Image result for abdellatif hammouchi

Abdellatif Hammouchi is an advisor to the King of Morocco Mohamed VI and serves as both head of the Moroccan intelligence (DGST) and police (DGSN). He has been described in Arabic as “the Kingdom’s eyes that never sleep.”[1] In line with the secretive nature of his work, Hammouchi largely avoids public attention; and incidentally, popularly cited sources on Wikipedia connecting Hammouchi personally with King Mohamed VI and to past human rights abuses at the Temara interrogation center have been taken down in the past[2][3]. Hammouchi’s alleged violations of humanitarian law include personally overseeing in the arbitrary detention, rape, and torture of Moroccan civilians, as well as maintaining extrajudicial detention and interrogation centers in Morocco and the Western Sahara – some of which have been outfitted for use as CIA black sites[4][5].

While past allegations of human-rights abuses have dragged Hammouchi and Morocco into international controversies including a high-profile diplomatic row with France,[6] the intelligence chief continues to spearhead closer security cooperation with partners across Europe in the ever-continuing war against terrorism.[7] Hammouchi also broke with his habitual elusiveness in May 2017 when he delivered media-attended address outlining his initiative to achieve “good security governance” with “deep and comprehensive reform of the police system.” [8] It is yet to be seen whether his stated prioritization of respecting human rights will lead to any substantial departures from past controversies. In addition to heading the Moroccan police and intelligence services, there has been past indication that Hammouchi may be a favored future candidate to head Morocco’s Ministry of Interior.[9]

(Text by Tyler Belmont)





[5], p. 97.






Book Review:


There’s no need to repeat here what dozens of glowing reviews written by respected intellectuals have already mentioned elsewhere. But what is worth mentioning is that one of the critical reasons why Robert F. Worth’s A Rage for Order has been so well received is because it is unlike the stifling majority of widespread Western books and media that understate if not overlook entirely the Arab people’s dynamic humanity – a humanity undercut by both their own governments and international actors and institutions. Those privileged enough to be well-acquainted with the Arab world understand that cold objectivity is a crudely limited lens for understanding the region in all its identities, emotional vitality, and spiritual vigor. Few books can rival A Rage for Order’s skill in conveying the Arab people’s vibrancy or the urgency of their dreams and despairs.

What makes A Rage for Order special is its seamless weaving of complex national histories into the diverse stories of people, with each chapter uniquely contributing to a nuanced portrait of the Arab revolutions and their legacies. Although the book’s approachable length at 268 pages is necessarily limited in its narrative time frame, readers will leave the book with fundamental historical and social insights key to parceling between the similarities and differences of various Arab countries and the uprisings they hosted. Perhaps the most consequential insight of Worth’s narrative is that decades of kleptocracy and failed social movements have led to a perceived pervasiveness of Arab fatalism; and yet behind that fatalism exists a search for identity and a social order that guarantees the unalienable demand for dignity and a sense of belonging. As much as this book portrays the continued disappointments among many who continue that search – be they recruits of the so-called Islamic State or victims of ongoing war – A Rage for Order also reveals the desire among many to begin breaking the endless cycles of vengeful violence. Worth enables us to recognize the aspiration among everyday people to pursue a higher form of justice and economic dignity and thereby inculcate a sustainable peace that has too long evaded them.


Chapter Summary: 

Chapter 1: One People (Egypt)

A Rage for Order is divided into two parts. Part I details the unfolding of the Arab revolutions across several Arab countries, including Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen, while Part II explores the post-revolutionary landscapes manifested in Egypt and Syria, as well as Tunisia. As the Arab world’s most populous country at over 80 million people, what happens in Egypt matters. The chapter details the  follows Worth in Cairo as he illustrates the mass discontentment of various cross-sections of Egyptian society that come together in a unified desire to overthrow the military regime of Hosni Mubarak.


Chapter 2: Revenge (Libya)

Against the backdrop of the recently deposed Muammar Gaddafi regime, this chapter explores the questions of revenge, forgiveness, and justice in an environment void of institutionalized political order. In a series of events, a group of individuals who were imprisoned and ferociously tortured under the Gaddafi regime have now been liberated and hold the very people responsible for torturing and killing their loved ones under arrest. Worth depicts a profound prisoner-captor relationship, posing questions of who possesses the legitimacy of delegating justice under which conditions.


