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False Dawn: Protest, Democracy, and Violence in the New Middle East

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Nearly half a decade after Arabs poured into the streets to demand change, hope that the Middle Eastern version of people power would augur democratic change has disappeared in a maelstrom of violence and renewed state repression. Egypt remains an authoritarian state, Syria and Yemen are experiencing civil wars, Libya has descended into anarchy, the self-declared Islamic S Nearly half a decade after Arabs poured into the streets to demand change, hope that the Middle Eastern version of people power would augur democratic change has disappeared in a maelstrom of violence and renewed state repression. Egypt remains an authoritarian state, Syria and Yemen are experiencing civil wars, Libya has descended into anarchy, the self-declared Islamic State rules a large chunk of territory, and Tunisia, while enjoying some progress, is plagued by violent Islamism that may yet unravel the reforms of 2011. And Turkey, a candidate for EU membership, which was supposed to be a "model" for its Arab neighbors looks less like a European democracy than a Middle Eastern autocracy. How did things go so wrong so quickly across a wide range of regimes? In Thwarted Dreams, noted Middle East regional expert Steven A. Cook offers a sweeping narrative account of the past five years, moving from Tunisia and Egypt to Libya to Turkey and beyond, yet also offers a powerful analysis of why the Arab Spring failed. In truth, there were no revolutions in the Middle East five years ago, but what was left behind after dictators were chased from power has had profound effects on the politics and economics of the region. The Egyptian political system may be in the hands of its new leader, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, but it very much remains Mubarak's Egypt. Even in Tunisia, the one supposed "success" of the Arab Spring, defenders of the old regime have come to power and used the institutions of the state to damage the prospects for a genuine transition to democracy. The one state that came closest to a revolution, Libya, has fragmented. Turkey's allure and the lessons it once may have provided to Arab liberals and Islamists alike have disappeared as Turkish leaders have resorted increasingly to authoritarian tactics to maintain their rule. After taking stock of how and why the uprisings failed to become revolutions, Cook considers the role of the United States in the region. What Washington cannot do, Cook argues, is shape the politics of the Middle East going forward. While many in the policymaking community believe that the United States must "get the Middle East right," American influence is actually quite limited; the future of the region lies in the hands of the people who live there. Authoritative, powerfully argued, and featuring a crisp narrative approach, Thwarted Dreams promises to be a major work on one of the most important historical events of the past quarter century.


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Nearly half a decade after Arabs poured into the streets to demand change, hope that the Middle Eastern version of people power would augur democratic change has disappeared in a maelstrom of violence and renewed state repression. Egypt remains an authoritarian state, Syria and Yemen are experiencing civil wars, Libya has descended into anarchy, the self-declared Islamic S Nearly half a decade after Arabs poured into the streets to demand change, hope that the Middle Eastern version of people power would augur democratic change has disappeared in a maelstrom of violence and renewed state repression. Egypt remains an authoritarian state, Syria and Yemen are experiencing civil wars, Libya has descended into anarchy, the self-declared Islamic State rules a large chunk of territory, and Tunisia, while enjoying some progress, is plagued by violent Islamism that may yet unravel the reforms of 2011. And Turkey, a candidate for EU membership, which was supposed to be a "model" for its Arab neighbors looks less like a European democracy than a Middle Eastern autocracy. How did things go so wrong so quickly across a wide range of regimes? In Thwarted Dreams, noted Middle East regional expert Steven A. Cook offers a sweeping narrative account of the past five years, moving from Tunisia and Egypt to Libya to Turkey and beyond, yet also offers a powerful analysis of why the Arab Spring failed. In truth, there were no revolutions in the Middle East five years ago, but what was left behind after dictators were chased from power has had profound effects on the politics and economics of the region. The Egyptian political system may be in the hands of its new leader, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, but it very much remains Mubarak's Egypt. Even in Tunisia, the one supposed "success" of the Arab Spring, defenders of the old regime have come to power and used the institutions of the state to damage the prospects for a genuine transition to democracy. The one state that came closest to a revolution, Libya, has fragmented. Turkey's allure and the lessons it once may have provided to Arab liberals and Islamists alike have disappeared as Turkish leaders have resorted increasingly to authoritarian tactics to maintain their rule. After taking stock of how and why the uprisings failed to become revolutions, Cook considers the role of the United States in the region. What Washington cannot do, Cook argues, is shape the politics of the Middle East going forward. While many in the policymaking community believe that the United States must "get the Middle East right," American influence is actually quite limited; the future of the region lies in the hands of the people who live there. Authoritative, powerfully argued, and featuring a crisp narrative approach, Thwarted Dreams promises to be a major work on one of the most important historical events of the past quarter century.

