The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation is Changing the Middle East Hardcover – Jul 1 2014
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“Engaging, powerful and comprehensive. … [Cole] structures chapters with a handsome amount of narrative, peppering them with stories from his own travels and conversations undertaken in fluent Arabic. …The book feels as indispensable to scholars as it is insightful for a more casual reader.” (Nathan Deuel The Los Angeles Times)
“[A] rousing study of the Arab Spring. … Cole’s deep, nuanced exploration of political and social currents underneath the uprisings shines; he shows Westerners who think the Arab world is divided between corrupt despots and Islamist zealots just how strong and pervasive the tendencies towards liberalism and democracy are.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))
"Paints a nuanced picture of a fascinating generation. . . . The value of the book becomes apparent in the depth it provides to the simplistic, sound bite-ready explanations for the Arab Spring." (William O'Connor The Daily Beast)
“An elegant, carefully delineated synthesis of the complicated, intertwined facets of the Arab uprisings.” (Kirkus)
“Ambitious and largely successful… Cole’s account is rich and textured, and unexpectedly optimistic. Western readers may be surprised by the idealistic liberality and secularism of the young people he profiles. At the same time, Cole doesn’t shy away from the ugliness of his story. … The New Arabs distinguishes itself by presenting a full, rich spectrum of ideas and observations [and] is an indispensable work for the contemporary reader of Middle East history and politics. It grants backstage access to one of the 21st century’s most important social movements and illuminates the motives and methods of the young people who are remaking the region. Our first reaction to dramatic change is usually to oversimplify in order to 'understand.' Cole has the courage to tell a more complicated story, and that makes The New Arabs a vital read.” (James Norton The Christian Science Monitor)
“[The New Arabs] is at its most illuminating when it takes the reader inside the youth movements in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, showing us how activists used technology and social media to amplify their message and connect with like-minded citizens across the region. … Mr. Cole chronicles it in fascinating detail here, recounting the stories of prominent dissidents and their often pioneering use of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and cellphone technology to network and organize.” (Michiko Kakutani The New York Times)
"[Cole's] comprehensive narrative of political events will long serve as a vital resource for those wanting to understand this era." (Lawrence Rosen The Guardian (UK))
About the Author
Juan Cole is Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan. He is the author of Engaging the Muslim World and Napoleon’s Egypt. He has been a regular guest on PBS NewsHour and has also appeared on ABC World News, Nightline, the Today show, Charlie Rose, Anderson Cooper 360, The Rachel Maddow Show, The Colbert Report, Democracy Now!, Al Jazeera America, and many others. He has commented extensively on al-Qaeda and the Taliban, Iraq, the politics of Pakistan and Afghanistan, Syria, and Iranian domestic struggles and foreign affairs. He has a regular column on TruthDig.com. Visit JuanCole.com.See all Product Description
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The chronology of the Arab revolutions, as we commonly know it, began in Tunisia. Ben Ali’s Tunisia was corrupt and repressive. Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire in protest against the regime, sparking a revolution, which, in January 2011, led to Ben Ali’s overthrow, resulting in fundamental social change in this country on the Mediterranean. The political upheaval in Tunisia then inspired revolutions in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria.
This is the shorthand of a much more complex series of events. The story of the Arab revolutions, as delineated in “The New Arabs,” is both longer and more intricate. What began in December 2010 in the Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid did not take place in a vacuum and was preceded by years of organizing, networking, protests- in which the youth played a monumental role. The organizing began primarily in the 2000s. Young people, as Prof. Juan Cole writes, including courageous individuals like Zouhair and his cousin Amira Yahyaoui in Tunisia, for instance, organized online and in person, confronting a police state and risking imprisonment. At the time, the country faced 20-30 % unemployment among educated youth. Simultaneously, organizing was taking place in Egypt, with the April 6 movement, co-led by Ahmed Maher, emerging as crucial in the 2011 revolution. In Libya, the life of dissident Al Ghazal is emblematic. The Libyan youth was very active in the revolution that began on February 17th .
The book details the intricacy of the so-called “sclerotic” police states in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the pervasive cronyism (with the presidential families and their acolytes in the lead), the rampant corruption, the increasing repression and lack of opportunities for the young. These abuses help explain why there were textile worker strikes in El Mahalla El Kubra as early as 2008.
The vivid, multi-level analysis of the pre-revolutionary societies is only the beginning. Professor Cole’s analysis examines the elaborate network of civil society- movements, parties, organizers, bloggers, which disproportionately emerged from the “millennial” generation, and how they made the revolutions possible. The examination of the 2011 revolutions and the rapid change in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, is nuanced and persuasive: how the New Left in the region differs from the Left of the 1950s and 1960s; how the dynamics unfolded in urban and rural areas, etc. The Egyptian revolution (as the other two) is treated in its entirety, not merely examining the events in Cairo’s Tahrir square.
