Review: Islam and the Arab Awakening


The Arab Spring began with a fruit vendor, a highly educated university graduate forced to sell fruit out of a cart on Tunisia’s streets, who burned himself in protest of unemployment and poverty in December 2010. This was the spark and soon the entire MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region was on fire.

This revolt masquerading as a revolution began in Tunisia,overthrew Mubarak in Egypt and now Morsi, led to a Libyan civil war that saw Gaddhafi killed, massacre in Syria of innocents by Bashar al Asad, demonstrations in Bahrain, and elsewhere. Tariq Ramadan expertly takes the reader on a journey from how this internet revolution was actually masterminded by the West, how they cannot completely control the direction it has taken and what could result – explore the Arab Spring, its beginning, significance and consequence in a well written, impeccably referenced and insightful manner.

Islam and the Arab Awakening consists of four chapters, an introduction and a conclusion. Ramadan tells us that as early as 2003, the West offered training to young protesters already on social media about how to start peaceful movements using this platform.

“The uprisings that swept the Arab world did not come from nowhere. As early as 2003…there had been talk of democratization in the MENA zone. It had…become…Bush’s key argument for intervention in Iraq. One year later MENA cyber-dissidents were signing up for training courses in non-violent protest. Institutions funded by American administration…organized lectures…and set up networks that would provide training…in the use of the Internet and social networks.”

We read further on that in Egypt’s case Google provided satellite codes for internet access after the government shut down the internet, however in Syria Google was not so cooperative, why? Mubarak was on his way out, the US needed a new ally, Bashar al Asad is still useful? The first chapter “Made to order uprisings?” raises many such questions. Chapter two, “Cautious optimism” analyzes how the future cannot be controlled or predicted, and how the West didn’t account for young Muslims to try and provide a self-made solution, true to Islam and their culture. They do not want an imported democracy – one a media informs us will bring the ‘Arab world’ into the 21st century. ‘Islam, Islamism, Secularization’, debates the very premise of what this new wave means. Ramadan talks about the Arabs being absorbed into a Western alter ego. Arabs reject secularism, but the Islamist parties have offered nothing viable either. Finally chapter four talks about “The Islamic reference”. Ramadan calls for Arab Muslims to draw upon “cultural capital” to produce “something new, something original”. He denounces the dictatorships that have starved progress in all fields.

“A genuine, tangible process of reform, democratization and liberation cannot take place without a broad based social movement that mobilizes civil society as well as public and private institutions. It is precisely here that the reference to Islam assumes…an immediate, imperative and constructive meaning.”

Islam has the answer, we need to overlook our differences and work together. “The Arab world had shaken itself out of its lethargy.” This line begins the conclusion; let’s see what the future holds. The promise is there, the system (Islam) is in place, all that is needed is someone to follow it.