30 review for False Dawn: Protest, Democracy, and Violence in the New Middle East

  1. 4 out of 5

    Rhuff

    Steven A. Cook has produced an informative, realistic, and necessary autopsy of the Middle East "democracy movement" of the 2010s and its resultant constipation. From a US Council on Foreign Relations wonk one would expect nothing less, yet for this reason it suffers institutional blinkers of its own. Its breakdown on Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey and Libya is excellent; but Turkey, of course, is not Arab and is technically not part of the Arab Spring. It has, however, been Cook's area of specialty bef Steven A. Cook has produced an informative, realistic, and necessary autopsy of the Middle East "democracy movement" of the 2010s and its resultant constipation. From a US Council on Foreign Relations wonk one would expect nothing less, yet for this reason it suffers institutional blinkers of its own. Its breakdown on Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey and Libya is excellent; but Turkey, of course, is not Arab and is technically not part of the Arab Spring. It has, however, been Cook's area of specialty before 2011, hence the book's subtitle as "the New Middle East" beyond the Arab bloc. These particular states, because of their Western involvement, are the most accessible to Western scholars. But this creates a black hole in the narrative as it's left out Morocco, Yemen, and Syria, where the story is much messier and can't be pinned on institutional deadweight. I also believe his disavowal of US influence is disingenuous. At first it seems modest and realistic; but in looking at the American involvement in Egypt over four decades, of NATO in Turkey, of the US/NATO bombing of Libya that played the decisive role in toppling Qaddafi - with the US occupation of Iraq and the semi-covert intervention in Syria - the US hand is a heavy one, for better or worse. It's certain that the US did not like Morsi of Egypt any more than local opposition: removing him pleased not only Egyptian secular "democrats" and the military but the Beltway too. Libya is just an Iraq rerun, what the latter would have become without US boots filling the vacuum. My main criticism, though, is his application of his "institutional" analysis. Cook tells us that entrenched interests of private elites, military officers, clergy, etc., can shape public discourse and leverage it to retain power. Once again it has validity, but only up to a certain point, and suffers from an intense American parochialism. Not only does the US suffer the same entrenched institutions that prevent full democracy here - the "1%" and their hired politicos and judges - but Cook's argument suggests an American exceptionalism that is not in its favor. Why not? Because American settlement was based on an escape from the entrenched institutions of British monarchy, gradually evolving into a locally-based representative system and creating new agencies of its own, like black slavery, unknown in Britain. The American Founders' physical break facilitated the political one; this "dead hand of the past" is why modern parliamentary democracy never developed in the UK until the late 19th century, and why France and Germany went through such see-sawing turmoil well into the 20th. What happened (and is still ongoing) in the current Middle East bears much the same look as Europe of a century and a half ago. Smug platitudes about its "fitness" for democracy given its institutions ignores the historical reality of Europe where most modern democracies are located. With all my caveats it's still a worthwhile look at a much-hyped but little-understood slice of the globe on which many project their dreams and nightmares, but few perceive in the light of reason.

  2. 5 out of 5

    LuAnne Feik

    This is an academic text not meant as a popular read for those with a casual interest in the Benghazi hearings. In great detail, Steven A. Cook does two things extremely well. He describes the forces at work in the 2011-2013 uprisings and their aftermath in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Turkey. He also describes how U.S. policymakers tried to respond to the rapidly changing environment by altering their traditional backing for the area's "stable" authoritarian regimes and by attempting to support a This is an academic text not meant as a popular read for those with a casual interest in the Benghazi hearings. In great detail, Steven A. Cook does two things extremely well. He describes the forces at work in the 2011-2013 uprisings and their aftermath in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Turkey. He also describes how U.S. policymakers tried to respond to the rapidly changing environment by altering their traditional backing for the area's "stable" authoritarian regimes and by attempting to support a transition to democracy. But FALSE DAWN ends in frustration. There is no U.S. solution in a region that has more problems than countries. Washington, D.C. supports Israel, Iran's Muslim Shia rankle Muslim Sunnis, neither Iraq nor Turkey welcomes Kurds, and religious terrorists attack secular regimes. Cook suggests the U.S. think small in the Middle East and invest in agricultural, education, public health, and administrative programs that improve daily lives while patiently waiting for the world to turn again. He quotes the message of the region's activists, democrats, and liberals. "Don't give up on us; the revolution is not over."