“The New Arabs’” account of the Libyan revolution is also noteworthy. I followed Libya in the media closely in 2011. Unlike many of these descriptions, Prof. Cole brings the events to life with erudition and clarity. As I read the book, I was astounded at the number of towns where direct action occurred. The chapter on Libya even has details on the revenge expulsion of Tawerghans at one point, and on how and why Benghazi and Tripoli had differing dynamics in 2011.
Another of the strengths of the book is the analysis of the post-2011 transitional governments. For example, the explication of the political change in post-Mubarak Egypt is wonderfully elucidating and includes the first parliamentary and presidential elections in that era. Prof. Cole supports his narration by including interviews with activists and delineating the participation of the youth at the ballot box.
There is a sophisticated account of how the Morsi era transpired, as well as the role of the youth, the tensions between millions in the population and the government, and the July 2013 takeover of power by the military. The treatment of Egyptian politics continues into December 2013 and includes the arrest of icon activist and blogger Alaa Abd El-Fattah.
(The actions of Alaa, in my view, are comparable to those of Solzhenitsyn in the USSR).
The account in “The New Arabs” is balanced and not designed to portray details in a rosy light. For example, the 2009 anniversary of the El Mahalla El Kubra strike exposed the limits of youth activism and campaigns. The book makes a case for the Millennials’ tremendous significance- but does so in an honest and equitable way.
The discussion of post-revolutionary Tunisia’s transition success and its political party distinctions is illuminating, especially the comparison of the Renaissance party with Islamist parties elsewhere.
Given my strong interest in the role of women, the attention to and acknowledgement of the participation of women in the revolutions and in the post-revolutionary era, as well as reference to how policy changes (i.e. new constitutions) would impact women especially appealed to me.
The discussion covers Egypt (until December 2013), Tunisia (until January 2014), and Libya (March 2014) in both economic and socio-political terms, and will help you navigate through the barrage of names that have circulated in the political spectrum recently, in the framework of political realities. The conclusion draws parallels among the three cases- making references to revolutions in world history; briefly analyzes Yemen, and draws linkages with other protests in the Middle East and in the West.
“The New Arabs” is an exceptional work on the Arab revolutions and the post-revolutionary transitions, which were disproportionately impacted by the countries’ Millennial generation. It is extremely illuminating and written with great clarity.
Cole describes the problems faced by Mubarak's dictatorship as it tried to maintain itself in power. One problem was economic stagnation. High unemployment and stagnant wages were particularly prevalent in state owned enterprises like the textile factory employing workers in the city of El Mahalla El-Kubra. Mubarak and his National Democratic Party(NDP) tightly controlled access to the wealth of the country, especially through the neoliberal privatization schemes that enriched persons with close ties to Mubarak and his party. A small parasitical coterie gathered around Mubarak's playboy son (and designated successor) Gamal enriched themselves at the expense of everyone else. A huge proportion of the population was below the age of 30 and these youth faced bleak economic prospects. Many of them were educated but also unable to find work. They were unable to access Mubarak's patronage network. These youth grew increasingly restless under Mubarak's corruption and repression. Cole describes the experiences of youth activists seeking to use social media, cell phone and satellite TV to connect with one another and to alert the rest of the world to their cause. Activists used Youtube and blogs to show footage of or tell stories of major human rights abuses. The Mubarak regime, of course, frequently repressed these peaceful activists, who commonly received physical violence as punishment while in custody. Cole writes that US ambassador Margaret Scobey observed the trials of dissidents and tried to help. But, according to one of the Wikileaks diplomatic cables quoted by Cole, prominent dissident Ahmed Maher upbraided the US for more or less endorsing Mubarak's regime, whatever occasional tears it shed over Mubarak's police state. Cole notes that Joe Biden declared at the beginning of the Egyptian revolution that he didn't regard Mubarak as a dictator. Cole also might have mentioned Hillary Clinton's statement that the Mubaraks were friends of her family as well as Obama's statement that he wouldn't call Saudi King Abdullah or Mubarak dictators because he dosen't like to use labels for people.
As for Tunisia under Zine El Albadine Ben Ali, it was perhaps even more violently repressive than Egypt under Mubarak. As under Mubarak, Cole shows how young people took the lead in utilizing social media to mobilize against repression of dissent, police violence, corruption, lack of independent media, lack of an independent judiciary, etc. A division of the secret police, Ammar 404, monitored internet usage by the country's citizens and regularly attempted to repress web pages used to express anti-regime sentiments.
Both Tunisia and Egypt had strong Islamic parties waiting to seize opportunities resulting from Mubarak and Ben Ali's downfall. The Renaissance Party in Tunisia and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt were able to exert strong influence in the post-regime governments. Cole describes the complicated series of constitutional assemblies and parliaments that took shape in both countries. In Egypt, Cole notes that in the presidential elections in the first round in 2012, non-fundamentalist candidates won the vast majority of the votes. But in the second round, the choice was between the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi and an old Mubarak regime official, Ahmed Shafiq. Morsi was chosen probably as the lesser evil to the old regime hack.
