The Arab Winter | Noah Feldman

Summary of: The Arab Winter: A Tragedy
By: Noah Feldman


In ‘The Arab Winter: A Tragedy,’ Noah Feldman explores the Arab Spring, a movement for self-determination spreading across the Arab world in early 2011. The movement began in Tunisia and reached countries like Egypt, Syria, and Libya among others. Feldman discusses the influence of a common identity and shared media, such as Al Jazeera, on this political phenomenon. Throughout the book, he delves into the protestors’ demands for freedom, dignity, and social justice, as well as the differing outcomes in each country. Proper understanding of the Arab Spring is of utmost importance, as it has a significant impact on future events, as seen with the more recent movements in Algeria and Sudan.

The Arab Spring and Its Impact on the World

The Arab Spring marked a pivotal moment in the Arab world, where citizens across Arab-speaking countries began to demand change from their governments. The movement started in Tunisia, after a street vendor immolated himself, and spread to Egypt, Syria, Libya, and other countries in the region. The protests were unique in that they were not against colonial or monarch rulers but within a primarily Arab framework. People felt a transnational common identity as Arabs, and the sharing of media, particularly Al Jazeera, encouraged viewers to think of themselves as part of a broader Arab community. The impact of the Arab Spring was felt globally and demonstrated the power of grassroots movements in influencing political change.

The Arab Spring’s Call for Political Responsibility

The Arab Spring protests demanded the removal of ruling regimes and presidential dictatorships, with a desire for freedom, dignity, and social justice. The protesters asserted the people’s right to govern themselves, paving the way for possible cooperation among parties with differing visions for the future. Democratic political theory supports this right to self-governance, and recognizing the protests as genuine political action highlights the call for political responsibility rather than nihilism.

The Significance of the Arab Spring

The Arab Spring was not doomed from the start, but the challenge was for the political actors to embrace greater political responsibility. The aspiration of self-determination was not a failure, but a heroic attempt. The brief and limited successes of protesters against tyranny and self-government were inspiring and instructional to future movements.

The Arab Spring was not just a movement with negative effects, but one that carried significant political and moral value. While some claim that it was doomed from the start, the success of Tunisia proves that with greater political responsibility, other countries could have achieved victory too. It wasn’t the aspirations for self-determination that were wrong, but rather the challenge was for political actors to take responsibility. The heroic attempts of the protesters, although brief and limited, served as inspiration and instruction for other movements to follow. This was evident in the ousters of Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algeria and Omar al-Bashir in Sudan in 2019. The Arab Spring was not a failure, but a significant milestone in humanity’s aspiration towards self-governance and determining their political future.

Pan-Arab Nature of Arab Spring

Arab Spring protesters shared a common chant, signifying pan-Arab nature in calls for change. Pre-uprising, critics doubted transnational Arab political identification. The uprisings proved their existence. However, social divisions in Egypt, Syria, Libya, and Yemen undercut intranational Arab unity. Pursuit of self-determination resulted in greater disunity within nations. Political responsibility lies in internal change.

Political Islam and Democracy

The book highlights the relationship between political Islam and democracy. It explains how those who favor democratic political Islam want to incorporate it into society via liberal democratic processes. The Muslim Brotherhood advocated for this form of political Islam, but was never successful in implementing it. During the Arab Spring, the Brotherhood won elections in Tunisia and Egypt, but was unable to govern successfully. The only successful example of an Islamic democratic government is Iraq. Today, political Islam has become associated with efforts by extremist groups like ISIS to create a premodern classical Islamic government.

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