Erlich, professor emeritus at Tel Aviv University, looks at the evolution of Middle East educational systems over a century's time, from their traditional beginnings to their modern forms. His book assesses the impact on society and political development of the introduction of universal education and its institutionalization—especially at the university level.
Military reformers such as Egypt's Muhammad Ali, the Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II, and Iran's Fath Ali Shah introduced Western secular education to the region in the first half of the nineteenth century, followed by Christian missionaries in the second half. Only with the rise of secular nationalism in the first decade of the twentieth century, however, did education become universal.
Muslim reformers in the Middle East, whether monarchical, military, or Islamist, generally have excluded the college-educated from the political process. This in turn led university youth to mobilize extra-legally. The long-term failure of both political and economic development has frustrated the youth, eventually unleashing the Arab upheavals of 2011. The young people, many college-educated, who led those uprisings mostly failed to reach their goals due to an inability to institutionalize. In this context, the Islamic State's victories produce a siren song that many young, college-educated Middle Easterners find hard to resist.
Erlich concludes his book on a positive note despite the sad state of affairs that plague most Middle Eastern societies, especially since the beginning of the Arab uprisings. He argues, rather passionately, that the future belongs to the region's educated youth even though he concedes that the outcomes of its current upheavals "are yet to be told."
However, the unevenness of youth activism in the countries discussed by Erlich hampers his ability to write a compelling conclusion. Student activism in Iran and Turkey started much earlier than in Arabic-speaking countries and can be traced back to 1890 in Iran and soon after in Turkey. In contrast, Arab youth activism did not seriously arise until after the 1967 Six-Day War.
Nonetheless, this well-researched book has great value, contributing to our knowledge on key topics.