Chapter 3: Sects (Syria)

It is through a story of a childhood friendship shattered by war that Worth illustrates one of the most consequential questions of human history – the manipulation of identity in shaping the attitudes and perceptions of people. Despite its violent sectarian history, Syria was a place where people could coexist. Coexistence proved to be among the first casualties of the Syrian uprising, as communities and leaders alike sought to defend themselves against violence from “others”.


Chapter 4: Prisoners of the Sheikh (Yemen)

Yemen offers a story characterized by political division, foreign interference and extraction, tribal politicking, and the depravities of years-long mismanagement under the reign of the now late Ali Abdullah Saleh. As the poorest country in the region, the uprising in Yemen was less a popular revolt by a wide cross-section of society and more a result of tribal feuds. As the war continues, daily life grows grimmer for the country’s most vulnerable.


Chapter 5: Brothers (Egypt)

As the book progresses into Part II, Worth returns to Egypt to begin exploring the events following the overthrow of long-established regimes. As the only civic group in Egypt with any remarkable political organization and long-standing social presence, the Muslim Brotherhood proved to be the primary beneficiary of the post-Mubarak elections in 2012. But even as it swept national elections and gained the presidency at the cost more secular parties endorsed by the younger generations, the Brotherhood’s hold on power was remarkably fragile. Shrouded in a political opaqueness that contradicted democratic spirit, the Muslim Brotherhood under Muhammad Morsi sought to make existential amends with the very Egyptian military that still had the power to overthrow the Brotherhood regime and restore military dictatorship – something that ultimately came to be supported by many of the very seculars that initiated the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak.


Chapter 6: In the Caliph’s Shadow (Syria)

The so-called Islamic State is a new manifestation of terror in the Arab world in the sense that compared to other groups, it is actively seeking to make a functioning Islamic Caliphate that proffers state-like services and responsibilities. To that end, ISIS demands a cross-section of labor skills devoted to tasks beyond warfare, which led to its recruiting and appeal among a wider demographic of marginalized, radicalized, and unemployed young people. This chapter follows the story of a Kuwaiti bureaucrat who volunteers for administrative work in ISIS, only to become deployed as a foot-soldier on the frontline, prompting his desire for a way out again.


Chapter 7: Reconciliation (Tunisia)

The book finishes with what many consider to be the most hopeful case for human rights and dignity in the Middle East following the Arab revolutions, Tunisia. The chapter narrates a tumultuous relationship between Beji Caid Essebsi and Rachid Ghannouchi, the respective leaders of the post-Ben Ali secular party Nida Tounes and the Islamist party Ennahda. In the face of continued economic struggles, political assassinations, and terrorist activity, the leaders struggle to reconcile their ambitions within the new government without losing the faith of their parties and the Tunisian people at large.








Imaginary Geographies of Algerian Violence

Jacob Mundy

Stanford: Stanford University Press. 2015.



Imaginary Geographies of Algerian Violence by Jacob Mundy gives an interesting analysis of the neoliberal framework of contemporary conflict science and management, and how it shapes and is shaped by our understanding of the Algerian conflict in the 90’s. Mundy does a good job in deconstructing multiple narratives in the context of the violence in Algeria and what that tells us of post-Cold War conflict science and management in general. His analysis of concepts like terrorism and genocide are intriguing, and makes us realize the effects of certain categorization. Although one might not agree directly with all his criticism, his perspective is still an engaging one: by challenging the frameworks used in conflict science, he prompts the reader to reconsider how they perceive conflicts themselves.

Perhaps the biggest downside of Jacob Mundy’s work is that it is in fact mostly criticism and deconstruction. He fails to give the reader a satisfying positive analysis of how to understand the Algerian conflict, or conflicts in general. Many of his own concepts such as ‘antipolitics’ and ‘power of violence’ are poorly defined. His lack of positive analysis also devalues his more intriguing criticism somewhat: at the point that the reader might accept Mundy’s points against the original framework, he fails to give an alternative perspective to look at the matter. Overall, the book is thus a challenging read, but fails to completely satisfy the reader’s yearn for understanding.



IThe introduction is important to consider because it encompasses some of Mundy’s most important analysis. Mundy attacks the neoliberal framework of conflict studies and management that has risen from the end of the Cold War. He argues that this framework is mostly characterized by the antipolitics of marginalism by using economic reductionism and not taking into account questions of power, geography and history through the use of depoliticized concepts such as civil war, terrorism and genocide. Concerning Algeria, Mundy believes that this framework has been employed post facto to both explain the 90’s conflict’s violence, and use it as a validation of its methods and conclusions, even though there was not enough factual knowledge of the violence to support this application. Not only are these reductionist conclusions often wrong, they can materialize the framework into the world themselves by their adaptation of conflict management, which perpetuates the limited framework through self validation.

