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Vol. 11, No. 1, 2012
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walid phares's

reviewed by


Farzana Hassan is the author of Prophecy and the Fundamentalist Quest. Please visit her website at:


Walid Phares’ words almost seem prophetic when he discusses 'the Arab spring' in his 2010 publication entitled The Coming Revolution (Simon and Schuster).

It was in January 2011 that the Arab spring actually began to unfold. Reports of a young Tunisian man setting himself aflame as a public protest against the government’s refusal to entertain his legitimate demands soon turned viral. Within hours the entire country would rise up in revolt against the autocratic regime of Tunisia’s Ben Ali.

Egypt, Libya and other parts of the Middle East would soon follow suit. Phares, in his timely and well researched book, describes the conditions that would ultimately lead to a region wide revolution against the autocratic and dictatorial regimes of the Arab world.

The author begins by recounting the history of twentieth century Middle East. He asserts that a great opportunity to achieve democracy in the region was lost after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1920. The author contends that Western policy perhaps exacerbated the tensions that beset the region at the time. He laments that the struggle for democracy “was deeply affected by Western intervention, World War II, a long Cold War, and the rise of oil power.” Instead of moving towards pluralistic democracy, the Arab world and especially the Islamists plunged deeper into authoritarian rule, pushing the democratic elements toward the “edges of civil society.” The result was a clear victory for the brutal autocratic rulers as well as the jihadists who were also winning the psychological war. The counter jihadists, liberals, women and children’s rights groups were consistently denied support. But the author asks: Has that deterred the Arab freedom lovers in their quest for democratic rule?

Phares makes an apt observation when he states that almost all fascist ideologies of the last century were defeated except for Wahabism, Salafism, Khomeinism and Bathism.
Was oil at the root of the support for these totalitarian viewpoints? Could the Islamists have derailed these efforts toward pluralistic democracy, the values of which greatly contradicted modern liberal values?

Phares writes: “Emancipation of slaves, religious freedom, ethnic and national liberation, as well as female equality and fundamental political rights, were all trapped within the confines of an unchallengeable order, which according to the ruling elite, was set by Allah and carried out by a caliph, whose Walis, along with the urban upper classes, managed and maintained the social order.”

This along with a palpable anti-Westernism also created roadblocks toward achieving a “Western style democracy.” Phares states that the real opposition to Western democracy stems from the apprehension that genuine democracy produces new elites who will threaten the power of the current elite. The jihadis, the author asserts, also reject pluralist societies and democracy for this reason.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the jihadists and the Arab elites became even more protective of their power and control because now there was no cold war to hinder progress toward achieving fundamental human rights and democracy. According to the author, “The rise of fundamentalism and the escalation of oppression converged to create one of the largest human prisons in the history of mankind.” Although democracy came to the Philippines, South Africa and Haiti, it continued to elude the Arabs. In the meantime, the minorities in the autocratic Arab countries suffered enormously. The Southern Sudanese, Berbers, Kurds, Egyptian Copts, Iranians, Lebanese and Syrians were massacred routinely and the women continued to suffer serious human rights abuses.

According to Phares, a new era in the quest for freedom began after Al Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon.

President Bush’s advisors were now entertaining the idea of democracy in the Middle East as a possible means of fighting terror, but the bureaucracy in Washington was not quite up to the task. Thus, no coherent strategy emerged to launch the Freedom Forward movement. For example, the author states that he advised Washington on its Iraq strategy. He warned Washington that the “weapons of mass destruction” card would not hold in the court of public opinion, whereas the principle of defending human rights would definitely gain the US much needed support to undertake the monumental task of toppling Saddam and bringing democracy to Iraq.

Saddam was removed quickly. But Iraqi insurgents began their murderous campaigns against their own people as well as coalition soldiers.

Elsewhere, the Freedom Forward movement yielded modest results in the Syrian pullout from Lebanon. But did genuine democracy emerge in the region? Certainly not in the Sudan, where millions of Darfuris were displaced as a result of the Arab Janjaweed militia’s attacks on their towns.

After 9/11 there was a sense of urgency to help democratic and dissident forces in the region. A blogosphere emerged through which democrats were better able to argue their struggle. The media also increased coverage of human rights abuses in the oppressed populations of the Middle East. For the first time in decades, the plight of the Kurds, the Southern Sudanese, the Copts and other ethnic and religious minorities was discussed in the media. The crimes perpetrated by the jihadists and autocrats were now posted on the Internet for the world to see. But major challenges to democracy remained due to obstructionist forces. According to the author:

“A series of strategic decisions to support the struggles in Darfur, Lebanon and Iran were early signs that change was on its way” However, “Soon enough, representatives from Islamist groups, with endorsements from the regimes in the region, sat at these meetings and succeeded in causing a complete paralysis of politics . . . “ Nonetheless, the democracy advocates continued to fight for their freedom in Lebanon, Syria, Iran, North Africa, Egypt, Yemen and other suppressed nations of the Middle East.

In some parts of the Arab world, the quest for democracy has met with modest success. However Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and other Middle Easter nations are still struggling to achieve their goals.

In conclusion the author writes: “Revolution is coming to Middle Earth. It is up to the international community to make that happen in this generation or in future ones, with the price it could cost humanity.”

The author also warns that if these movements are not well understood, they may very well go awry and come to be hijacked by “dangerous and barbaric forces in the history of the world.” Surely this claim is valid, as the radical Islamists oppose pluralistic democracy despite the Muslim Brotherhood’s claims to the contrary.

The Coming Revolution is well written and offers insights into some of the most pressing issues of our time.



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reviews by Farzana Hassan:
Why Catholics Are Right
Winnng the War Against Jihad
Islam & Democracy
Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution
The Islamist
The Grand Design
The Jew Is Not My Enemy
To Ban the Hijab?


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