“The Middle East looks the way it does because the confluence of uprisings (not revolutions), institutions or the lack of them, and the search for identity and authenticity have conspired to thwart” the region’s dreams of democracy. So argues Cook, a seasoned analyst of the Middle East, in this highly readable, sometimes chatty, and ultimately very pessimistic book. All four of the countries he examines—Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Turkey—have fallen victim to unresolved identity crises and “sticky institutions” that refuse to reform. Even in Tunisia, often held up as the sole success story of the mostly failed Arab revolts of 2010–11, progress has been precarious. The factors that fueled those movements and the large protests that erupted in Istanbul in 2013 will persist for at least a generation. The United States, Cook argues, had little to do with the uprisings and could not have done much to affect their outcomes; it is hubris to think otherwise. But Cook suggests, somewhat forlornly, that Washington can still play the long game, using foreign aid to foster social change that may alter political realities far down the road.
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