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Invisible Arab

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Book Review:

The Invisible Arab: The Promise and Peril of the Arab Revolution

Written By: Marwan Bishara

Lilia Gomez

INTL 5000 (Fall Semester)

The book that I am reviewing is titled The Invisible Arab: The Promise and Peril of the Arab Revolution. It is written by a well-known political analyst named Marwan Bishara. Mr. Bishara works for the Al Jeezera (the primary news channel for the Arab world) as a Senior Political Analyst. The book is in the perspective of an Arab and not by someone within the Western media/culture. He writes about the Arab revolutions and the history behind it. Mr. Bishara debunks several thoughts of how the Arab revolutions started and how the media (both Arabic and Western) have played a major role within these causes.

Mr. Bishara’ book is self-described as an essay in which he reflects on the history of the revolutions up until present and how social media and the Arab youth population played a part. He credits the youth of being able to over throw decade old customs, governments, and regimes. In addition, he describes the rise of many positive organizations that formed because of the revolutions such as women’s groups, sports teams, and a higher employment rate. Although he praises the rise of these types of organizations, Mr. Bishara faults the lack of organization and commitment to principles as the basis of what is wrong with many Islamic groups.

Throughout the book, Mr. Bishara calls the Arab movements as revolutions and never mentioning it as what we have defined as the Arab Spring. The term "Arab Spring" was coined after the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003. There is no true definition of what the Arab Spring truly means, however, many define it as being the start of protests in the Middle East and North Africa for democracy, unity, and reform.

Majority of the book emphasizes on the important role the Arabic youth played at the start and impact of the revolutions. I am shocked at how much the youth and their way of starting the movements progressed over time to be able to overthrow two country’s governments. As I was reading I did not realize how much of a role they played in it. As an outsider looking into their situations, up to this point I had only received what I read or heard via the American media. I never took the time out to fully understand any of the reasons as to why the Arab world had come to this state. I undoubtedly, have taken the same stance many Americans have of perceiving that side of the world as being violent and very anti-American. However, being that I have friends my age in Arab countries (and am also a Soldier who has traveled to Iraq), my view changed rapidly of these this culture. Reading this book gave me great perspective and put the pieces of the puzzle together for me as to what some of my Arab friends were attempting to accomplish.

One of the main issues that Mr. Bishara addresses in his book is the multitude of Arab stereotypes that have plagued both sides of the culture divide. He is very outspoken in the book as he does not “hold his tongue.” He does not let one country off the hook as he explains the reasoning behind almost all Arabic countries that have had toppled governments. He describes the views that were placed on some countries that reflected Western political influenced policies. We as “Westerners” are succumbed with the media’s portrayal of how the revolutions were started. The media played a role in the constant use of the word “youth” but ignoring the other aspects of the revolutions such as the women’s rights movements, the lower and middle class organizations, and activists that also contributed to the political cause.

Although social media played a major role in the revolutions, it was not the sole factor. According to Mr. Bishara “the role of social media should not be treated as the silver bullet (2012).” Social media was not as effective for certain revolution as it was for others. They realized that quickly as many felt that Facebook and Twitter were the solutions to governing. They soon realized that “Facebook doesn’t organize, people do. Twitter won’t govern; people will (pg, 92, 2012).”

However, according to U.S. reports social media was the key to how the Arab Spring began. “Our evidence suggests that social media carried a cascade of messages about freedom and democracy across North Africa and the Middle East, and helped raise expectations for the success of political uprising. People who shared interest in democracy built extensive social networks and organized political action. Social media became a critical part of the toolkit for greater freedom (O’Donnell, 2011).” There have not been many reports that other factors played into the Arab Spring movements. Aside from social media and lesser known organizations, economic factors and the lack of democracy within Arab countries also played into the Arab Spring movements.

Ultimately, Mr. Bashara criticizes the western part of the world, to include the United States and how they handled the Middle Eastern crisis. He primarily blames the usage of world politics as to why many governments were still in power, such as the 30 year Egyptian rule. Not only did he feel that this contributed to it, but also states that President Bush’s “neo-democractic” policies were what faulted the war and did not nothing but bring negative images towards the United States.

In retrospect, I have to say that this book enlightened me in what I did not understand about the Arab culture and movement. After reading this book, I have a different perspective on the Arab politics. I can say that I have been living “under a rock” as to what the Arab Spring really was about and why it was important. Initially, I did not understand as to why they were such angry people and why there was so much violence going on in that region. However, after reading this I have a different perspective on it and their fight for democracy. Westerners’ (I use that term for the usage of this paper), such as the United States, perspective of the Middle East is that of violence and terroristic organizations and thoughts. I do not think that the media covers the Middle East correct which is probably as to why this book was written.

