Review: Arab Spring, Libyan Winter by Vijay Prashad

Arab Spring, Libyan Winter

Vijay Prashad is one of my favorite columnists. He writes regularly in Frontline magazine. Only a recent search on Wikipedia made me realize that he is bigger than he seems. He has written a lot of books and regularly contributes to various journals and magazines. My first reaction when this book was recommended to me was that I got to have this book. After all Vijay has been writing fantastic articles in Frontline and I read them with utmost attention. But that is where the analytics based recommendations fall short. The description said it has 271 pages so it must not be a huge book but definitely should make good for understanding the recent political upheavals in Libya, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Tunisia and Syria.

I could see the book only when I went to my hometown because that’s where I got it delivered. And the book is so tiny that it fits along the length of my palm! And the font is quite small for a comfortable read or I felt so because of the small sized pages. The appearance, the font, and the dull front cover seemed prophetically ominous. But the only saving grace was the author himself. Had it not been for him, I probably wouldn’t have bought this book. And when I started reading it the rundown editing stared back at me. There are a lot of places where words are missing. It looks like the book was hurriedly published lest it becomes outdated given the fact that the region’s changes are happening at an alarming speed.

This book is full of glaring and interesting facts. I didn't know that the United States gets most of its oil “not from the Middle East. Rather, it gets its oil from the Americas (Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela and domestic production), from Africa (Nigeria and Angola), as well as from Saudi Arabia and Iraq”. And that “it is not the physical delivery of Middle East oil to the United States that is the issue, simply that the oil must be kept flowing to maintain low oil prices and to enable industrial society to proceed at its exponential pace”. All of this is followed by the commendable analysis of the United States’ four pillars in West Asia. The first one being the reliance of US on the region’s oil – as mentioned earlier not in terms of physical reliance, but economic one as the global economy is interlinked. The second one is that “the allies of the Arab world must stand firm with Atlantic powers in its war on terror”. The third one: “Arab allies have to tether their populations’ more radical ambitions vis-à-vis Israel”. And lastly “to circumvent Iranian Revisionism against the status quo”.

On the front cover ‘Arab Spring’ is smaller than ‘Libyan Winter’, and so is the coverage of these two topics, though the latter is not entirely independent from the former. The author gives solid background for the events that took place in Egypt and Tunisia, but lesser so about Bahrain and Yemen, and none about Syria. It proves how Muslim Brotherhood’s gains in Egypt given headaches to America and Israel. And then starts the Libyan part. It brings out surprising facts and almost awes you with the personality and rule of Muammar Gaddafi. But when the author starts writing about the current events and sets up a context for it, that is when this book loses its charm because so much is covered in a few pages. From this point onwards it seemed like you are reading a journal of entries stating what all important events have taken place rather than detailed commentary by the author. After one point it becomes too much to make sense of. Before the complexity of the last line is gulped down, the reader is bombarded with darker implications of the current one and only to be caught unawares in the web of the next one. Honestly speaking, I couldn’t understand much in the latter part of this book. There are too many individuals named, too many places, too many correlations to events of the past – not that they are not required – it is surely something you expect out of a good book - but here you are pushed into the quagmire without a helping hand.

I cannot truthfully review a book unless I understand it completely. Hence, I will read this book once more – real slow this time – to make sure I understand most of what it is saying. Should you read this book? Probably yes but only after reading something else which is better edited and has more of commentary than plain facts.


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