  3. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    False Dawn covers the events that occurred in the ill-fated Arab Spring that did not usher in the democracy that was hoped across the middle east. Following events in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Turkey as well as Iraq Steven Cook takes the reader through the events of various revolutions and tries to put them into context of what happened at the local level that was not appreciated by those on the world stage. The dichotomy of the hope for freedom and the naivete of the Western powers is on full d False Dawn covers the events that occurred in the ill-fated Arab Spring that did not usher in the democracy that was hoped across the middle east. Following events in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Turkey as well as Iraq Steven Cook takes the reader through the events of various revolutions and tries to put them into context of what happened at the local level that was not appreciated by those on the world stage. The dichotomy of the hope for freedom and the naivete of the Western powers is on full display in this book. For those interested in what the future of the Middle East will hold this is an excellent way to get an overview of the four countries mentioned above. The author does a great job of providing background material on the people involved, copious maps and a timeline of events that is succinct and purposeful in its narrative. Overall a solid read and a good start to understanding why the Arab Spring did not result in the democracy that many believed it would.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    This book is a good academic introduction to anyone who is interested in the 2010s rise of democratic protests in the Middle East. I found that the author did a good job of explaining the basics and providing background for the most part, but tended to rely on American academics too heavy to provide the backdrop. I wanted to hear more from the protestors, journalists, and civil society members native to these nations. I also felt as if the role of neighboring powers during the protests were negl This book is a good academic introduction to anyone who is interested in the 2010s rise of democratic protests in the Middle East. I found that the author did a good job of explaining the basics and providing background for the most part, but tended to rely on American academics too heavy to provide the backdrop. I wanted to hear more from the protestors, journalists, and civil society members native to these nations. I also felt as if the role of neighboring powers during the protests were neglected in discussion (particularly in the context of Egypt's protests where the UAE and Saudi were thought to have propped up the counterrevolutionary forces through military and financial aid). In general, False Dawn provides a lot of detail and is a good starting point for people.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Diane

    This book looks at the Arab uprisings in various countries in the early 2010s and discusses why they were largely unsuccessful. It is a good premise, but the author doesn't get much beyond the standard accounts of these events. He spends a lot of time talking about how people in Washington DC reacted to them, but he doesn't talk to any of the people who were involved directly, which seems strange, because he claims to have been in Egypt during the revolt. He also spends a lot of time talking abo This book looks at the Arab uprisings in various countries in the early 2010s and discusses why they were largely unsuccessful. It is a good premise, but the author doesn't get much beyond the standard accounts of these events. He spends a lot of time talking about how people in Washington DC reacted to them, but he doesn't talk to any of the people who were involved directly, which seems strange, because he claims to have been in Egypt during the revolt. He also spends a lot of time talking about Turkey, but mostly its experiences with democracy and autocracy, and very limited discussion of its role in the uprisings. The narrative seems confused overall, and I'm not sure what point he is trying to make.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Peter Henne

    This is a good overview of the "Arab Spring" a few years out. It highlights the way the protests fell apart, and suggests some reasons why. The book includes a lot of interesting anecdotes alongside academic discussion, so it should be accessible to non-academics. One issue I had was the focus on a few countries (Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Turkey) rather than a broader survey of protests across the region. This is a good overview of the "Arab Spring" a few years out. It highlights the way the protests fell apart, and suggests some reasons why. The book includes a lot of interesting anecdotes alongside academic discussion, so it should be accessible to non-academics. One issue I had was the focus on a few countries (Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Turkey) rather than a broader survey of protests across the region.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sami

    Comprehensive but academic. His previous book "The Struggle for Egypt" is better and more readable. I now think that David Kirkpatrick's "Into the hands of soldiers" is the best about Egypt's uprising and the current status. Comprehensive but academic. His previous book "The Struggle for Egypt" is better and more readable. I now think that David Kirkpatrick's "Into the hands of soldiers" is the best about Egypt's uprising and the current status.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Joe Bartlett

  9. 4 out of 5

    Natalie

  10. 5 out of 5

    Carter

  11. 5 out of 5

    Mary C

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sandra Gonzalez

  13. 5 out of 5

    Cara Stevens

  14. 5 out of 5

    Maro Youssef

  15. 5 out of 5

    Leila

  16. 4 out of 5

    Debbie

    I'm having a hard time getting through this book. I guess I thought it was going to be a people-level look at why the various Arab countries had uprisings and why things didn't turn out as hopeful as it once looked. Instead, it seems to be a head-of-state, political look at things. For example, we're told W. Bush's and Obama's foreign policy about spreading democracy, though it doesn't directly link in to the uprisings. When talking about what might have started the uprising in Egypt or why this I'm having a hard time getting through this book. I guess I thought it was going to be a people-level look at why the various Arab countries had uprisings and why things didn't turn out as hopeful as it once looked. Instead, it seems to be a head-of-state, political look at things. For example, we're told W. Bush's and Obama's foreign policy about spreading democracy, though it doesn't directly link in to the uprisings. When talking about what might have started the uprising in Egypt or why this uprising removed the Egyptian leader when previous ones didn't, he basically says he doesn't know. However, he does know that the lack of successful democracy after the revolutions and uprising isn't surprising! Anyway, it's like reading a textbook for a politics class. Turns out I'm just not that interested in the same aspects as he is. I received a review copy of this book from the publisher through Amazon Vine.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Matt

  18. 4 out of 5

    Doug

  19. 5 out of 5

    Moira Goff-Taylor

  20. 5 out of 5

    Regen Weber

  21. 5 out of 5

    Mauricio Santoro

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mia

  23. 5 out of 5

    Michael

  24. 4 out of 5

    Katie

  25. 4 out of 5

    Michael Ting

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jaylani Adam

  27. 5 out of 5

    Matt

  28. 4 out of 5

    Edwin Franzen

  29. 5 out of 5

    Boyd McCamish

  30. 4 out of 5

    Nate

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