The Fires of Spring: A Post-Arab Spring Journey Through the Turbulent New Middle East

Shelly Culbertson. St. Martin's, $29.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-250-06704-3
Culbertson, a RAND Middle East analyst, travels through Tunisia, Turkey, Iraq, Qatar, Jordan, and Egypt, trying to understand the 2011 political upheavals that were "optimistically," and, she ultimately argues, inappropriately, called the Arab Spring. Shifting gender roles and the relationship between Islam and democracy are among her central concerns, as is the huge increase in the number of young people that will shape the region's future. Culbertson walks through the citadels of Amman and Carthage and the pyramids of Egypt, vividly illustrating the omnipresence of the ancient in the modern; her treatment of the Ottoman Empire's demise is particularly illuminating. She is quick to note that the Middle East is not monolithic and that the six countries had varying roles and experiences in the Arab Spring; but without a manageable focus, she writes like a travel writer with a tight deadline, seeking to concisely answer questions an academic might probe over several hundred more pages. At the end of her "journey," Culbertson articulates what might be the work's greatest drawback: "Now it was time to try to make sense of what I had learned for this book." Her conclusion is useful, if not unexpected: "Pessimistically declaring the Arab Spring a failure in 2016 would be as naive as optimistically declaring it a success in 2011." Agent: Don Fehr, Trident Media Group. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 03/14/2016
Release date: 04/19/2016
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Ebook - 978-1-4668-7495-4
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