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The Arab awakening, Islam and the new Middle East

10 Nov

Book Review:
The Arab awakening, Islam and the new Middle East
New York: Penguin, 2012. 273pp ISBN 978 1 846 14650 3
Reviewed by Fakiha Hassan Rizvi



The unexpected spectacle, astonishing for the world and a trigger for mass mobilization in Middle East, involved a street vendor setting himself alight in Tunisia. The defiance of Mohamed Bouazizi against state oppression is often labeled as the beginning of Arab uprising. However, The Arab awakening,Islam and the new Middle East urges readers to view the demonstrations in the Arab world objectively and by taking into account broader historical, political, social and economic contexts. Ramadan explores the appropriate term that should be
associated with mass protests in the Arab world, instead of blindly projecting them as ‘revolutions’ or ‘springs’, he calls it an ‘awakening’, with “cautious optimism”. The author connects the deep-rooted indicators of ‘social explosion’ like unemployment, illiteracy, lack of opportunities and despotism at a specific and general level in Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Tracing down the origins of these unprecedented mass mobilizations, The Arab Awakening, Islam and the New Middle East, finds a midway between the notions of ‘Western control and manipulation of Arab uprising’ and the ‘exaggerated optimism that if often linked with the change in Middle East’. According to the text, “cyber-dissidents” and digital activists were trained by foreign funded organizations (centers like Albert Einstein Institution and Freedom House), back in 2004, to promote non-violent protest through the use of social networks and digital technology. However, none of the Western powers could have
anticipated the reaction of Mohamed Bouazizi and the chain of reactions after his death. Resistance against dictatorial set ups scattered at an exponential rate. This propelled the Global North to give a patient hearing to the aspirations of the people.

The author links this ‘revolting attitude’ of the Arabs with Edward Said’s concept of ‘other’ by marking it as an end point of a “time worn” debate between “Secularism and Islam”, “Occidents and Orients” and “We and Others”. For Ramadan, “the other no longer remains the other” as it is striving for the same values179
(equality, dignity and freedom) that the West has always promised, but has failed to provide. To validate his hypothesis, the author refers to other events occurring in the wake of Arab uprising. Considering the death of Osama Bin Laden as a ‘media coup’ planned by the American president at an appropriate time he opines that this event itself indicated the extension of a friendly-hand from the West towards the Muslim. After eliminating a man known as the symbol of “anti-Western ideal” a new “political orientation” was established for Muslim-
majority countries. There was no reason for the West for not listening to the voices in Liberation Square (Tahrir Square) when they non-violently demanded for human dignity and an end to coercive measures employed by the dictator, Hosni Mubarak. Throughout the text, references are made that explicitly indicate dual-standards and moral relativism of the West for the sake of safeguarding economic and geo-political interests. While
the United States and other NATO countries accepted the aspirations of the people to some extent in Egypt and Tunisia, at the same time, it maintained close contacts with the military establishments of these countries. On the other hand, the mass movements in oil-rich petro-monarchies like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar were downplayed and manipulated by the international media. The liberty to use Internet when curtailed
for the Egyptian bloggers was countered by Google, which provided them with satellite codes. The same ‘Google’ denied access to those codes when asked for by Syrian bloggers. It is noteworthy, as Ramadan mentions that the role of Google has been completely in line with the policies of NATO countries
along with the United States during the mass protests in the Middle East.

The author considers the ‘Arab awakening’ as an eye opener for the Muslim countries and the rest of the world as well, to devise new socio-political models instead of adhering to the present and flawed ones. Restoration of “self-confidence” in the Global South is the key to engage developing and under developed countries in a constructive debate. For the author, such debates can serve well to provide blueprints of socio- political models based of ethical governance, that is no where to be seen in today’s global order. The Muslims are advised by the author to use their state of awakening in a positive direction for the welfare of human society. He refutes the argument that democracy and political Islam are dissimilar by claiming that180 Journal of Media Studies 26(2)
five essential components of democracy are in “fundamental conformity” with Islam; ‘rule of law’, ‘equality for all citizens’, ‘universal suffrage’, ‘accountability and separation of powers’ (executive, legislative and judiciary). Religion can play a decisive role for formulating the ethical norms of governance that are absent in majority of the countries of today even “the civilized Occidents”. The Arab world needs to turn this uprising to its advantage as it has suffered a lot at the hands of Western imperialism and colonialism. Ramadan aptly puts it at two instances “ours is the era of mass communication”, “ours is the era of passivity” and the need of the hour is to change for the good of humanity. Relying on the ideology that there are “no ideologies” will not turn the Arab awakening into the Arab revolution as the author points out the necessity to create ideologies from within, which are irrefutable for both the East and the West and derive ethical principles from religion.

The Arab Awakening, Islam and the New Middle East is a well- researched attempt to understand and operationalize the accelerating changes in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The author generously offers readers to negate his views and proposes that the debate in his book is open for all.

Originally written for and published in the Journal of Media Studies (JMS)- research journal of the Institute of Communication Studies, University of the Punjab.
Link: http://www.jms.edu.pk/ViewArticle.aspx?ArticleID=127

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Posted by on November 10, 2013 in Book Review

 

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