False Dawn: Protest, Democracy, and Violence in the New Middle East

Nearly half a decade after Arabs poured into the streets to demand change, hope that the Middle Eastern version of people power would augur democratic change has disappeared in a maelstrom of violence and renewed state repression. Egypt remains an authoritarian state, Syria and Yemen are experiencing civil wars, Libya has descended into anarchy, the self-declared Islamic State rules a large chunk of territory, and Tunisia, while enjoying some progress, is plagued by violent Islamism that may yet unravel the reforms of 2011. And Turkey, a candidate for EU membership, which was supposed to be a “model” for its Arab neighbors looks less like a European democracy than a Middle Eastern autocracy.

How did things go so wrong so quickly across a wide range of regimes? In False Dawn, noted Middle East regional expert Steven A. Cook offers a sweeping narrative account of the past five years, moving from Tunisia and Egypt to Libya to Turkey and beyond, yet also offers a powerful analysis of why the Arab Spring failed. In truth, there were no revolutions in the Middle East five years ago, but what was left behind after dictators were chased from power has had profound effects on the politics and economics of the region. The Egyptian political system may be in the hands of its new leader, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, but it very much remains Mubarak’s Egypt. Even in Tunisia, the one supposed “success” of the Arab Spring, defenders of the old regime have come to power and used the institutions of the state to damage the prospects for a genuine transition to democracy. The one state that came closest to a revolution, Libya, has fragmented. Turkey’s allure and the lessons it once may have provided to Arab liberals and Islamists alike have disappeared as Turkish leaders have resorted increasingly to authoritarian tactics to maintain their rule. After taking stock of how and why the uprisings failed to become revolutions, Cook considers the role of the United States in the region. What Washington cannot do, Cook argues, is shape the politics of the Middle East going forward. While many in the policymaking community believe that the United States must “get the Middle East right,” American influence is actually quite limited; the future of the region lies in the hands of the people who live there. Authoritative, powerfully argued, and featuring a crisp narrative approach, False Dawn promises to be a major work on one of the most important historical events of the past quarter century.