Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly.

Author:Lubecki, Jacek
Position:MIDDLE EAST - A History of Modern Tunisia, 2d ed. - Book review

Masri, Safwan M. Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly. New York: Columbia University Press, 2017.

Perkins, Kenneth. A History of Modern Tunisia. 2nd ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

The variance in outcomes of 2011-2013 Arab Spring revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has invited and generated a large body of scholarship intended to explain their dramatically different results. Specifically, the fact that Tunisia emerged as the only liberal democracy from the upheavals naturally led to a debate on the phenomenon of Tunisian exceptionalism. Safwan M. Masri s Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly is the most important recent work on the topic and represents a needed but also predictably one-sided perspective on the debate. The author presents Tunisia as unique and unlike all other Arab countries, which, according to him, lack the cultural and structural preconditions for democracy. In contrast, according to Masri, Tunisia has developed a political culture (a term that he does not use but clearly implies) rooted in Tunisia's "Mediterranean" (not Arab) identity, a long tradition of liberal reformism, and a flourishing civil society Significantly, for him Tunisian post-independence patterns of development emphasized rationalist education, gender equality, and secularism. Besides these factors, Masri also lists and acknowledges structural factors that helped Tunisia's eventual democratization: a fairly small and homogenous population and favorable geopolitical conditions that obviated a need for a strong military and its nefarious influence on politics. However, Masri clearly emphasizes that cultural and developmental factors, not broad structural conditions, are central for explaining Tunisia's democratic success.

It is important to acknowledge, as the author himself admits, that he is not an expert in political science. Indeed, Masri's background is in systems engineering and education/educational administration and his current position is executive vice president for global centers and global development at Columbia University, and a senior research scholar at Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs. He admits in his preface that "this is my narrative of Tunisia.... It is also a commentary on the Arab world through the lens of Tunisia" (p. xx). In other words, the reader should not expect the book to be a systematic, quantitative, or theoretically informed perspective on Tunisia and the rest of the Arab world...

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