Book Reviews

Book Review: The Invisible Arab (The Promise and Peril of the Arab Evolutions)


The author, one of the Arab world’s leading public intellectuals, brilliantly analyses in this seminal book the dynamics behind Arab revolutions. They all started with the self immolation of a desperate Tunisian street vendor and spread to Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, even to a lesser extent as far as Morocco and Algeria in the west.

Up to that point, the “west” understood the Arab world through the prism of oil, terrorism, and Israel.

Marwan Bishara explains in detail the recent history of the Middle East, how the United Kingdom, and France, after World War I partitioned land that up to that time belonged to, and was ruled by retarded Ottoman sultans, arbitrarily, and to serve their purposes.

Yet he ignores, may be conveniently, that elsewhere in Africa (Nigeria, Senegal, and Ivory Coast) and South America (Honduras) people were staging protests for democracy justice and government transparency.

The populations of Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Syria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Bahrain were suppressed, and since Middle Eastern rulers and “oligarchs” depended on the magnanimity of the U.S.A.

Ironically, “aid” mainly in the form of supplying armaments produced in the U.S.A and fuelled America’s economy, enriching armament producers.

The first “revolution” (Tunisia) spread through western technology and through the educated youth in all these countries. The older generation had grown to accept prevailing, unjust conditions, and the few intellectuals were powerless.

Governments’ secret- and intelligent agencies simply could not cope with the spread and power of large masses in suppressing their justified demands of justice, equality of all, and government transparency.

Western governments, especially successive American presidents and/or their administrations do not study history and historical events enough to formulate coherent foreign policy, and try to use “soft” or “hard” power, or a combination of both to pursue politics that favour some rulers but not others.

The Arab world is not, and has never been, monolithic. Some nations are advanced in literature and other pursuits; others governed through tribal convenience agreements, never trying to establish a cohesive, democratic governments.

Even the unity agreements of Arab nations failed and continue to fail to produce any kind of agreement between all participants.

The Invisible Arab is well written, and explains how recent revolutions evolved and produced positive (Tunisia and to some extent Egypt) and negative (Syria), but ultimately it is too early to draw definite conclusions.

Repercussions of such revolutionary upheavals tend to take different paths over time.

In the long run, Marwan Bishara`s clear-headed and thought-provoking analysis may prove to be correct, but it all depends on how world events influence the behaviour of masses of young and mainly unemployed people and technological changes.

Highly recommended for those who follow world politics, especially Middle Eastern politics.

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