Inside The Arab Revolution – a Book By Koert Debeuf

The author Koert Debeuf is no desk researcher like most of us. He was actually physically in the middle of the Arab Spring volcano. He was in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Taksim Square in Istanbul, Azaz refugee camp North of Syria, he was in bombed markets and bakeries and visited the rebels in Aleppo.

Koert Debeuf, a representative of the European Liberals and Democrats in the European Parliament (ALDE) decided to go to Cairo to see first-hand what was going on and lived in Cairo since 1st September 2011. The result of his odyssey is the superb book “Inside the Arab Revolution,” which has just been published. The author told me that an Arabic language version should be launched in September 2014.

Debeuf’s book gives the reader a meticulously detailed account of a period of big historical change in the Middle East. In a foreword, Guy Verhofstadt, president of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe and former Prime Minister of Belgium (1999-2008), sets out a new vision of European cooperation with the Arab world.

“Inside the Arab Revolution” is an impressive original work, highly informative and is full of fact-based anecdotes that highlight the suffering of Syrian children inside Syria and even in refugee camps. It is no exaggeration to describe the book as a milestone work of the political Tsunami that swept the region.

inside the arab revolution
Inside the Arab Revolution book cover

Debeuf’s extraordinarily rich perceptive book, particularly from a non-Arab writer is fascinating to me as a keen observer of the Middle East and the Arab world. This revealing, passionately written book, gives a vivid and definitive account of the Arab revolutions. He draws on raw material from the Cairo squares, Syrian rebel locations, and refugee camps.

Koert Debeuf is a brave committed political blogger, opinion maker and a Middle East expert who travelled extensively in Egypt, Syria, Libya and Tunisia. He also visited Jordan, Palestine and Turkey among other places.

The book is timely and fresh although the revolution is far from over. Debeuf doesn’t like the term “Arab Spring.” He prefers to call it “Arab Revolution.” It is more momentous than being measured in seasons. It is a real revolution. A demographic revolution.

The author draws comparisons between the French Revolution 1789 and the Arabic Revolutions since 2011. It took the French revolution 14 constitutions and 86 years to reach stable democracy. Debeuf says: “Don’t give up on the Arab Spring. Give them time and help.”

Two hundred years later, we had a second revolution – the collapse of the Berlin wall and of communism.

The term “Arab Spring” was first used in 2005 after the assassination of the Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri on 14 February 2005 which led to the birth of “the 14 March Movement” led by Raifiq’s son Saad Hariri. But the Arab Spring turned into a Tsunami upheaval. Debeuf reminds the reader that in the Arab World, half the population is under 25 and they want jobs, they want a decent life. But they have access to the internet and the social media which became the political mobilization media. The French revolution took place because of corruption, tyranny and a repressive police state. The Arab revolution carried the slogan “we want the end of the regime,” we want freedom, dignity, social justice and bread.

What Happened in Tunisia

You cannot review a book about the Arab spring without reference to what happened in Tunisia.

The book outlines the chronology of the Arab revolution starting from the time the Tunisian Muhammad Bouazizi set himself on fire on 17 December 2010, and protests spread across Tunisia. President Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia. The Egyptian and Syrian revolutions receive deeper treatment than other revolutions.

The Egyptian Revolution

On 25 January 2011, the Egyptians filled Tahrir Square. By 11 February, President Mubarak was deposed. On 3rd February 11 Protests erupted in Yemen. On 17 February in Libya, and two days later in Bahrain.

In Egypt, the book draws on raw material from the field, from the protest in Tahrir square.

The Morsi experiment failed. President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were considered by most Egyptians as a threat. Morsi was a blessing for Egyptian Liberals and Seculars. He ousted himself. In Cairo on 30th June 13 million took to the Street and Morsi was ousted. Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil el-Sisi, previously Commander-in-Chief of the Egyptian army, as well as Minister of Defence from 12 August until 26 March 2014, played a leading role in ousting Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, following mass protests against Morsi. el-Sisi was elected the sixth President of Egypt in May 2014.

The Syrian Revolution

March 11, kids plastered “Down, down with the regime” on the walls. The kids were arrested and tortured to death. Peaceful protests were met with brutal force. The book highlights examples of regime brutalities, bombing the bakeries and markets. Activists on the ground told Debeuf that UN aid wasn’t going where it needed to go. It was delivered to the Syrian government.

The Free Syrian Army (FSA)

The author urges the West to support the FSA and to provide anti-aircraft weapons. The regime is receiving all kinds of military support from Iran and Russia but the FSA is short of weapons and supply. Koert Debeuf is in favour of no fly zones imposed in Syria. “Without the no-fly zone in Libya, Benghazi would have been Sarajevo and Srebrenica combined.”

The author castigates the West for not helping the FSA. Lack of tangible support for the moderate secular Free Syrian Army has enabled the emergence of militant and extremist Islamic groups which have complicated matters. Only the Free Syrian Army is fighting against ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq &Syria). Not doing anything is assisting Assad.

“Assad is the problem not the solution” the book asserts.

Libya and the Zanga Zanga Democracy

The words Zanga Zanga, which became iconic throughout the Middle East during the Libyan revolution, were uttered by Muammar Gaddafi in his famous 22nd February 2011 speech when he threatened to kill everyone opposed to his regime even if it meant chasing them house to house, alleyway by alleyway, and Zanga Zanga (a colloquial terms meaning narrow passages between houses in the old part of town).

Western intervention in Libya prevented large scale massacres. The country is still in turmoil. But with Gaddafi in charge Libya was a hellish place.

Role of Social Media

Social media transformed the protests into a “digital revolution.” Twitter blogs, Facebook, social media (became political media) Debeuf explores the critical role played by social media in mobilising the youth into the street and the mass protest via twitter and Facebook. It has been dubbed the digital revolution.

The book gives a unique insight into the popular uprisings sweeping throughout the Middle East.

“This book is an important contribution to the debate surrounding the Arab spring. In time, it will prove to be an excellent reference for anyone studying the Arab World and the history of the Arab revolution 2011-2014.”

The 226 page book Inside The Arab Revolution is published by Lannoo Campus

Nehad Ismail
Nehad Ismail is a writer and broadcaster, who writes about issues related to the Middle East from his home in London.