Sample: The Arab Spring


Sampled below is the Preface and the Introduction to Part One from The Arab Spring, Second Edition, edited by Mark L. Haas and David W. Lesch.


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Table of Contents

A Note on the Text

Part I

Uprisings in the Arab World: Tyranny, Anarchy, and (Perhaps) Democracy
Mark L. Haas and David W. Lesch

1 Lessons from a Small Place: The Dignity Revolutions in Tunisia, North Africa, and the Globe
Julia Clancy-Smith
2 Revolution and Counterrevolution in Egypt
Jeannie L. Sowers and Bruce K. Rutherford
3 The Libyan Spring: From Dream to Disillusionment
Karim Mezran and Laurentina Cizza
4 Anatomy of an Uprising: Bashar al-Assad’s Fateful Choices That Launched a Civil War
David W. Lesch
5 How Saudi Arabia Has Dodged the Arab Spring
Steve A. Yetiv
6 Jordan and the Arab Spring
Curtis R. Ryan
7 Iraq and the Arab Spring: From Protests to the Rise of ISIS
Ibrahim Al-Marashi

Part II

Non-Arab Countries and the Arab Spring
Mark L. Haas and David W. Lesch

8 Iran and the Arab Uprisings
Narges Bajoghli and Arang Keshavarzian
9 Turkey and the Arab Spring: The Rise and Fall of Democracy Promotion in a Revolutionary Era
Mark L. Haas
10 Israel’s Response to the Arab Spring: A Perfect Storm or an Opportunity for Change?
Ilan Peleg
11 Russia and the Arab Spring
Robert O. Freedman
12 US Policy After the Uprisings: Alliances, Democracy, and Force
Jeremy Pressman
13 Conclusion: The Arab World at the Intersection of the National and Transnational
James L. Gelvin

About the Contributors



Writing or commenting on current or recent events in the Middle East is a hazardous business. The fluidity of the moment and the different possible outcomes of a particular course of events, frequently resting on the whim of individuals, often make predicting anything an exercise in futility—or a book risking being partially outdated before it is even published. Who would have guessed that a twenty-something fruit vendor in Tunisia, by setting himself on fire in late 2010 in abject frustration and anger at his lot in life, would unleash a torrent of protest that has rewritten the landscape of the Middle East? Sometimes, however, such is the importance of a series of events that they demand coverage and examination in the short term. This is the case with the so-called Arab Spring, which engulfed the region—and riveted the world—beginning in late 2010. Although the ultimate impact of the uprisings of the Arab Spring may not become truly apparent for a generation, attempting to understand the origins of the uprisings, the actual course of events in particular countries directly and indirectly hit by the Arab Spring, and the regional and international responses is necessary in order to acquire a level of comprehension that will allow us to track and give meaning to all this history and politics in the making.

Of course, as more time goes by, our ability to update events and our understanding of them grows. Hence the value of the second edition of this volume, which resulted in major revisions of all the chapters (often from scratch) as well as a brand-new chapter on Iraq. Even the volume’s subtitle has been altered to reflect the fluidity of events, from “Change and Resistance in the Middle East” to “The Hope and Reality of the Uprisings.” This change reflects the continued, and often increased, instability and conflict in the region, which have dashed the initial hopes of many for greater freedom and prosperity. The reality of what lies ahead for the region is now better understood, even if this reality is far from what was anticipated in 2011 and even though much uncertainty remains.

We selected the countries and topics to be examined. We are, as always, mindful of page count—and thus of the price of a book—in order to make this volume affordable. We are very happy with the final tally of authors, topics, and pages. We believe that it was necessary to paint a broad picture of the Middle East in order to account for the interplay between actors and states at the domestic, regional, and international levels. As such, we have chapters on Arab countries that gave rise to the term “Arab Spring” as well as chapters examining regional and international players that have become deeply involved in the Arab uprisings and/or have been deeply affected by it. This volume is intended to introduce and explain events for the interested general public as well as students and scholars of the Middle East in a way that will help them understand how all of this came about and what might happen in the near- and long-term future of the region and beyond. This book should act as an in-depth introduction to the Arab uprisings and/or a supplementary reader for courses on modern Middle East history, politics, and international relations.

