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  • Unfinished Revolutions: Yemen, Libya, and Tunisia after the Arab Spring by Ibrahim Fraihat
  • Max Ajl (bio)
Unfinished Revolutions: Yemen, Libya, and Tunisia after the Arab Spring, by Ibrahim Fraihat. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016. 304pages. $40.

Ibrahim Fraihat’s Unfinished Revolutions traces social change in Yemen, Libya, and Tunisia from 2010 until late 2015. It follows events stylized as running from “regime change” to a “transition process,” marked in all cases by polarization. The terminus is (or ought to be) “an inclusive and genuine national reconciliation process,” which he defines as “the process of addressing the grievances of parties to a conflict,” leading to “sustainable peace and stability,” a redefinition of “relationships and forging a new social contract” (p. 7). The title of the book implies a sense of what a finished revolution ought to look like — a new stable social order.

The Arab Spring has produced a not-so-small industry on regional revolutions. Some posit revolutions without revolutionaries. Others posit revolutions entirely without leaders. Yet others suggest not leaderless, but “leaderful” revolutions. Fraihat’s contribution inevitably limns these debates. But more centrally, he abundantly details the domestic political history of these three countries. He aims to illuminate “transitions, reconciliation processes,” and pathways to “sustainable peace in the region” (p. 231).

He considers changes in the form of regime — as distinct from “regime change” — and the polarized transition process in each country. In Yemen, a pact between the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) spirited off President ‘Ali ‘Abdullah Salih. But antagonisms remain extant. The Huthi insurgency, due to the historical marginalization of Yemen’s Zaydi Shi‘a, have swept down from the north along with much of the national army. And there is a massive, ongoing bombing campaign that Fraihat glosses over as the fruit of the Huthi militarization that “even drag[ed] neighboring countries, such as Saudi Arabia in Yemen’s case,” into the conflict. And Yemenis increasingly view themselves through a sectarian lens — an index of increased and hardened polarization.

In Libya, in Fraihat’s telling, “revolutionaries removed Qaddafi from power” (p. 21), referring to the country’s former leader, Mu‘ammar al-Qadhafi. But a “culture of the victor” now exists (p. 24). The state lacks a monopoly on violence. A medley of militias maintain power. Polarization there is the order of the day as well, since the state, under the militias’ pressure, has prevented the integration of elements of the old government into the social pact. The “other party” — the allies of the old government — are regrouping and launching a “counter-revolution.” There is little ideologically uniting those who fought militarily the pre-2011 government except the desire to be rid of it. Many members of the old government, as well as their supporters in society, in the face of armed forces fiercely against them, have fled — up to a million, depending on the period. Polarization perdures precisely because the “old regime” and its supporters number so many, those opposing them have little in common, and there is no unifying ideology and no new social compact.

In Tunisia, after the uprising toppled President Zine al-‘Abidine Ben ‘Ali, there was an interim government. Polarization in Tunisia, Fraihat claims, is between Islamism and secularism, with the Ennahda Movement representing the former and the liberal/leftist parties representing the latter. Furthermore, for him, Salafi violence represents a further threat. The separation between these two hypostasized sides is rather sharp, centered on religion, the hijab, cultural activities, and very different visions for state and society. To move beyond this impasse, he suggests that Tunisians ought to emplace the “rule of law, socioeconomic development, and enlightenment.” Indeed, the central term has been a major propellant of unrest, as the uprising and subsequent struggles have erupted in arenas stricken by poverty and demanding economic justice. This, he suggests, could be the basis for a new social compact. [End Page 323]

Fraihat’s tracing of each country’s history is intriguing and full of fresh details. But the book is marred by inconsistency in how it treats the inherent fuzziness of national units of analysis in a world where power flows so easily over national...


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pp. 323-324
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