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New York Review of Books: The Arab Counterrevolution

Authors: Hussein Agha, and Robert Malley, International Crisis Group
August 31, 2011


In this article for the New York Review of Books, Hussein Agha and Robert Malley analyze the "counterrevolution" in the Middle East and discuss the potential long-term ramifications for political transitions in the region.

The Arab uprising that started in Tunisia and Egypt reached its climax on February 11, the day President Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down. It was peaceful, homegrown, spontaneous, and seemingly unified. Lenin’s theory was turned on its head. The Russian leader postulated that a victorious revolution required a structured and disciplined political party, robust leadership, and a clear program. The Egyptian rebellion, like its Tunisian precursor and unlike the Iranian Revolution of 1979, possessed neither organization nor identifiable leaders nor an unambiguous agenda.

Since Mubarak’s ouster, everything that has happened in the region has offered a striking contrast with what came before. Protests turned violent in Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, and Syria. Foreign nations got involved in each of these conflicts. Ethnic, tribal, and sectarian divisions have come to the fore. Old parties and organizations as well as political and economic elites contend for power, leaving many protesters with the feeling that the history they were making not long ago is now passing them by.

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