The Organization and Content of the Book

The book is divided into two main sections. Julia Clancy-Smith (Tunisia), Jeannie L. Sowers and Bruce K. Rutherford (Egypt), Karim Mezran and Laurentina Cizza (Libya), and David W. Lesch (Syria) begin Part I by examining the Arab countries hit most dramatically by the Arab Spring. These chapters appear in the order in which the protests occurred. Although the political upheavals in these states shared some important characteristics, the causes and courses of the uprisings as well as regime responses and actions by external actors were different, with some ending fairly cleanly (at least at first) with the removal of the authoritarian leader and others continuing with the dictatorial regime tenaciously fighting back to remain in power.

These four case studies are followed by chapters by Steve A. Yetiv, Curtis R. Ryan, and Ibrahim Al-Marashi, who analyze developments in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Iraq, respectively. The central focus of these chapters is to explore why these countries, at least for the present time, have been able to escape large-scale revolutionary pressures. Comprehending variations in outcomes in those states that witnessed massive uprisings, as well as why some countries have not experienced such protests, is critical to both prediction and prescription. Almost all analysts and policymakers were caught off guard by the Arab Spring. Correctly understanding the sources, successes, and failures of these protests will not only reduce the likelihood of similar surprises in the future but also, perhaps, help to shape outcomes toward desired ends.

Part II explores the policies of non-Arab states that have major interests at stake in the uprisings. Narges Bajoghli and Arang Keshavarzian (Iran), Mark L. Haas (Turkey), Ilan Peleg (Israel), Robert O. Freedman (Russia), and Jeremy Pressman (United States) examine the threats and opportunities that the Arab Spring protests created for these outside powers as well as these states’ responses to the revolts. All five of these countries sometimes supported and sometimes opposed particular uprisings, though the dominant tendency in favor of revolution or reaction varied considerably among them. The chapters in this section highlight how the Arab demonstrations affected the material and ideological interests of the non-Arab powers and how the latter tried to protect and even advance both sets of interests in the wake of the protests. Like the first half of the book, the second is preceded by an introductory chapter that summarizes key issues and patterns. James L. Gelvin concludes the volume with an analysis of some of the common themes of the Arab Spring as well as an examination of some of the myths about and common misinterpretations of these uprisings.


The editors first and foremost want to thank the contributors, whose expertise and dedication to their work are recognized and much appreciated. They had a small window of time in which to write their chapters. This collection represents quite the compilation of well-known specialists in their respective fields, and we feel particularly fortunate to have gathered such an esteemed group.

We are grateful to the reviewers who provided us with insightful feedback on the first edition, including Andrea Grove (California State University, Channel Islands), Curtis Richardson (Northwest Missouri State University), Beverly Tsacoyianis (University of Memphis), and others who wish to remain anonymous. We also want to thank the people at Westview Press for their professional and efficient handling of the process, particularly Ada Fung, Grace Fujimoto, Krista Anderson, and Connie Oehring. When we approached editors at Westview Press with the idea for the first edition, they instantly saw the value of it and acted accordingly in an expeditious fashion in order to get the book out in a timely manner.

Most importantly, we want to profusely thank our families, without whose support none of this would be possible.

—Mark L. Haas

—David W. Lesch

Part 1 Introduction

Uprisings in the Arab World:
Tyranny, Anarchy, and (Perhaps) Democracy

Mark L. Haas and David W. Lesch

The so-called Arab Spring unexpectedly erupted in late 2010 and early 2011. It was characterized in the beginning by huge and largely peaceful popular protests in a number of Arab countries against long-­standing entrenched regimes. It began in Tunisia, where a young man trying to eke out a living as a street vendor set himself on fire as an act of defiance against the government. His action was borne of frustration and disillusionment over the socioeconomic malaise and political repression in his country. Little did he know that he would light a fire across the region. Shortly thereafter, mass protests pushed the Tunisian president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, out of office.

