Although the optimistically named "Arab spring" dislodged a few dictators, is life in the Middle East and North Africa (the MENA of this book's title) better than before? Calfano and eleven other experts look at a wide range of variables (Islam, politics, oil, media) and usefully conclude that "there is much potential for reform, but a great deal remains to be done in securing positive political change for residents across the region."
Calfano and colleagues are cautious, shying away from assuming that "the Arab Spring really constitutes a birth or rebirth of democratic or liberalizing tendencies—at least in any linear way." They provide nuanced explanations. The reader learns, for example, that power-sharing relationships between political parties and governments—such as in the Maghreb states of Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco—are crucial in deciding the capacity for reform in the post-uprising era. Calfano et al. help account for the differences between Arab and Iranian pro-democracy movements by showing that the latter was not as successful due in part to the Iranian regime's ability to exploit anti-imperialism and authenticity, two dominant ideas that influence Muslim identity.
Oil revenue, usually considered the means within the region by which repressive and regressive regimes remain in power, is also a potential catalyst to encouraging dissent and introducing democratic reform. Monarchies are more likely than republics to promote reform. Internet use within MENA, touted by many during the season of Arab unrest as a means to accelerate democratization, is cut down to size, its power shown to be restricted by uneven network penetration.
Assessing MENA Political Reform would have been better with more attention to the roles of youth, the military, and superpower politics. Less uneven chapter lengths—varying between thirty-four and seven pages—would also have been helpful. A firmer proofreader's hand would have been most appreciated as well.