  1. Civil War

In the first chapter, Mundy discusses the concept of civil war and how it became attached to the Algerian conflict. He first discusses how in general categorizing something as a civil war is highly political; it employs graveness to the situation, yet at the same time does not make it imperative for outside factions to intervene due to the internal aspect of a ‘civil war’. He then discusses how the international community had a hard time defining Algeria conflict as a civil war during the 90’s due to the seemingly paradoxical nature of the violence. Thereafter he states that conflict scientists were however quick to define Algeria as a civil war sometimes solely based on the number of casualties, which have never been truly verified.  

  1. Greed and Grievance

In this chapter, Mundy deconstructs the mainstream discourse about the motives and causes of the 90’s violence that has been formulated post facto. He first discusses the ostensible political explanations of the violence causes, which tend to focus on the denial of political rights and on the events of ‘88 and ‘92. According to Mundy, this neglects the more gradual procession of events leading up to the conflict and contradicts the fact that violence escalated during times of political progress. Secondly he discusses the economical explanations, which understand violence as a struggle of the insurgency to gain resources, thus assuming that a) the insurgents are the only causers of the conflict b) that the insurgents motives are essentially economic. Therefore, according to Mundy, actual motives of the violence are reduced to normative assumptions.

  1. Identity, Religion and Terrorism

This chapter focuses on how identity has been used in explaining the nature and causes of the 90’s violence. After discussing Huntington’s  “Clash of civilization” thesis, Mundy discusses how identity became a popular angle in explaining the brutal nature of the killings. This was tied to an ostensible essential part of Algerian and Islamic identity. The problem is that the identity of the killers has been quite ambiguous till this very day, which Mundy emphasised by focussing on the  “Qui tue?”(Who kills?) narrative at the moment of the 90’s killings.

  1. Counterterrorism

In this chapter Mundy focuses on the concept of terrorism. He begins to talk about how after the 9/11-attacks the “Qui tue?” narrative disappears and all the violence is framed as radical Islamic terrorism. He explains that most studies on terrorism are based on correlative analysis and not on ethnographic understanding, while counterterrorism uses elimination strategies to fight them, often unsuccessfully. Mundy argues that the homogenisation of Algeria’s violence –though describing it with common labels and geography– allowed for its reduction to terrorism. Mundy then reminds us of how many theories there were about who was involved in the killings during the 90’s, thus showing that the simple use of the term ‘terrorists’ is just the antipolitical solution to understand the unsettling mystery of Algeria’s killers.

  1. Humanitarian Intervention and the Responsibility to Protect

Mundy then challenges the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), by focusing on its recent different approaches to Syria and Libya. He links that back to Algeria, by discussing how the R2P project does not actively refer to the 90’s massacres as a failure of humanitarian action. This is mostly because Algeria’s violence has been hard to frame in the humanitarian context, since it was more complex and ambiguous than genocide and there was no collapse of the state. He highlights how the term genocide depoliticizes violence and how it can be used as a tool to legitimize military action without further debate. He then discusses how throughout the 90’s there were calls for intervention and international truth commission at the height of the violence, dealing with the same framework problem.

  1. Truth, Reconciliation and Transitional Justice

In the final chapter, Mundy focuses on Transitional Justice (TJ) and its absence in Algeria. He first discusses the presumed opposition between the International Criminal Court and Transitional Justice Committees for managing post-conflict situations. He argues that they are actually more similar than generally assumed, since both are morality plays and attempts of neoliberalism to homogenize conflict management. He is critical of Truth and Dignity Committees and believes that their actual success in ‘healing’ a society has yet to be proven. He then focuses how history is paradoxically imagined in conflict science as a mystical force that causes violence and at the same time has a healing effect on society. Mundy then discusses Algeria’s relation to TJ, including the defamation trial in France in 2002, the amnesty laws, the lack of a truth narrative, and current civilian archivist organisations.


