How the Arab Spring, begun in hope, has resulted in despair.
In his debut book, Worth, former chief of the New York Times Beirut bureau, draws on his intimate knowledge of the Middle East to offer a penetrating, unsettling analysis. The protests that marked the Arab Spring began in Tunisia in January 2011; within two weeks, Egypt followed, when thousands surged into Tahrir Square chanting for an end to corruption, abuse, and repression. Outbursts in Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, and Syria ensued, portending sweeping changes in the region. But those changes were far from what the protesters intended. As the author has seen, “the demands for dignity and civic rights have been transformed into conflicts that loosened the very building blocks of social and political belonging.” The Arab Spring “was not so much a beginning as an end.” Country by country, Worth traces the genesis and aftermath of the protests: new regimes, one after another, enacted fatal mistakes in government; internal rivalries undermined unity; and Islamist extremists gained increasing power over a desperate population. Repeatedly, the author reports, the ousting of repressive governments and “the loosening of state authority” gave rise to civil wars: “People who had trusted each other for decades now saw barriers rising between them. The world was suddenly full of threats to all that was sacred: to the state, to your clan, to God.” Fueling the wars was a “virus of religious hatred” that attracted zealots on all sides. Many joined the Islamic State group, whose propaganda—90,000 messages per day on social media in 2014—inspired in some a sense of patriotism and purpose. Among the original protestors in the Arab Spring, many were jailed, renounced politics, or ended up depressed. Worth found one who joined the Islamic State group and died in a suicide bombing. Informing the vivid narrative are many revealing interviews as well as the author’s own eyewitness accounts of events.
A crucial portrait of a deeply troubled region.