More than half a decade after people across the Middle East poured into the streets to demand change, hopes for democracy in the region have all but disappeared in a maelstrom of violence and renewed state repression. In False Dawn: Protest, Democracy, and Violence in the New Middle East, Steven A. Cook, Eni Enrico Mattei senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, explains why the Middle East uprisings did not succeed.
Despite appearances, notes Cook, there were no true revolutions in the region six years ago: none of the affected societies underwent social revolutions, and the old structures of power were never eliminated. Egypt remains an authoritarian state, Syria and Yemen are in the midst of civil wars, Libya has descended into anarchy, and the self-declared Islamic State remains a threat. Even Turkey, which was once thought to be a democratizing model for the Arab world, now more closely resembles an autocracy.
Cook explains that “leaders around the Middle East harbored worldviews that were antithetical to what the uprisings and the Gezi Park protests [in Turkey] stood for.” However, these leaders “cannot be held solely responsible for the nature of politics in their respective countries. They have certainly had help from feckless oppositions, bloodthirsty extremists, and indifferent world powers.”
With regard to the role of the United States, Cook argues, “What ails the Middle East has less to do with the United States than Washington’s political class and the foreign policy establishment are inclined to believe. Policymakers should get used to it because it will likely be the story of the Middle East for at least a generation to come.”
“Looking back, it all seems dream-like. . . . Egypt’s Facebookers and bloggers, Mohammed al- Bouazizi, Khaled Said, Tahrir Square, brave Libyan fighters advancing on Tripoli, the Girl in the Blue Bra, and Gezi Park’s girl in the red dress are of a recent but seemingly distant past—a gauzy sequence of determination, defiance, hope, and activism that has not been extinguished as much as eclipsed by political uncertainty, instability, and at times unspeakable violence,” he concludes.
A Council on Foreign Relations Book