Thomas's Reviews > After the Arab Spring: How Islamists Hijacked The Middle East Revolts

After the Arab Spring by John R. Bradley
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Feb 22, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: middle-east, south-asia, politics

The premise of After the Arab Spring is that the West has, overall, grieviously misunderstood the meaning of the movement. Because of language barriers, it has focused on an English-speaking elite that does not represent the vox populi in the region. Bradley's claim is that the Arab Spring is not primarily a pro-Democracy movement, though it's been portrayed that way in the West. He claims it was primarily economic factors that started the "revolution" (namely graft, corruption, nepotism and class-and-ethnicity-polarized economic opportunity). However, according to Bradley the ultra-conservative, Islamist element was far more active than has been seen by the West, largely because those conservative groups know it's far better to keep a low profile and consolidate power behind the scenes. "Behind the scenes," however, is a somewhat ludicrous concept, because the Islamic rhetoric is not behind the scenes at all. It just happens not to be in English.

Bradley's most troubling argument, and the one in which I think he's spot-on, is that ultraconservative religious forces don't need to have their own revolution. Islamic radicals can sit back and wait, and then obtain power through the ballot box. They can do this without having anything close to a majority of the votes; in places like Tunisia and Egypt, the number of citizens registered to vote is shockingly small, when viewed through Western pro-Democracy sentiment. All radicals need to do is get a plurality of a minority.

Sound familiar?

It should; that's exactly what happened in Iran, 1979. Khomeni was not expected to end up on top. He was just smarter than the others. He played the other groups -- moderate Islamic groups, secular pro-Demogratic groups, communists, socialists, and the military all off against each other. In the end, he seized control of Iran without ever having the support of anything close to a majority of the population.

Oh, were you thinking of the U.S.? Yeah, sometimes it seems like if radical right-wing Christians would stop howling for a minute and take the time to study their brothers in the Islamic world, we pro-Democracy types would be even more screwed than we are. Anyway...

I really, really enjoyed Bradley's Inside Egypt and Saudi Arabia Exposed. After the Arab Spring is a little less tight; there's more argumentation and less straightforward information, and I think at times it gets a bit dense. It's an important and illuminating book, but it's not the enjoyable, unendingly-fascinating read that Bradley's books on Egypt and Saudi Arabia were.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Dan (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dan Sirotkin Thanks the recs about Bradley's other books, I loved this one and was looking for more like it. Know any other authors who handle other regions as Bradely does the Middle East?


message 2: by Thomas (last edited Jul 08, 2012 11:22PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Thomas Kyle -- Unfortunately, I don't really know similarly evocative writers about other eras. The closest I know is Dilip Hiro in Central Asia, but he's not nearly as readable as Bradley. Years ago I liked Hiro's Between Marx and Muhammed: The Changing Face of Central Asia which was restructured and released more recently as Inside Central Asia. But Hiro's books don't nearly have the ooomph that Bradley's do. I've looked for a similar writer about Africa and Siberia but haven't found one, really, in a general sense. The Shaman's Coat is about Siberia and is somewhat similar in a sense to Bradley's writing, but again, not quite as engaging as Bradley. For Africa (south of the region Bradley covers), I think it's a mixed bag, and I've mostly enjoyed books about wars -- for instance, Greg Campbell's Blood Diamonds or some of the first-person accounts like A Long Way Gone (about Sierra Leone) and War Child (about Sudan). On my reading list is This House Has Fallen--Midnight in Nigeria, which seems to be a similar exploration of the Nigerian scene.


message 3: by Nikki (new) - added it

Nikki Magennis Thomas, for beautiful writing and a fairly solid recent history of South Africa, try journalist Rian Malan's My Traitor's Heart. One of my favourite books - although I suppose it's not quite as up to date and topical as some of the ones you're naming here. And you'll know Bruce Chatwin already, right? Not so factual, but exemplary detail on a human scale.


message 4: by Dan (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dan Sirotkin Thomas, thanks so much for all the recs!! I just picked up 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus which is proving to be both readable and fascinating, in case you're looking for something about the early Americas.


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