In neighboring Egypt, suffering from many of the same systemic maladies, throngs of protesters gathered at Tahrir Square in the center of Cairo, eventually forcing President Husni Mubarak from power. Similar events transpired in Yemen, where President Ali Abdullah Saleh fled the country in June 2011 in response to popular pressure, leaving Vice President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi as acting president. Protests sprang up elsewhere in the Arab world from the Persian Gulf to North Africa, most spectacularly leading to the death of Libyan President Muammar al-Gadafi following a campaign of armed popular resistance supported militarily by NATO and the Arab League. Then the regime in Syria, which many had thought would weather the storm of the Arab Spring, began to encounter mass protests. The regime, however, unleashed a brutal crackdown against the opposition, displaying a resiliency that confounded the prognostications that it, too, would soon fall. As a result of these contending forces, Syria has been plunged into a savage five-year civil war that continues at the time of this writing.

All the while, certain countries in and outside the Middle East, such as Iran, Israel, Turkey, the United States, and Russia, have a significant stake in what the Arab Spring means in terms of their own interests and objectives. They continue to look on in fascination and confusion as to how to respond to the tremendous changes occurring before their eyes. These countries have frequently responded to events by military intervention, either directly using force or actively supporting groups that are engaged in armed combat.

Debates in both academic and policymaking circles about the meaning, consequences, and likely outcomes of the mass protests abound. Indeed, the very name “Arab Spring” is controversial. As a number of the contributors to this volume point out, this term is something of a misnomer. Ask the Syrian protesters in Syria fighting against a brutal crackdown ordered by a repressive regime in the spring of 2011 or 2012 if they feel that they are in an “Arab Spring.” You will likely get laughed at or punched in the mouth. However, we employ the term in the title of this volume primarily for recognition purposes because, rightly or wrongly, most of what this volume addresses—the protests, their origins, and the repercussions—is frequently known by that name.

Beyond the matter of labeling, the events beginning in 2010 have created a host of questions that have major implications for regional and global politics. Were the uprisings a spontaneous combustion caused by the unique confluence of factors that produced a “perfect storm” of dissatisfaction and dissent? Or were there important historical antecedents, of which the Arab Spring is only the latest, albeit most dramatic, manifestation? Or both? Will the Arab Spring eventually usher in a period of democratic development and prosperity? Or will authoritarian leaders, many of whom have successfully fought back against protesters, continue to remain in power? Has the Arab Spring cleared the road for Islamist parties, long suppressed across the region, to take and maintain power, at least in some places? If so, what will this mean for domestic and international politics?

The mass demonstrations throughout the Arab world that began in 2010 took most analysts by surprise. The Middle East and North Africa were an important exception to what prominent political scientist Samuel Huntington labeled the “third wave” of democratization that swept across much of Eastern Europe, Latin America, and Asia after the end of the cold war.[1] Analysts consistently ranked the Arab states as the least free in the world, and few in 2010 were predicting that popular pressures for democratization would be sufficiently powerful to change this situation.

Soviet leader Leon Trotsky reportedly asserted that revolution is impossible until it is inevitable.[2] The logic underlying this statement applies to the Arab Spring protests. In retrospect, it is clear that there were very powerful forces pushing people across the Arab world to revolt and that some authoritarian governments had feet of clay: They were not nearly as invulnerable to popular pressures for change as widely believed.[3] A particularly important source of protest is the fact that states in the Middle East and North Africa have more “youth bulges”—a disproportionate number of young people in a particular state—than any other region in the world. Throughout the entire Middle East and North Africa, roughly one of every three people is between the ages of ten and twenty-four.[4] Youth bulges were particularly pronounced in those countries that experienced the most widespread and powerful demonstrations during the Arab Spring. In Tunisia in 2010, more than 42 percent of the population was under twenty-five. This number was 48 percent in Libya, 51 percent in Egypt, and 57 percent in Syria.[5]