(By Samuel Langelaan)

Chapter One: Understanding the Political Democratisation at the Beginning of the Twenty-first Century

In Chapter One, Volpi considers various approaches to the question of Islam in democracy and, in an effort to avoid common pitfalls — employing Western definitions political development and revolution, failing to identify ideological bias, focusing on state structures and institutions, and so forth — he decides to examine the practical motivations of actions taken in Algeria through the lens of ideology and culture. He emphasizes the examination of political actors’ use of existing systems and persuasive rhetoric to gain power, as well as the narrative in which Islam and democracy are dichotomized. He attributes the success of Islamic fundamentalists to the strategic employment of this dichotomy and a genuine desire for an Islamic democracy. Volpi points to the conflict between the public consensus and the current secular authoritarian regimes as a roadblock on the path to democracy. He then discusses the role of states in transnational ideological movements. He notes that, unlike previous groups, contemporary international terrorist organizations are financed primarily through a decentralized network rather than traditional states. Moreover, they use the West’s support of secular authoritarian regimes — a short-term solution to security threats — to radicalize oppressed citizens living at home or abroad. Thus, all actors have found themselves within a vicious cycle.

Chapter Two: Political Ideas and Practices in Historical Perspective

In Chapter Two, Volpi examines the origin of authoritarian governance in Algeria, starting with colonialism. Because the state of Algeria was initially a French colonial conception, the protectorate adopted a hierarchical governance structure based in the mission civilisatrice. After Algeria gained Independence, the National Liberation Front (FLN) established a similar hierarchical structure based in post-colonial movements. The FLN solidified its power through repressive tactics and nepotism, leading to conflict between the purported principle of governance as benefiting the people and the actual implementation of governance as only benefiting the elite — a phenomenon Volpi relates to assabiyya during the “classical Islamic period.” He then examines the rise of political Islam, focusing on the primary ideologies that led to the rise of contemporary Islamic fundamentalism, beginning in the early 20th century. Jamal al-Afghani’s call for a rational Western approach to Islamic reform inspired the salafiyya movement, reform based in the “Golden Age of Islam” that was politicized by its followers.  Sayyib Qutb eventually broke from the salafiyya movement and argued for reform based in morality. He called for the “enlightenment of the masses” and, Volpi notes, placed political Islam in direct opposition to post-colonial MENA regimes.

Chapter Three: The Algerian Political Transition: Democratic Symbols and Authoritarian Practices (1988-91)

In Chapter Three, Volpi discusses the attempted democratization of Algeria from 1988-1991 by exploring the roles of civil society, political Islam, and the Algerian regime. He begins by describing the grassroots creation of civil society that finally began to gain traction in 1980 due to pervasive economic hardship. Algerians took to the streets in protest of the increased cost of food and education, as well as the decreased quality in work conditions and benefits. President Chadli responded by declaring a state of emergency and implementing military rule. Islamic fundamentalism embedded itself in protest efforts and worked to organize and focus this expression of civil power. Heinous acts of oppression by the regime eventually led protesters to demand a regime change.  President Chadli thus began to promote long-term democratic reform, which appeased the protesters. Elections for a new President, constitutional reform – leading to the creation of the FIS party –, and other efforts to incorporate the will of the people into governance were initially promising, but a lack of trust still permeated the political sphere. After the FIS’s success in the 1990s elections, the regime implemented more regressive practices and showed its true colors following the contentious FIS victory in the 1991 elections.

Chapter Four: The 1992 Coup d’État and Beyond: War as Politics Through Other Means (1992-94)

In Chapter Four, Volpi recounts the eruption of violence that marked the 1990s as a brutal and dark decade. Unrest – led by the FIS – began with President Chadli’s unexpected resignation in 1992 after secretly dissolving of Parliament. The High Security Council (HSC) initially took over, but quickly transferred its power to the State High Committee (HCE) due to claims of illegitimacy. Though the HCE gained international legitimacy from the Maghreb and Egypt, it lacked domestic support was met with a violent uprising on February 8th. Volpi then reveals the military coup’s role in President Chadli’s resignation and dissolving of Parliament. He describes the military’s consolidation of power through the HCE – a puppet government –,  noting their efforts to disenfranchise and de-legitimize the FIS in particular. The HCE, led by Boudiaf before his assassination, did not enact meaningful reform and the military grew even more repressive. In an attempt at peace, the HCE establishes the “National Commission for Dialogue” (CND), but this effort failed. Violence grew increasingly widespread due to the undemocratic appointment of Liamin Zeroula to the Presidency and the rise of guerrilla groups – notably the Armed Islamic Movement (MIA), the Armed Islamic Group (GIA)., and the Islamic Salvation Army (AIS).


