The Arab Spring promised to end dictatorship and bring self-government to people across the Middle East. Yet everywhere except Tunisia it led to either renewed dictatorship, civil war, extremist terror, or all three. In The Arab Winter, Noah Feldman argues that the Arab Spring was nevertheless not an unmitigated failure, much less an inevitable one. Rather, it was a noble, tragic series of events in which, for the first time in recent Middle Eastern history, Arabic-speaking peoples took free, collective political action as they sought to achieve self-determination.
Focusing on the Egyptian revolution and counterrevolution, the Syrian civil war, the rise and fall of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and the Tunisian struggle toward Islamic constitutionalism, Feldman provides an original account of the political consequences of the Arab Spring, including the reaffirmation of pan-Arab identity, the devastation of Arab nationalisms, and the death of political Islam with the collapse of ISIS. He also challenges commentators who say that the Arab Spring was never truly transformative, that Arab popular self-determination was a mirage, and even that Arabs or Muslims are less capable of democracy than other peoples.
Above all, The Arab Winter shows that we must not let the tragic outcome of the Arab Spring disguise its inherent human worth. People whose political lives had been determined from the outside tried, and for a time succeeded, in making politics for themselves. That this did not result in constitutional democracy or a better life for most of those affected doesn’t mean the effort didn’t matter. To the contrary, it matters for history—and it matters for the future.
Awards and Recognition
- One of The New York Times's 11 Books to Watch For in May
- A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
"Fascinating and persuasive."—Robert F. Worth, New York Times Book Review
"Feldman argues persuasively that the Arab Spring ushered in a new era, characterized by politics from below."—Michael Doran, Wall Street Journal
"[An] important new book."—Daniel Byman, Washington Post
"Ambitious and thought-provoking."—Justin Marozzi, Sunday Times
"This book is essentially a plea to take the long view of history. Feldman stresses the suffering wrought by conflict, terrorism and renewed dictatorship. But he also highlights the more inspiring aspects of the 'exercise of collective, free political action — with all the dangers of error and disaster that come with it.'"—Michael Peel, Financial Times
"Erudite."—Steven Carroll, Sydney Morning Herald
"Feldman’s methodical and unemotional analysis of the Arab Winter that has followed the Arab Spring is a valuable aid in understanding the current state of the Middle East."—Jim Blanchard, Winnipeg Free Press
"[A] fluid account of how that spring turned into bloody winter."—John Andrews, Project Syndicate
"An engaging work. It provides a useful recap of events over the course of the Arab Spring, and offers some original and interesting insights on each of the episodes discussed. . . . It is filled with interesting and insightful observations on the case studies presented; it presents a worthwhile meditation on processes which remain far from completion, and which are of primary importance to prospects for stability and development in the Middle East and beyond."—Jonathan Spyer, Tel Aviv Review of Books
"Convincing and logical."—Michaela Domingo, Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs
"Noah Feldman offers an interpretation of the meaning of the Arab spring and its aftermath in the Arab winter in his superb new book."—Joseph Richard Preville, Informed Comment
"Building on a renowned body of work on legal and political theory, Noah Feldman’s The Arab Winter: A Tragedy deftly weaves together case studies of three presidential states, Egypt, Syria, and Tunisia to examine political self-determination during the Arab spring and subsequent Arab winter."—Kathryn Urban, Charged Affairs
"A timely and insightful exploration of the meaning of the Arab Spring, and of its participants' agencies and responsibilities, by one of the foremost legal scholars and public intellectuals in the United States."—Malika Zeghal, Harvard University
"Noah Feldman has written an elegant and incisive book that illuminates one of the most important events of our time: the tragic failure of the Arab Spring. It was tragic because failure was avoidable. Tyranny returned in Egypt, horrendous slaughter followed the uprising in Syria, but Tunisia demonstrated what political prudence could achieve: the emergence of democracy in the Arab world. Feldman asks a question with haunting relevance well beyond the Middle East: can a people who have chosen a democratic path then choose to renounce it in favor of tyranny?"—Michael Ignatieff, President, Central European University, Budapest