Youth bulges, as numerous studies have documented, frequently create highly combustible social and political environments. Large numbers of young people are much more likely than other demographic cohorts to act on their grievances in an attempt to rectify them, even if such action requires large-scale protests and even violence.[6] Arab youth before the Arab Spring began certainly had pressing grievances against their governments, including the systematic denial of basic rights, massive governmental corruption, extreme levels of unemployment, widespread poverty, and steady increases in the cost of living (including food prices). There was also a general hopelessness that none of these conditions would improve without major pressure for political and economic change. Youth bulges and widespread dissatisfaction with the status quo, combined with the socioeconomic challenges created by the 2008 global financial crisis, were critical to the origins of the protests and their spread throughout the Arab world. Many of the authors in the first part of this volume, who concentrate on the Arab countries that were most dramatically affected by the protests, examine these shared grievances as key conditions that led to the demonstrations.

These commonalities help explain why the protests spread throughout much of the Arab world. They do not account, though, for major variations in both the intensity of the demonstrations and the success in achieving their objectives. Explaining these variations based on analyses of key national differences among Arab countries is another core goal of the chapters in Part I. Some protests, such as those in Jordan, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia (the last of which were minor), sought to push the government to adopt various political and economic reforms, whereas demonstrations in other countries—including those in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria—sought to overthrow existing authoritarian governments. Perceived legitimacy of existing rulers was obviously a central factor that led to popular preferences for reform over revolution. As Steve Yetiv points out in Chapter 5, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah was one of the most popular leaders in the Arab world. Support for King Abdullah of Jordan has also remained strong, as Curtis Ryan argues in Chapter 6. Although many Iraqis perceive their government to be highly ineffective, the fact that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who is one of the most revered figures in Iraq, continues to support reform and changes in leadership within the existing political system and not revolution helps explain the lack of support for the latter, at least among the Shia population (see Ibrahim Al-Marashi’s analysis in Chapter 7). By contrast, in states where rulers’ legitimacy was low due to widespread views of corruption and profligacy—including Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya (see Chapters 1, 2, and 3 by Julia Clancy-Smith, Jeannie L. Sowers and Bruce K. Rutherford, and Karim Mezran and Laurentina Cizza, respectively)—protesters were much more likely to push for revolutionary over reformist objectives.

The timing and temperament of the protests have also played major roles in shaping preferences for reform over revolution. The entire world has witnessed the turmoil, the floods of refugees, and the mass killings that have plagued both Libya after Gadafi’s ouster in September 2011 and Syria as various groups pushed for the overthrow of the Bashar al-Assad regime in the spring of that same year (on the latter, see the analysis by David Lesch in Chapter 4). The overthrow or attempted overthrow of existing governments has also allowed for the empowerment of radical, brutal Islamist groups, particularly the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The more revolutionary forces and outcomes in the Middle East are associated with chaos and violence, the more likely it is that the legitimacy of existing governments will be enhanced.

Authoritarian leaders are well aware of this relationship. Dictators in the Arab world have long used the fear of the rise of radical groups to power as a tactic designed to increase their popular support. The intense violence that has accompanied the weakening of autocrats in Syria and Libya has reduced the pressure for revolution in those countries that remained quiet in the early months of the Arab Spring, as the chapters on Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, and Iran all document. While the early successes of the Arab uprisings originally inspired people in other countries—hence the spread of the demonstrations throughout the region—the highly negative outcomes, especially in Libya and Syria, that resulted from the protests have since created powerful disincentives against revolution in other states. If the metaphor of a wave captures part of the early dynamics of the Arab Spring (see James Gelvin’s concluding chapter), time has revealed that descriptions of a “double” or “reverse” wave are actually more apt. This alternative image captures the tension between revolution and reaction, referring to both the spread of the protests due to the initial successes of the demonstrations and the increasing disincentives against revolution that followed due to revulsion created by large-scale violence in some of the revolutionized states.

