A journey through the Middle East in the post–Arab Spring landscape.
A journalist and RAND Corporation research manager in Qatar, American-born Culbertson (Education of Syrian Refugee Children: Managing the Crisis in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, 2015, etc.) traveled recently to six Middle East countries she believes are most indicative of the vast changes taking place in the region since the political upheavals in 2011. Tunisia was the catalyst when in January of that year, the self-immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi ignited national unrest, and a true revolution then convulsed Egypt with the overthrow of a long-running dictator. The author’s curious choice of non-Arab Turkey underscores the profound and unsettling changes in the region that mirror the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I. Indeed, she posits, the struggle for the formation of legitimate nation-states began then, accompanied by “a troubled story of population swaps, ethnic cleansing, iron-fisted dictators, civil wars, and popular backlash,” all establishing a pattern similar to what is occurring in these countries today. After presenting an overview of observations about the region as a whole—including the emphasis on the region’s diversity, the struggle to delineate Islam’s role in government, balancing the modern versus the past, the emancipation of women, and the inclusion of the overwhelming youthful demographic—Culbertson takes a deep look at each country in turn and asks the people involved what the revolution achieved for them. The answers vary widely: Egypt, having slipped back into dictatorship, is the bad example, and yet Egyptian women are leading the way in demanding change; Tunisia remains the imperfect model for reconciling the secular and the religious; Iraq, beset by the Islamic State group, threatens to splinter; entrepreneurial Jordan has proven surprisingly stable despite its massive refugee crisis; and Qatar, the wealthiest of the lot, is meddlesome and interventionist. Authoritarianism continues to strangle the region and its emerging institutions, and Culbertson follows it all with aplomb.
A well-documented, brave, and useful overview.