Democracy in Arabia

Cover00Hussein Ibish in Bookforum:

If anybody asked me, particularly in a plaintive tone of desperation, for a comprehensive backgrounder on the uprisings that have convulsed much of the Arab world since December 2010, I’d have no hesitation in pointing them to The Battle for the Arab Spring. Lin Noueihed, a Reuters editor, and Alex Warren, a consultancy expert, have joined forces to produce a remarkably far-reaching and exceptionally precise summary of the uprisings generally, but unfortunately, referred to as the “Arab Spring.” Particularly for the uninitiated or those seeking a synoptic but relatively detailed account of what has and hasn’t happened in the Arab world in the past year and a half, their book fits the bill perfectly. Dutifully and methodically, Noueihed and Warren cover all the bases. Everything is here that a specialist would expect to be provided to a popular audience seeking guidance and information, and very little that is obviously crucial is missing.

But this great strength is also the book’s most fundamental weakness. The Battle for the Arab Spring often reads like a list of lists, or a particularly well-executed Wikipedia entry, whose authors have established a logical, straightforward set of categories for its subject, and then dutifully filled them in with the appropriate facts, citations, and observations. This makes The Battle for the Arab Spring often surprisingly flat and difficult to read, particularly for anyone with a strong background in recent Middle East affairs. The combination of almost suffocating predictability and unerring reliability produces very little with which such readers can engage. Turning its pages often involves a sigh of exasperation, as the authors check box after inevitable box.