In addition to variation in the political objectives of the protesters (reform versus revolution), there have also been major differences in outcomes. Some protesters have been much more successful in achieving their goals than others. Tunisian, Egyptian, and Yemeni protesters were able to topple their governments, or at least force out current leaders; Libyan rebels did so only with significant foreign military aid; demonstrators in Bahrain and Syria have thus far been unsuccessful in their efforts; and protests in Saudi Arabia barely got off the ground. A number of factors account for these differences, and the chapters in this volume highlight the most important. When a state’s military largely comprises ethnic, religious, and/or kinship minorities (Assad’s government and military, for example, are dominated by the minority Alawite sect, and many in the Saudi military are members of the royal family), there is an increased likelihood that military personnel will remain loyal to the regime, even if this loyalty requires firing on fellow citizens engaged in political protests. Minority groups will fear that the creation of a more democratic regime will result in their ouster from power or even their persecution. These fears create powerful incentives to do whatever it takes to remain in positions of influence.

Large revenue streams that are controlled by the government, such as that created by Saudi Arabia’s massive oil wealth, further tip the balance in favor of the political status quo. Oil wealth in fact provides multiple barriers to change (see Chapter 5). These resources not only allow a government to maintain patronage systems (including for the military) to help ensure loyalty and assuage some popular grievances but also increase its ability to adopt activist foreign policies against revolutionary groups outside the state, while reducing the likelihood that oil-dependent countries will push hard for the oil exporter to adopt major domestic changes. As long as repressive governments are able to continue vast financial support systems, and especially when their militaries remain willing to brutally crush dissent, it will be very difficult for revolutionary forces to achieve their objectives.

Conversely, when governments do not control large resource-based wealth that can be used to maintain patronage systems and buy off protesters (as in Syria, Egypt, and Yemen), or when states possess professional militaries whose leaders and personnel are drawn from the dominant ethnic and religious groups in a society (as in Tunisia and Egypt), revolutionary forces are advantaged. In the latter scenario, militaries can reasonably anticipate that they will remain in power even after a regime change. The incentives for militaries to support current governments to the bitter end against popular protests are, as a result, much lower in these instances.[7]

Even in those cases in which protesters are able to topple dictatorial governments, however, the creation of stable democratic regimes in their place is far from guaranteed. The same factors that spur protests in the first place are likely to work against such political transitions. Youth bulges and high levels of youth unemployment will continue to create highly unstable and ­violence-prone environments. Moreover, the pernicious effects of authoritarianism, even after the dictator has been overthrown, are likely to continue to plague new governments. Authoritarian regimes that crushed independent sources of power, thereby preventing the creation of a thriving civil society; inhibited widespread respect for democratic principles and political pluralism; and prevented the creation of democratic institutions and leaders often greatly handicap future efforts at state building, sometimes for generations. One 2005 study found that of sixty-seven countries trying to transition from authoritarian regimes, roughly only half were judged to be “free” a generation after the transition began.[8]

The evolution of events in the Middle East and North Africa indicates that skepticism about the political future of the region is unfortunately warranted. Indeed, the course of the Arab Spring has demonstrated the accuracy of what political scientists sometimes refer to as a “tyranny-anarchy loop.”[9] This term refers to the tendency for many societies to fluctuate between the opposing political outcomes of tyranny and anarchy while finding it very difficult to exit the cycle and establish stable democracies.

The origins of this loop are rooted in the fact that the overthrow of dictatorial regimes, while obviously beneficial in key respects, also has potential major costs if overwhelming governmental power is necessary to maintain order among opposing societal groups. The more divided a society, the more governmental power must be exerted to prevent these divisions from devolving into violence. Many countries in the Middle East and North Africa are riven by fierce ethnic (e.g., Kurds versus Arabs), religious (e.g., Sunni versus Shia Muslims), and ideological (e.g., various types of Islamists, liberals, and secular authoritarians) divisions. As authoritarian regimes weaken or are overthrown, these disputes are much more free to turn violent. Overthrowing tyrannies in these conditions is more likely to result in anarchy and widespread civil conflict than in democracy. At the time of this writing, this tendency is most powerfully on display in Syria. The weakening of Assad’s regime has allowed sectarian and ideological animosities to explode. Thus, the civil war in Syria is much more than a product of the Syrian people struggling to liberate themselves from a dictator. It is also a struggle both between Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority and the minority Alawite Muslim sect (to which Assad belongs), who fear repression and reprisals if they lose their position of political dominance, and among extremist Islamists, moderate Islamists, and secular groups, all of which are part of the opposition.

