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From Deep State To Islamic State: The Arab Counter-Revolution And Its Jihadi Legacy, Jean-Pierre Filiu, ISBN 978-1-84904-546-9

This book analyses the background to, and aftermath, of the Arab Spring: the military despotisms in Algeria, Egypt, Syria and Yemen, with a lesser amount of material on Tunisia and Libya.

The question the book asks, essentially, is how the contests between military oligarchies, street protesters, political Islam and violent ‘jihadi’ movements ended with the first of the above remaining in charge, the middle two components crushed, and the latter successful and destructive. Filiu’s answer is essentially that the jihadists were indirectly, and in some cases directly, supported by the governments they supposedly oppose, both as a warning of chaos and as “my enemy’s enemy”.

The most blatant example is Bashar al-Assad, initially providing support for Iraqi enemies of the USA (including the local precursors of IS) and subsequently emptying its jails of jihadists in order to support its own propaganda once popular protests erupted in Syria.

The author also touches on Tunisia and Libya. In both cases the dictator fell, but the outcomes were very different. The reasons can be found both in the pre-revolutionary structure of the two countries and in the subsequent political processes.

The military oligarchies are characterised as ‘modern Mamluks’, alluding to historical military rulers. In their modern form, the author finds them excellent manipulators of both world powers and their regional neighbours, successfully extracting support in the form of money, weapons and oil; and vigorous defenders of their own privileges; but poor rulers of their countries.

This is a pretty depressing book. The only remotely successful entities in places like Syria are those that are prepared to burn the country to the ground to keep or take control, and when compared with the similar situation in Algeria in the 1990s, neither the ferocity of the conflict nor the negligible Western response seem particularly surprising.

May 2017


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