There were various topics that Marwan Bishara discussed that opened my eyes on a culture that the United States media usually depicts as a negative one. For example, the entire Arab Spring seemed to have been looked at as a movement of youth that brought down the Egyptian government and brought about violence in Syria and Yemen. However, when that happened, I was just as confused as others I had spoken to because of how our media initially depicted Mubarak as an ally, however in a matter of days they changed the tune to a foe. As an American, especially a Soldier who has deployed to this portion of the world, I was concerned. Every time I turn to the news and see an uprising in the Middle East, my first thoughts are always the same: “Are we going to go in there and deploy troops to stop this?”

It was refreshing to see that a Senior Analyst of the top Arabic news source did not support the al Qaeda movement. However, what I was shocked about was the history of the Muslim Brotherhood and how al Qaeda’s start was based off dissident members. Unlike what the American media has depicted regarding the Muslim Brotherhood as being a terrorist group, Mr. Bishara addressed how this organization has become divided and its true mission. In reference to al Qaeda, Mr. Bishara states that this organization is generally disliked in the Arab world. They have no real Arab agenda of any sort that merited even the least consideration (2012). Ultimately, when the uprisings were underway, it was clear that this terrorist organization was not a priority of the movement nor was it considered. I did not realize that al Qaeda was categorized as more of a weak standing organization especially since many of its top leaders have been killed. Not only have they become weak but many people do not support their ideologies and have lost any type of momentum in the Arab world therefore seeking refuge in places that were unlikely for Arabs such as Serbia and Sudan.

I was also surprised to know the lengths that al Qaeda went to organize and attempt to get the Arab world into siding for their cause, such as organizing terror plots in once peaceful countries and attempting to shift the blame to solely Americans. Our media has played along to this organization by letting their extremist views overshadow the more peaceful and less violent organizations. We have given them too much air and have focused on them which have led to many stereotypes and negative thoughts about the Arab culture. The issue in Benghazi is an example of this. It was clear who was behind the terroristic attack. Although the media does not point fingers at the Arab Spring movement, it does play a part in our decisions of how we should handle it. Many people feel that the Arab culture as a whole is at fault of all this violence and we should act accordingly, but in truth it is a small percentage of people.

So how is all this applicable to foreign policy? Well, the issues are apparent. The start of the Arab Spring movement and the toppling of several key governments led to a shift into uncertainty of what is to come. Egypt, was once a key ally to the United States, now is a possible open source for more terrorists to form. We could possibly see another government similar to what is happening in Palestine and Iran. Countries that were once our allies could possibly become our enemies due to the uprisings. The United States is unlikely to intensify the pressure for liberalization for fear of losing key strategic assets. The fear of how foreign policy will play within these countries is uncertain. Every country that was rocked by these movements is left to rebuild themselves back up which could be a “by any means necessary” approach. The problem is that every movement had many key organizations who want to step up and fill the void of a government. Arab policy now has to be taken into consideration. Where do they go from here? How does this region of the world appeal to democracy and still be able to uphold their religious perspectives and culture? These are types of issues that the Arab world has to face since the beginning of the uprising in December 2010.

Our government now has to face the realization of “walking on eggshells” with the Middle East. At this point it is uncertain how the uprisings will change the relationships that the United States has established with many of the Arab countries. We already see that with the state of Egypt and what has occurred in Benghazi. Take for example the outlook President Obama has taken on Egypt now that Mubarak is no longer in control. He stated that “Egypt is no longer a friend or ally. (Dwyer, 2012).”

Overall, this book has truly opened my eyes on the Arab foreign policy. I view it different more than before. There is so much information on the internet that is conflicting as everyone has an opinion on the Arab Spring and the causes. Initially, I had begun to read another book regarding this similar topic, but this one was more intriguing and very straight forward. Marwan Bishara explained the movement in terms that was easy to read and understand. It is a great book to help individuals, such as I, better understand Middle Eastern policies and how it has evolved to where it stands today. I would highly recommend this book to others.

References:

Bishara, M. (2012). The Invisible Arab: The Promise and Peril of the Arab Revolution. New York: Nation Books.

Dwyer, Devin (2012) Obama Says Egypt Neither Ally nor Enemy. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2012/09/obama-says-egypt-neither-ally-nor-enemy/

O’Donnell, Catherine (2011). New Study Quantifies Use of Social Media in Arab Spring. Retrieved from http://www.washington.edu/news/2011/09/12/new-study-quantifies-use-of-social-media-in-arab-spring/…...

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