Arab Spring Dreams: The Next Generation Speaks Out for Freedom and Justice from North Africa to Iran Paperback – May 8 2012
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“Some of these young writers possess more clarity than all the pundits combined.” ―Times Literary Supplement
“Arab Spring Dreams scratches well beneath the surface of the societies concerned and probes into their psychological and social fabric. And in doing so, it proves that contrary to the claims of so many Arab politicians, not everything that is wrong with the region is someone else's fault.” ―The Telegraph, London
“A slim volume that successfully presents 'treasures, surprises, and rewards.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“The genesis of this lean essay anthology actually preceded the protests in Tunis and Cairo by more than five years…Many of those visions now appear prescient…Arab Spring Dreams is a powerful boost for young people in the Middle East who seek to lift the curtain of obscurantism from a region desperate for daylight.” ―Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs
“. . . Immediate and raw, the essays in this collection provide glimpses of daily life in countries where civil rights do not exist. Though the essay contest seemed like a quixotic gesture at its inception in 2005, it turns out to have been prescient.” ―Publishers Weekly
“You are now holding an exceptional book. It is particularly now when the eyes of the whole world are anxiously set on the Middle East that I am so eagerly looking forward to getting to know the stories which often do not make themselves heard among the brouhaha in the media. The essays collected here are a particularly important testimony and close to my heart as they are written by young courageous people who dare to dream of the things their parents never dreamt of. The book clearly demonstrates that no matter where we live or what religion we follow, certain fundamental values are universal.” ―Lech Walesa, Nobel Peace Prize recipient, and the former President of Poland
“This is a wonderful book, and a stirring testament to the truth that the desire for freedom and democracy transcends the boundaries of nationalities, religion, ethnicity, race and gender.” ―Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran
“For too long, American readers have looked to unreliable intermediaries to learn what's on the minds of the Arab youth. But now two of the most promising young thinkers from the region have offered up a gem, Arab Spring Dreams, giving us access to their generation's most authentic voices. To further their worthy plight for freedom, let us begin by lending an ear to their moving narratives.” ―Roya Hakakian, author of Journey from the Land of No and Assassins of the Turquoise Palace
“These are extraordinary and ordinary stories that underline an immutable truth: people want to live as free beings with dignity and equal rights. This collection of powerful testimonies is gripping, heart-breaking, and inspiring, offering the only antidote to the abyss of a society lacking rule of law: educated hope. These pages reveal that the struggle for civil rights in the Middle East is still ongoing--and will require allies the world over who recognize the universality of the struggle for human rights and the responsibility borne by those of us living in freedom.” ―Thor Halvorssen, President, Human Rights Foundation
“Arab Spring Dreams offers a compelling journey through the hearts, minds and souls of the generation that rocked the world's most repressive region. A first-hand account of the struggle for democracy in the Middle East, and a terrific roller coaster of burning frustrations and passionate aspirations. Buckle up!” ―Ahmed Benchemsi, Stanford University Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law
“Sohrab Ahmari and Nasser Weddady have assembled a chorus of new voices from across the Arab and Iranian Middle East, and all of the voices are young, and all of them are plaintive. Not everyone among the contributors to this anthology sees things the same way, but everyone is filled with yearning for a better future, and the yearning is touching. Will the better future come about? One thing is certain: a better future for the Middle East and for the larger world will come about only if people from different corners of the world do a better job of speaking to one another. Arab Spring Dreams contributes to that noble cause. And Ahmari and Weddady are writers to watch.” ―Paul Berman, author of Terror and Liberalism and The Flight of the Intellectuals
“This book is the essential portrait of a generation, an intimate explanation of the forces and frustrations that are shaping the Middle East. If you care about women's rights, religious freedom, or basic human dignity, then these are stories you need to hear.” ―Lara Setrakian, Foreign Correspondent, ABC News/Bloomberg
About the Author
Nasser Weddady is the Civil Rights Outreach Director of the American Islamic Congress. He helped design and administer the "Dream Deferred" essay contest, and has helped lead several high-profile campaigns to free imprisoned dissidents in North Africa, Egypt, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and beyond.
