The story that Tariq Ramadan tells us is eye-opening. The recent uprisings (his preferred term) in the Middle East and North Africa were not caused spontaneously and casually as they may seem at first. In the case of Tunisia and Egypt, for instance, the primary cause was economic issues: unemployment, inflation, low wages, etc. Another cause that should not be forgotten was the project for the democratization of the Middle East launched by the Bush administration as early as 2003. Ramadan frequently affirms that the uprisings cannot be understood as phenomena directed and manipulated by foreign powers. However, the West did have a direct hand in the play. Initially, Ramadan mentions the role of Internet and social media such as Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter and blogging in fomenting the uprisings. Then he adds that "a significant number of young activists and bloggers were given training by three American government-financed nongovernmental organizations (NGOs): the Albert Einstein Institution, Freedom House and the International Republican Institute" (p. 11).
In a nutshell, the uprisings did not fully emerge from within; they were to some extent determined from the outside by the Western powers. It is hallucinatory to think that the Western premeditation was for the wellbeing of the Arabs. Quite the opposite. The Western powers have been the allies of the Arab dictators that people struggled to overthrow. Their alliance was formed simply because it was more profitable to work with a despot like Saddam Hussein than with Islamists. Yet, it should be recalled that the problem for the West is not Islam or Islamism, but whether Muslims and Islamists can be bought. Islamism has been used as a pretext by the West to intervene in the national affairs and fates of Muslim countries. Due to economic and security reasons, the Middle East and North Africa are too strategic for America, Europe and Israel to be left to their own people. They are therefore parts of the problem and not the solution to democratization. "Certainly neither the United States nor Europe, not to mention Israel, will allow the Egyptian people to make their dream of total democracy and freedom come true" (p. 163). Under such circumstances, where Arab dissidents are sandwiched between dictators at home and malign foreign powers abroad, what role can Islam play?
Ramadan argues that there is a single Islam with basic principles and diverse interpretations, one of which is political Islam, itself a conglomerate of various interoperative subgroups. As an example, Ramadan outlines the evolution of the Muslim Brotherhood. It began as a nonviolent anti-colonialist movement, but then became radicalized under more repressive conditions in the 1960s. It is suggested that Muslims must pay attention to two matters. First, secularization is not irreconcilable with Islam. Along this line, Ramadan briefly mentions that Ibn Rushd criticized state authoritarianism, and Malin ibn Anas and Ahmad ibn Hanbal opposed adopting a sole legal standard imposed by the state. Muslims, Ramadan recommends, should neither ignore their past nor view Islam and themselves through the West's eyes. Rather, Muslims should read their history afresh in a way that could help to remedy the current crises. Second, they should reconsider three fundamentals: economic policy, educational policy, and cultural and media policy. It is stated that the secular elites have "nothing new to offer in these three vital policy categories" (p. 88). Likewise, the Islamist movements have been less successful in developing policies than in fueling oppositions. Muhammad Morsi's party, according to Ramadan, repeats what the Muslim Brotherhood has been saying for over 50 years. "Nothing new, nothing forward-looking was said about economic, social, or political issues" (p. 93). Interestingly, a year after the publication of Islam and the Arab Awakening, we witnessed the Egyptian army's overthrow of Morsy in a bloody and undemocratic coup d'état. The democratic West remained approvingly silent.
Ramadan touches upon a plethora of topics: the future of political Islam, the crisis of democracy and the passivity of citizens, the triumph of neoliberal capitalism, "the five social priorities" (education, employment, women's rights, poverty and corruption), the usefulness of Islam in mobilizing people, and its compatibility with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and democratic values. According to Ramadan, one Muslim-majority country has been successful in implementing attractive economic, social and political policies: Turkey. Ramadan explicitly praises Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. A year after the publication of Islam and the Arab Awakening, the Gezi Park riots broke out in Turkey, as a result of which several people were killed, injured or arrested. The Turkish government that Ramadan acclaims was guilty of violations of human rights. In addition, Ramadan does not pay attention to or condemns certain other countries such as the Islamic Republic of Iran, which surpasses Turkey in terms of indicators of national health, education and income, such as life expectancy at birth, years of schooling and GNP per capita (see UN Human Development Reports). The Turkish model should not be uncritically embraced.
Islam and the Arab Awakening's audience is not ordinary Arab protesters in the Middle East and North Africa, who neither know English nor can easily purchase the book in their local markets. It is written for the West — America, Europe and Israel, which have caused much suffering for the Arab Muslims of the East. In this sense, Tariq Ramadan is a bold voice of the troubled Arabs. Although some of his arguments remain undeveloped and are conventional, the fact that he expresses his critique of the West in so explicit a manner deserves commendation.