Chapter Five: A New Authoritarianism: Guided Democracy Versus Radical Islam (1995-2000)

In Chapter Five, Volpi considers the regime’s attempts to restore trust in pursuit of peace. First, President Zeroual attempts to establish dialogue with FIS in 1994, but is unsuccessful. He then implements democratic reform, notably the Presidential and Parliamentary elections, and reconciliation through amnesty. However, his continued use of repressive measures led to mistrust of the elections. In fact, Zeroual won the Presidential election, in what many claim was a ploy to gain legitimacy. Zeroual lost even more support as a result of his undemocratic efforts to remain in power, as evidenced by the allegedly rigged 1997 elections – leading to mass protests. Despite his successful negotiation of a FIS ceasefire, Zeroula resigned in 1998 – likely due to military pressure – prompting an election. This election was later proven to be rigged, ensuring Bouteflika’s victory. Bouteflika made strides in establishing peace through the “law on civil concord”  and an amnesty deal in 1999. However, Bouteflika and the military – led by Lamari – continued to conspire together in search of power. Guerilla groups lost much of their influence in the late 1990s, but (as of 2003) continue to push their agenda.

Chapter Six: A Civil Society in Transition: Survivalist Strategies and Social Protest

In Chapter Six, Volpi highlights the difficulties that civil society faced, as many Algerians considered violence to be the only way to truly enact change. In rural areas, communities were ravaged by violence and crippling economic conditions, leading many rural Algerians to either join a guerilla group or the state-sponsored militias. This decision was pragmatic and based on family and clan loyalty. Urban communities, on the other hand, were more focused in the regime’s economic and social policy, most notably the poorly managed resource of oil. Moreover, an influx or rural Algerians in urban areas, due to the horrible conditions of rural life, introduced additional social issues in urban areas, such as lack of housing and job loss. Volpi notes that the black market became a source of civil society, as it provided job opportunities and reduced the state’s control of the economy by decentralizing currency. Civil society was also present in the Islamic and Berber groups who supported vulnerable Algerians. These groups worked through networks and joined forces against the common enemy of the state in spite of ideological differences. However, Volpi highlights the case of Kabyle as an example of how easily civil society is radicalized.

Chapter Seven: The New International Arena: Strengths and Weaknesses of the New World Order

In Chapter Seven, Volpi examines the events of the dark decade in an international context. Algeria as a state was doing well economically due to foreign investment and oil production. Average Algerians were still suffering, though, in spite of regime efforts to offer economic relief. After Boudiaf’s assassination, socialist practices and were reintroduced and additional money was printed, but inflation increased as a result of these practices, exacerbating already dire economic conditions. Algeria reached out to international community for assistance and the economy was subsequently liberalized. As “stability” returned to Algeria in 1995 – at least from an international perspective –, so did foreign investments. Despite economic setbacks in the late 1990s, Algeria was an attractive investment opportunity and essential ally in the war on terror in the 2000s. Volpi notes that the international community’s failure to “promote democracy” led to the radicalization of many Algerians, at home and abroad, who sought justice through any means – even violence. He concludes by considering if democracy has a place in Algeria – military personnel argue that the type of governance will not remedy systemic issues – and, if so, what democracy in Algeria would look like, noting the Turkish Republic’s “quasi-democracy” as a potential example.

Chapter Eight: Conclusion: Learning and Unlearning to be Democratic

Volpi concludes by revisiting his main points and offering measures that can be taken to facilitate the success democratization of Algeria. He highlights the main reasons why Algeria failed to democratize in the 1990s, underscoring the focus on institutional debate, despite ongoing economic and social issues, the speed of the transition process, and the lack of effective non-partisan civil power. He continues by noting that all parties are all responsible for the current situation, a nuanced understanding that stems from considering the “practical” decisions involved in the conflict. Volpi subsequently considers the fundamental flaws of each actor’s response to the situation: he notes that international community exacerbated the radicalization of Algerians through short-term solutions to economic and security issues; the regime suffered due to an absence of trust; and Islamic fundamentalists lacked political experience, moderation, and a clear hierarchy that could have preserved the ethos of the organization. Moving forward, Volpi notes obstacles to democratization, including a precedence of violence and the prioritization of stability, but also tools – notably the Kabyle community’s expression of civil power. Volpi believes re-education is key to fostering an informed populous and peaceful democratization process, but admits that situation is pretty bleak.

