In This Review

Revolutionary Life: The Everyday of the Arab Spring
Revolutionary Life: The Everyday of the Arab Spring
By Asef Bayat
Harvard University Press, 2021, 336 pp

Bayat, a sociologist and an acute chronicler of everyday life in the Middle East and North Africa, explores the fate of marginalized people in the uprisings of the Arab Spring, particularly in Egypt and Tunisia. He concedes that from a conventional, state-centric perspective, these uprisings failed as revolutions. But he argues that the experience of liberation, brief as it may have been, changed the self-image and, to some degree, the political efficacy of women, young people, workers in the informal economy, and what he labels the “middle-class poor,” the vast numbers of unemployed university graduates. “The rise of a new imaginary . . . , which the new rulers could not simply overlook,” enabled political reform in Morocco; social, cultural, and religious transformation in Saudi Arabia; and perhaps even the prominent role of women in the Egyptian cabinet. The uprisings succeeded indirectly; autocrats co-opted reform to placate the new aspirations and expectations of populations that had tasted freedom and dignity. This is a partial victory, no doubt, but Bayat insists that “the chronicle of the Arab Spring . . . is not simply doom, gloom, and failure.”