the same terrain but use different guideposts. Muasher, a former foreign minister and former deputy prime minister of Jordan, has produced an optimistic liberal manifesto. Ayoob, a political scientist, is more pessimistic and sees looming chaos throughout the region.

The first Arab uprising of the last century, according to Muasher, achieved liberation from colonial rule but did not advance the causes of pluralism and democracy. It is up to the recent Arab uprisings, which he terms “the second Arab awakening,” to advance that agenda. Doing so will take decades, he concedes, but he sees signs of a “third force” emerging that opposes both illiberal political Islam and the authoritarianism of the old order. The fate of pluralism and democracy will rest largely, but not exclusively, in the hands of local actors, rather than outside powers. In contrast, Ayoob attributes far less agency to the people of the Arab world, arguing that the mostly negative interference of outside actors, such as the United States and Russia, has derailed the natural processes of internal evolution. He cites a possible U.S.-Israeli war against Iran and outside meddling in the Arab uprisings in Bahrain, Libya, and Syria as harbingers of a coming implosion. Both agree that political Islam is here to stay, that it must be accommodated, and that it can reconcile itself with democratic governance. Muasher wrote his book before the July 2013 military coup that brought down Egypt’s Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, but he would likely join Ayoob in condemning the plot. Both believe that excluding Islamists from the democratic game will push them toward violence. Both also see the unresolved Arab-Israeli conflict as a major obstacle to any evolution toward pluralism.

Both authors propose partial solutions to the conundrums they describe. Muasher calls for a thorough reform of Arab educational systems, which, he argues, inculcate subservience, intolerance, and uncritical rote learning. He joins Ayoob in calling for a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, although for Ayoob that would entail creating a single democratic state for the Israelis and the Palestinians to share, whereas Muasher supports the idea of two states for two peoples.

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