Overall Review

In Islam in Democracy: The Failure of Dialogue in Algeria, Frédéric Volpi provides a nuanced analysis of Algeria’s attempt at democratization and avoids vilifying the Islamic actors, as other accounts of the Dark Decade and political Islam often do. As a European academic, Volpi approaches the Algerian events exogenously and is thus able to construct a relatively objective analysis. His practical approach is very successful and does, in fact, allow him to consider the merits and flaws of each actor’s decisions. While Volpi does examine these aspects of each distinct actor, he does not examine the role of women during the democratization process, the Dark Decade, or the aftermath. Women, in fact, were deliberately targeted by guerrilla and state-sponsored violence and have led the effort to establish transitional justice in Algeria. Furthermore, Volpi did not consider how women fit into the ideological shaping of political Islam over the 20th century, despite the fact that women’s rights were central to the secular versus Islamic debate. Finally, as nearly half of Algerians are women, they would be a critical group to consider in the event of democratization. Volpi’s analysis remains nuanced despite this decision to exclude the women’s rights issue, but is ultimately not comprehensive.

(Text by Claiborne Beary)

Book Summary:

In the Year of Dreaming Dangerously, Slavoj Zizek forms a complex layered analysis of the social uprisings that occurred across the world in 2011. He employs a dialectic analysis of the capitalist form to explain the uprisings and advocate for the necessity, and inevitability, of continued upheaval, revolution, and destruction of the current hegemonic structure. This brief work is a compelling theoretical analysis, that, while accessible to a broad audience, does not present normative arguments. It is radical in its formations, and, for that reason alone, is a valuable read.

Chapter One: War Nam Nihadan

In this chapter Zizek connects emancipatory dreams across the world from New York City, to, Tahrir Square and all across Europe. Zizek argues that while the “primary task of the hegemonic ideology was to neutralize the true dimension of these events,” the reaction the the media was as zizek describes a “war nam nihadan” (A Persian expression that means: to murder somebody, bury his body then grow flowers over the body to conceal it)(Zizek 6). Zizek explains that the media effectively “killed the radical emancipatory potential” of the events of 2011 and that it is important to look at the events of 2011, like the protests in New York and the Arab Spring, as part of a widespread global narrative surrounding contemporary capitalism (Zizek 6).  This global narrative, he explains, offers all of the possible answers and reactions toward a “basic structural deadlock or antagonism” and furthermore “opens a set of creative possibilities” which can be used as potential responses to the situation (Zizek 7). Zizek looks at this argument through a communist lens as he explains that “more than ever one should bear in mind that communism begins with the ‘public use of reason’”, which he argues is what the world needs to do: “think publicly” (Zizek 11, 12).

Chapter Two: From Domination to Exploitation and Revolt

In chapter two, Zizek states Marx’s “critique of political economy remains the starting point for understanding our socio-economic predicament”(Zizek 16). However, he goes further when he explains that while Marx’s critique may be a starting point it can not fully explain or propose “clear solutions” for the socio-economic problems we face today. Zizek explains that capitalism is characterized by “structural imbalance”, this can be seen in the rise of the “salaried bourgeoisie”(Zizek 18, 19). Zizek discuses the limitations Marx faced by viewing “general intellect” as the central agency of revolution(Zizek 20). Zizek explains that it is in fact the rise of “immaterial labor” to a “hegemonic position” that makes the idea of revolution possible (Zizek 20). Here Zizek brings back into light the position of the salaried bourgeoisie in revolution. In current capitalism, he explains, there are levels of salaried bourgeoisie, the upper level bourgeoisie included lawyers, managers, doctors etc…, have a higher surplus wage than the lower level of salaried bourgeoisie. For the lower level the “only thing that stands in the way of their joining the proletarians is their power of political protest. In this relationship is where the idea of revolution is born as the lower salaried bourgeoisie fight and protest against the “gradual erosion of their (politically) privileged economic position”(Zizek 28). These protests are not “proletarian protests”, as Marx would say but “ protests against the threat of being reduced to a proletarian status”(Zizek 29). Many of the revolutions, and protests of 2011 started as a protest of the salaried bourgeoisie but turned into a larger fight “against an oppressive regime”(Zizek 30). Further in this chapter Zizek also argues against the Welfare State as a solution to these problems. He explains that this would not work because a Welfare State “opposes its own idealized ideological supplement to the existing deadlock”(Zizek 39). Finally, Zizek touches on the the US’s establishment of its imperial role by creating a permanent state of war in which the US fights the “war on terror” and paints itself as the “universal protector” of the world(Zizek 46).

