This important collection follows an earlier edited volume that Elbadawi and Makdisi put together prior to the Arab uprisings of 2010–11. That book explored the “democracy deficit” in the Arab world. For decades, the region’s autocracies defied predictions that growing wealth, rising levels of education, and the development of middle classes would lead to democratic transitions. In their contribution to the book, Elbadawi and Makdisi persuasively argued that the deficit derived from a combination of war and the wealth afforded autocrats by natural resources. The uprisings briefly raised the possibility that the deficit would be overcome. But in the eyes of most experts, civil war and the reassertion of autocracy have crushed those hopes (except in Tunisia, where a fragile democracy arose after the upheaval). Nevertheless, in their new volume, Elbadawi and Makdisi conclude that the process of democratic transition that began in 2011 will resume at some point and that Islamist fundamentalism will not emerge as the dominant political paradigm in the medium or long term. The other contributors, all Arab academics, generally make similar arguments in useful sketches of particular countries, including Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria. The trouble is that, outside Tunisia, there is not much empirical evidence to support such optimism.
Get the best of Foreign Affairs' book reviews delivered to you.