Gilbert Achcar has been a keen observer of the Arab world's history and politics for a number of years now and follows up excellent past contributions such as 'The Eastern Cauldron', 'The Clash of Barbarisms' and 'The Arabs and the Holocaust' with this 'The People Want. A Radical Exploration of the Arab Uprising', where he brings the best of his insight and judgement to bear on the Arab revolutions.
This book is a magnificent achievement. Firstly, Achcar has improved considerably as a writer and the book flows pefectly. Second, Achcar is steeped in the political currents of the region and isn't some newcomer jumping on a bandwagon but an analyst with decades of experience in the subject he has mastered. Thirdly, Achcar's Marxist method has also improved and this is completely related to the first two points.
Achcar starts with a history of the political economy of the Arab world. Here, he is chiefly concerned with how capitalism has developed in the region. How are Arab economies organised? How do they relate to one another? To the dominant powers in Europe and America? What are the social relations internally? Who are the winners and losers?
Having established the background, Achcar then forensically examines the revolutions themselves. Who started them? How? How did they develop? Inform one another? This is followed with a 'balance sheet' assessment of the revolutions so far, the, entirely expected, rise of the Islamist parties but also their limitations in that they are, like the dictatorships, committed to neo-liberal versions of capitalism and, thus, cannot solve the contradictions that led to revolution in the first place and are in danger of being overthrown and Achcar is quite clear on the dangers that the Muslim Brotherhood face in Egypt - the prescience of reading this just 10 days after Morsi was overthrown is striking.
The last section, where Achcar seems to support a left-reformist solution based upon trades unions in Tunisia and the Nasserites plus activists plus new free trades unions in Egypt is, perhaps, the weakest section.
Again, a writer and analyst who has spent years in the region and examining it makes you realise how much our media is poorly informed and, consequently, poorly informing. This is the book for getting to grips with what has happened, what is happening and why.
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