The editors suggest a modest objective: covering "a broad chunk of largely unchartered ground" relevant to the 2011 Arab uprisings, and thus compile eleven lucid, informative chapters, especially those by Alfred Stepan, Omar Ashour, and Filiu.
Stepan addresses the clichéd references to Tunisia's exceptionalism, brilliantly discussing how years before the December 2010 uprising, its opposition groups reached a compromise formula of "twin tolerations." According to the working arrangement, Tunisia's secularists include their religious compatriots in the public space. In turn, the Islamists reciprocate by adhering to the principle of the civil state. Their agreement generated a consensual commitment to a future civic government without having to grapple with the divisive issue of secularism. Stepan's convincing analysis debunks Western approaches to democratization.
Ashour reviews the Egyptian Revolutionary Command Council's manipulation of the Muslim Brotherhood after the 1952 coup before Gamal Abdel Nasser turned against them in 1954. Nasser foreshadowed the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces' approach after the 2011 uprising when it did not obstruct Muhammad Morsi's election to the presidency. A year later, Morsi's appointee as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Abdel Fattah Sisi, turned against him in a bloody coup. Ashour insightfully shows how the Egyptian military views itself as superior to the country's social strata and how it places the Brotherhood at the bottom of society.
Filiu uses the term "modern Mamluks" to refer to politically dominant Arab militaries that have mercilessly aborted the Arab uprisings. But unlike Mamluk slave soldiers, such as sultan Baybars (1223-77), who battled foreign enemies, the only victories that modern Mamluks achieved have been against their own peoples. Filiu notes that former Tunisian president Habib Bourguiba kept the army small and weak to avoid a military coup as in Egypt, Iraq, and Syria. Bourguiba aimed to marginalize the army but also instigated the disastrous 1961 Bizerte crisis that inflicted hundreds of Tunisian casualties when he ordered the blockade of the French naval base.
Unfortunately, these excellent chapters lose their impact in an edited book that lacks a theoretical framework. The book's structure is problematic. First, there are numerous publications on the Arab uprisings, and the claim of "unchartered ground" is simply untrue. Second, the editors plead with readers not to despair about the future because "[t]here are still many reasons to keep faith in the long-term evolution of the region,"
but a chapter moderating the pessimistic view of Arab polities would have been more useful. Third, even though chapters address Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, and Syria, the book is heavily skewed towards the first two countries. Finally, this narrow coverage is aggravated by neglect of comparative theoretical perspectives.