Chapter Three: The “Dream-Work” of Political Representation

In this chapter, Zizek dives into the idea of class struggle and politics. He begins by discussing the deadlock of all classes. Zizek explains that in order for one – in his example, Napoleon – to stand above all the classes and not “act as direct representative” of any one class he can not simply locate the base of his regime in the “remainder of all classes” but he must act as the representative of the class of people who can’t represent themselves: the small-holding peasants class(Zizek 59). He must be able to represent them but, at the same time, “appear as their master”(Zizek 59). Furthermore Zizek explains that we live in a time of debt and deficit; because of this everyone must “share the burden and accept a lower standard of living” except for the rich because we are told that if we tax the very rich, they will loose incentive to invert and create jobs(Zizek 61). Therefore the perpetuated idea of debt relief is for the rich to become richer and the poor to become poorer. He then goes on to explain that most of the political wars and cultural battles we have today stem from the class struggle. For example anti-Semitism is displaced class struggle. In order to unify all the classes against hardship, the hardship or problem is displaced and “projected onto [an] external intruder” like the Jews(Zizek 63). Following this discussion Zizek looks at the conservative versus liberal clash in the United States. He argues that today’s middle class are small farmers who just want to maintain their way of life and live in peace. This sentiment often leads to the middle clash often being the most supportive of “authoritarian coups [that] promise to put an end to crazy political mobilization of society” that causes changes to their way of life(Zizek 65). In the mind of the conservative  middle class, this change is perpetuated by liberals which is the heart of American politics today. In an ironic twist however, Zizek explains that in order to maintain their way of life, the conservative middle class votes “themselves into economic ruin”; by voting for less taxation and deregulation they give more freedom and opportunity to large corporations which drive the conservative middle class farmers out of business(Zizek).

Chapter Four: The Return of the Evil Ethnic Thing

In this chapter Zizek discusses some of the politics behind anti-immigration, anti-semitism and the backlash toward multiculturalism. Zizek begins his argument by discussing Hitler’s anti-semitic narrative from the 1930s. He explains, anti-semitism was given as an “explanation for troubles experienced by ordinary Germans: unemployment, moral decay [and] social unrest…”(Zizek 96).  Zizek argues that anti-immigration, anti-Islamic and anti-multiculturalism sentiments today are similar scapegoats for economic hardships people are experiencing today. he explains that “clinging to to ethnic identity”  serves as a “protective shield against the trauma” of current financial crisis(Zizek 97). He explains how Europe’s Crisis gives justification for Europe’s current anti-immigration stance, and pro-Christianity politics is a construct created to oppose Islam. Zizek goes in to deep detail on the politics surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Much support of Israel, he explains, is seeded from a deep fear of Islam. Islam seems to be the new external intruder from which countries can build a political platform by blaming their problems on Islam. As country’s governments discuss the “peace process” in Israel-Palestine, they are looking to further their countries interests which exist under occupation; however their citizens by into the narrative that Islam is the source of all many of their problems, so sustaining an occupation seems to be in their interest as well. Another issue, Zizek explains, is the inability for anyone to criticize the politics of the Israeli government and their occupation of Palestinian territory without also being accused of being anti-Semitic. These sentiments make it possible to perpetuate these oppressive political stances.

Chapter Five: Welcome to the Desert of Post-Ideology

In this chapter, Zizek primarily discusses the idea that “enjoyment is tolerated…on condition that it remains healthy…”, healthy meaning it does not disrupt the “psychic or biologic stability” that society deems as the norm(Zizek 133). Problems arise, Zizek argues, when “while prohibiting” (and judging) many escapades, the law, or government will often “not only discreetly…ignore and tolerate” these escapades but “even solicit them”(Zizek 136). Zizek illuminates this problematic relationship through his example of the “Catholic Church which today turns a blind eye to pedophilia”(Zizek 136). In this chapter, Zizek further analyzes this contradiction in various political contexts in an attempt to understand social movements that include social unrest, riots and even the movement of political correctness.

Chapter Six – The Arab Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall

In the only chapter of the book devoted entirely to uprisings in the Arab world, Zizek takes a remarkable turn away from the expected. Rather than producing an analysis exclusively of the 2011 uprisings, Zizek describes the complicated radical history of Islam (in a social, rather than religious, sense) in relation to the spirit of resistance in the Arab world as a whole. By generating a narrative in this manner, Zizek moves away from the normative analysis of the process of revolution in the MENA region as a two-step process that ultimately manifests in the clash between religion and secularism. Instead, he focuses on the emancipatory history and potential of Islam as a source of radical individual and communal self-determination.