Sohrab Ahmari is an Iranian-American journalist. His columns, feature stories, and reviews have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, The New Republic, and The Chronicle of Higher Education, among others.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
What I found most compelling about the book was the diversity of the featured essayists, which inevitably leads to a wide variety of experiences and tales that need telling. You have Arabs and Persians, Amazighs and black Africans, Sunnis and Baha'is, artists and writers, the faithful and the inquisitive. The muted voice of the gay Arab population is also well-represented in this anthology, and theirs are among the most poignant stories in the collection.
"Arab Spring Dreams" is, indeed, a brilliantly comprehensive sample of the complex social strata that comprise the Middle East and is a clear window into the minds of its contemporary youth.
All of the essays were written by people in the Middle East and North Africa under the age of 30 and were submitted for the "Dream Deferred Essay Contest on Civil Rights in the Middle East", sponsored by the American Islamic Congress (AIC). The contest is the brainchild of Syrian dissident Ammar Abdulhamid, who lamented that young people were given incentives to radicalize for religious extremists, but that young liberals in that region didn't have the same opportunities to organize. This contest is in part a means to open those avenues.
What unites all of the essays is the recognition of the writers that the world they inhabit is cheating them of something that should be theirs. Some of the essays touch on the larger problems: Female Genital Mutilation, Homophobia and institutionalized Sexism. But the ones that I found particularly touching were about the small, daily grievances. Those of us who can drive may think it's annoying but quaint that women in Saudi Arabia aren't allowed to- until we are told that this often means that boys of 11 or 12 become chauffeurs for the women in their family. For those of us who aren't religious, the differences between Sunni and Shia observance may seem at best academic- until we read how those differences becomes the bases for childhood taunts and adult arrests. And while we may say that the cultural prohibition against marrying before you've achieved financial independence has reasonable economic roots, we might rethink that when we hear about a young couple being threatened with an arrest and then blackmailed into a bribe because they were caught cuddling under a tree.
Some of the essays imagine a future in which someone breaks the status quo- whether of a sexual norm or in defiance of the current political regime- and does so openly. The most hopeful essay of the bunch, perhaps, imagines Egypt in 2013, after a revolution has overthrown the oppressive government. This was written before 2011, and while the narrator is grateful for change- particularly the freedoms of the press and the marketplace- he notes the work that continues to need to be done. The hopeful part is that the narrator is willing to do it, however difficult it is.
The essays aren't clever, and most of them are written simply. It would be impossible to read one and not immediately understand the point the author is trying to make. Any one of them should put to rest the myth that people in this region- or in the Muslim religion- are somehow incapable of appreciating or not ready for liberal democracy. The editors discuss that myth and its origins at length at the end of the book. Anyone who has ever argued that an essential, "authentic", monolithic Islamic character will doom freedom in the region to failure should be given a copy of this book. They also point out that our own civil rights struggles were met with "outsider" objections that efforts in the Middle East and North Africa are meeting with now. Both complaints are just as hollow.
The book is not bitter, and at the end the reader is offered both practical solutions to help and a chance to dream. Read up on the civil rights movements in the region; enter the American half of the Dream Deferred Essay Contest and follow relevant organizations and individuals on social media. Do you want to do more? Start a blog, as Jane Novak did for Yemen. Initiate a dictatorship study so the world won't be caught by surprise at the next revolt. Protest at an embassy. Organize a labor rights campaign in the Middle East for migrant workers, a concert in Benghazi for human rights, a book fair in Damascus (when the civil war is over), or an interfaith conference in Mecca. Or whatever else should be done.
It is safe to say that every government in the world- as well as every foreign policy analyst- was caught off-guard by the Arab Spring. Why should one young Tunisian man's indignation at being slapped by a police officer unleash a storm of protest and topple regimes? Because similar things happen every day to too many people in the region. And the analysts were wrong- people don't accept that, however long it goes on. All of them are waiting for an opportunity to end it.
Lawrence Alschuler, Professor of Political Science