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5.0 out of 5 stars
A three year old analysis but still relevant in understanding the Arab Spring, 4 Sep 2011
Whitaker's book is a well-researched analysis of the Arab world, relying heavily on interviews to bring an intimate feel to the discussion. Though some countries such as Egypt and Lebanon draw greater focus than others, Whitaker tries to keep it relevant to the entire Arab world, from Morocco to Iraq. I make the distinction between the Arab world and the middle east, as Whitaker only discusses other nations - Israel, Turkey and Iran - in their relationship to the Arabs (e.g. Israel's use as a scapegoat by the regimes).
Written in 2008, this edition comes with an introduction written February of this year. He acknowledges the Arab Spring and that with it has comea chamge in perspective such as he concluded would be necessary to change in the region, but the second edition of his book has no other differences with the first. This isn't a criticism, but it means that readers cannot take his book at face value but must keep the Arab Spring and the cultural change of the last year in mind, putting Whitaker's analysis in perspective.
It also cannot be read on its own. Whitaker's interviewees are from all over the Middle East, and while may of the basic criticisms can be used on most or all of the Arab countries, Arab culture isn't monlithic, changing vastly as you move from Morocco in the west to Iraq in the east. The reader should keep an open mind and keep from generalising the entire Middle East based on region specific anecdotes and extreme examples. As the book's focus jumps between countries often, I felt I had to remind myself of this fact.