Meanwhile the youth of Egypt and Tunisia continued to struggle against old regime elements that sought to reassert their power. This was especially the case with Egypt where the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) succeeded Mubarak as Egypt's rulers, used some of the regime's old repressive tools and attempted to re-empower the military as Egypt's dominant player. Then the Muslim Brotherhood assumed the reins of government and the youth also struggled against the Brotherhood's authoritarianism. Finally Morsi's defense minister Major General Abdel Fattah Al Sisi rode the wave of the anti-Brotherhood protests and seized power in a July 2013 coup.
With Libya, he first describes the genesis and evolution of the Qaddafi regime. He describes the regime as hugely thuggish and corrupt. There is no reason to doubt him on that score. Unlike myself Dr. Cole was an enthusiast for NATO's bombing of Libya, though I personally was not. In this book he notes that he shared the fears of other bombing supporters that if Qaddafi's forces retook Benghazi, there would be a massacre of many tens of thousands. Certainly it is far from unimaginable that such a massacre would have taken place but it is hard to prove conclusively. What about other cities that Qaddafi's forces recaptured? In the re-conquest of these cities, I see no evidence of the epic slaughter predicted by the war's supporters with regard to Benghazi. At one point Cole points to the mass killings engaged in by Syria's Assad as proof of the killing Qaddafi would do, which seems to me to be a poor argument. Qaddafi's forces undoubtedly engaged in massacres and major human rights abuses. However, the reports at the beginning of the conflict of massive murders of civilian turned out to be significantly exaggerated. I don't think it's outrageous to argue that NATO's intervention made Libya worse in many ways than it was before. I also don't think it is outrageous to suggest imperialistic objectives behind the intervention though Cole assures us that there is no evidence that Libyan oil contracts were a motive for the intervention. Cole argues that if the NATO states were really concerned about Libyan oil, they would have kept Qaddafi in power because they already had contracts in place with him to exploit the resource.
There are times in the book where I fear that he takes an excessively rosy view of post-Qaddafi Libya, ridden as it is by thuggish militias. It may be true that Libya is worse now than it was when Cole was writing this book last year but I still fear his portrayal of the country is excessively optimistic. Regarding the ethnic cleansing of Tawergha, wasn't it true that the atrocities in Misrata for which the cleansing of Tawergha was "revenge" were committed by a relative handful of Tawergha's residents? I think Cole should have made this more clearer. Practically all of Tawergha's 30,000 inhabitants were ethnically cleansed as part of what Cole calls a "terrible revenge.". Cole mentions that Misrata residents that he talked to were upset that the international community seemed more sympathetic to residents of the town that victimized them (Tawergha) than themselves. Cole does not mention the strong expressions of racism towards Tawergha residents on the part of the ethnically cleansing Misrata militiamen.
The Al Sisi dictatorship established in Egypt in July 2013 has been violently oppressive almost in the style of Pinochet. Cole doesn't say much about it but that is perhaps because the regime came to power not long before this book was submitted for publication.
Cole presents a personal travelogue through the upheavals that began in late 2010 by way of leading "millennial" figures with a focus on "Internet activism" and social media. His thesis is that the youth, along with an amorphous "New Left," led the way during these uprisings and that together they forever changed the Arab and Muslim worlds, a dubious assessment.
Cole's first failing is through his highly selective approach to social media, quoting Facebook posts, blogs, and tweets he finds informative. But rather than take a quantitative approach that would actually measure large-scale social and intellectual trends, his method is traditional and impressionistic. Relying on informants and observations during his travels in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, he focuses on select individuals whom he believes important, whether or not they represent anything or anyone beyond themselves.
Second, Cole latches onto the term "millennial," using it to describe a progressive, social media savvy generation dissatisfied with the stagnant status quo of republics and military states. But the media savvy youth of the uprisings were not exclusively liberal. Nowhere does Cole take the religious right seriously—in its hard form (Muslim Brotherhood) or harsher strains (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [ISIS], etc.)—nor does he emphasize that the Brotherhood, for example, made extensive use of the Internet for their own, exceedingly illiberal purposes throughout this chaotic period. Social media goes on, but now it is ISIS tweeting its latest crucifixions and mass executions.
Third, he seems unaware that the military and the religious right, which have cracked down on Internet freedom and punished critics severely, are ascendant today. As for the liberal-minded youth who flocked to Tahrir Square and other confrontations, their disappointment is palpable and justified, but it is unclear when, how, or if they will reemerge as a meaningful social force.
The historical moment Cole attempts to describe has passed; the millennial generation he hoped would change the Middle East, if it ever truly existed, is numbed and in retreat. Alas, he seems oblivious to both these facts.