Revolution Without Revolutionaries: Making Sense of the Arab Spring

In This Review

Revolution Without Revolutionaries: Making Sense of the Arab Spring
By Asef Bayat
Stanford University Press, 2017
294 pp.

Bayat is an expert on social movements. His book draws intellectual inspiration from the ideologically charged era in his native Iran that preceded the fall of the shah in 1979, a time when anticolonialism, hard-left socialism, and militant Islamism all enjoyed robust support. He laments the fact that the Arab world’s moment of revolt—the uprisings of 2010–11—largely lacked revolutionary ideology. He argues that the dissidents behind the so-called Arab Spring were co-opted and doomed by neoliberalism (the resort to markets to solve distributional issues) and thus wound up producing mere “refolutions,” watered down by reformist impulses and ideas. His exploration of the Arab revolts fails to account for secular dissidents’ inability to organize ahead of elections. He makes much of what he calls “nonmovements”: informal groups on the margins of the political system that he sees as harbingers of the next revolutions. “Revolution occurs when there is no other way out,” he avers. But there always is another way out: exiting the system altogether, which is precisely what many groups have done.

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