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Book Review: The Arab Awakening: Islam and the New Middle East, Tariq Ramadan, 2012, London: Allen Lane, pages: 273.

Book Review: The Arab Awakening: Islam and the New Middle East, Tariq Ramadan, 2012, London: Allen Lane, pages: 273.

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This book discusses the current situations in the Middle East and how the changes affected the people and the future of the Muslim world. Ramadan stated that the book does not claim “. . . to reveal secrets, to unveil what may be strategic goals, and even less to predict the future” for to do so would mean madness, which he regards as a combination of presumption and vanity (p: ix). What he attempts to do is to reexamine the facts, study the realities and to suggest some lessons, or to use Ibn Khaldun’s terminology – c ibra – not only for the Arab world and the Muslim majority countries but also for keen observers of the phenomenal developments. Ramadan poses three important questions in analyzing the issues at hand: 1, what really happened in Tunisia and Egypt? 2, what is happening in the broader region that makes up the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)? And finally, why now? He stresses that to answer the questions, we must study the recent history and its actors, as well as political, geopolitical and economic contexts of the region. He also argues that the terms that are used to describe the phenomena – ‘Arab Spring, revolutions and upheavals’ - should also be scrutinized, as the components of these movements are less known let alone the outcome. Throughout this study, he attempts to demonstrate that the protest movements should not be thought as being designed and manipulated by the West (the US and Europe) as such claim would mean that human beings are unable “. . . to assert themselves as the subject of their own history” but rather the ability of the peoples of the region to act upon their own destiny by overthrowing the dictators without weapons (p: xi). This historic moment has opened up a few fundamental questions regarding the nature of the state, the role of religion, the basic principle of equality etcetera which bound to fall under the bipolar debate between ‘secularists’ and ‘Islamists’. Clearly, he states that the book attempts to demonstrate that such polarizing debate cannot be reduced to a confrontation between both approaches. Ramadan also emphasizes the role of the Muslim intellectuals and politicians in this time of radical and comprehensive renewal process in identifying the key issues, defining and prioritizing the ways and means for social and political reform as well as fostering the emergence of a true civil society in the region. He stresses that Arab and Muslim majority societies should stop “. . . blaming the West for the colonialism and imperialism of the past, or for today’s attempts at manipulation and control” (p: xii) but to “. . . reconcile themselves with the course of history . . .” (ibid.) and “. . . be wary of attempts at manipulation, and be determined to carry out essential reforms . . .” (ibid.). The book consists of four chapters excluding the introduction and conclusion. The first chapter entitled Made-to-order uprisings?; the second chapter entitled Cautious Optimism, chapter three, Islam, Islamism, Secularization and the final chapter, The Islamic Reference. In the first chapter, Ramadan has briefly outlined the situations in the Middle East and North Africa since the first event that sparked the whole process – the suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia. He argues that the claim of Western manipulation on the issue of change of government through funding the opponents of the Arab governments cannot be underestimated but at the same time cautious optimism towards a major shift in