In further support of the analytic value of the tyranny-anarchy loop is the fact that all four of the countries that ousted a dictator in 2011 (Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen) either suffered or are currently suffering from the effects of anarchy created by weak governments and powerful societal divisions. Yemen at the time of this writing is in civil war, divided between forces loyal to the government, separatists in the southern part of the country, rival radical Islamist groups (including al-Qaeda affiliates and factions loyal to ISIS), and Houthi militias (a Shia sect).[10] Libya, too, is racked by armed hostilities involving multiple enemies, including conflict between two competing governments (one democratically elected, the other controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood) as well as militants loyal to ISIS who have carried out a series of executions, beheadings, and amputations.[11] Frequent mass political protests both for and against the Muslim Brotherhood–led government in Egypt (which began governing in June 2012) helped pave the way for a military coup in July 2013. Egypt under the subsequent government led by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (a former general) has in some ways become even more repressive than it was during Mubarak’s reign.[12] As is often the case, the tyranny-anarchy loop has come full circle in Egypt.

Only in Tunisia has the tyranny-anarchy cycle appeared to have stopped on democracy, though the situation remains fragile. In 2015, Tunisia was listed as a free country by Freedom House, a nonpartisan democracy-advocacy group. This was the first such designation of an Arab country by the organization in over forty years. Freedom House justified the classification based on Tunisia’s “adoption of a progressive constitution, governance improvements under a consensus-based caretaker administration, and the holding of free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections, all with a high degree of transparency.”[13]

Only time will tell whether Tunisia will maintain its democracy or, if it does, whether it will serve as a model or an exception to the region. Understanding the forces that have led to the remarkable era of the Arab Spring—at once full of hope and despair—and how Arab and non-Arab states have responded to it is, however, the first step in accurately predicting the region’s likely political trajectory. It is to precisely these fundamental objectives that this volume is dedicated.


[1] Samuel Huntington, The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991).

[2] Bruce Crumley, “Tunisia Pushes Out Its Strongman: Could Other Arab Countries Follow?,” Time online, January 14, 2011,,8599,2042541,00.html.

[3] On this last point, see Jack A. Goldstone, “Understanding the Revolutions of 2011,” Foreign Affairs 90, 3 (May-June 2011): 8–16.

[4] Antonello Cabras, “The Implications of the Youth Bulge in Middle East and North African Populations,” NATO Parliamentary Assembly, November 20, 2010,

[5] United Nations, World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision (New York: United Nations Population Division, 2011),

[6] See, for example, Henrik Urdal, “A Clash of Generations? Youth Bulges and Political Violence,” International Studies Quarterly 50, 3 (September 2006): 607–629.

[7] For similar analysis, see F. Gregory Gause III, “Why Middle East Studies Missed the Arab Spring,” Foreign Affairs 90, 4 (July-August 2011): 81–90.

[8] Cited in “People’s Revolutions Don’t Guarantee Democracy,” Reuters, February 13, 2011,

[9] As the theologian and international relations theorist Reinhold Niebuhr put it, “The political life of man must constantly steer between the Scylla of anarchy and the Charybdis of tyranny.” Reinhold Niebuhr, Christianity and Power Politics (New York: Scribner, 1940), p. 14.

[10] Jeremy M. Sharp, “Yemen: Civil War and Regional Intervention,” Congressional Research Service, October 2, 2015.

[11] Missy Ryan and Hassan Morajea, “In Libya, Trying to Make One Government Out of Two,” Washington Post, September 18, 2015; Stephanie Nebehay, “Islamic State Tightens Grip in Central Libya with Executions,” Reuters, November 16, 2015,

[12] “Worse Than Mubarak: Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi Has Restored Order in Egypt, but at Great Cost,” Economist, May 2, 2015,

[13] Freedom House, “Tunisia,”, accessed November 16, 2015.

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The Arab Spring

Second Edition

edited by Mark L. Haas and David W. Lesch


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