Chapter Seven – Occupy Wall Street, Or, The Violent Silence of a New Beginning

In his analysis of the Occupy Movement, Zizek seeks to explain Occupy’s potential beyond reform. The end of revolutionary action, he ultimately asserts, ought to be change beyond what is imaginable within the confines of society’s present condition – beyond the model of capitalist liberal democracy. In defending the OWS movement against charges of communism, Zizek responds, “The only sense in which they are communists is that they care about the commons – the commons of nature, of knowledge – which are threatened by the system,” he continues, “they are not destroying anything, but reacting to a system in the process of gradually destroying itself.” (p.83)


Chapter Eight – The Wire, Or, What to do in Non–Evental Times

In the most playful chapter of the book, Zizek analyzes the HBO series The Wire as providing a vision of the utopian imagination of radical change. In imagining the metaphor that is the show’s title, Zizek forms two images – the wire as a surveillance device and the wire as the razor thin line that divides, “those participating in the American Dream, and those left behind.” (p.92). In this way, Zizek proceeds to analyze the show as explicative of class struggle in the United States and the world, and by extension the totality of the capitalist system. It is within this context that the Series’ main characters attempt to apply their utopian visions to the existing system and inevitably fail. This indicates to Zizek the necessity of radial change – reform, no matter how utopian will fail.


Chapter Nine – Beyond Envy and Resentment

In chapter 9, Zizek constructs the ideal revolutionary, while responding to the Sloterdijk’s belief in the philanthropic nature of the aristocracy. Solterdijk’s assertion is that taxation is extraneous because, if the rich were not taxed, they would engage more in charitable giving – Sloterdijk believes in a harmonious balance between the desires to aggressively accumulate and give generously. Zizek responds to this claim with incredulity – the capitalist aristocracy, formed in this manner, is not to be praised. Instead, the perfect aristocrat is a revolutionary who appears in classic works of literature – the anti-bourgeois aristocrat (p.118).  It is this model that Coriolanus fits perfectly. Of Coriolanus, Zizek writes, “Coriolanus is a killing machine…he has not fixed class allegiance and can easily put himself in the service of the oppressed” (p.123). It is this character-type who is the ideal radical freedom fighter – the violent aristocrat who is not bound to the aristocracy.

(Text by Marisa Edmondson and Naoise Reynolds)

Chapter 1

Chapter 1 details the history of Islam in Tunisia from its ancient roots to the increasing secularism after Habib Bourguiba was elected president in 1957. It provides an alternative to the narrative of Tunisia as an ever-secular nation. Wolf points out that Tunisia has a history of frequent reform, but that that reform is not antithetical to Islamic principles — the first notable reform movement was Sufism. Tunisia has an ancient history of being an Islamic landmark; the Kairouan mosque was considered the “first Islamic capital” in the Maghreb and the Zaytouna mosque and university further tied Tunisia’s renown and pride to its Islamic institutions. Later, the Bey dynasty’s attempts to encourage bilateral communication with other powers inadvertently led to Western involvement and the later transformation of Tunisia into a French protectorate. Wolf then details the rise of the Destour and Neo-Destour movements as responses to colonialism and its associated “Westernization.”


Chapter 2

Wolf then describes the gradual politicization of Islam from the 60s through the 80s and identifies three primary guiding factors affecting the youth and devout Muslims: the spread of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s writings and ideology, the inspiration from the 1979 Iranian Revolution, and increasing Muslim activism in universities. In the atmosphere of “modernization” and “progressiveness” under President Bourguiba, Islam had been relegated to the private sphere. However, groups including Rachid Ghannouchi,’s Hmida Ennaifer’s, and Abdelfattah Mourou’s al Jama’a al-Islamiyya (the Islamic Group) sought to return it to public life. This period also saw the emergence of a youth-led faction of the Islamic Group, the Islamic Tendency Movement (MTI); this group would later rebrand to become today’s Ennahda.


Chapter 3

Beginning with Bourguiba’s discovery in 1980 of the MTI’s full organizational scope, his, and later Ben Ali’s, strategies for responding to Islamism shifted dramatically; he began to incorporate more religion into his policy (proving incorrect the identity of Tunisia as consistently secular) while simultaneously cracking down harshly on “unauthorized” Islamist activity. Tensions increased between the regime and the MTI, and even within the MTI itself, leading to violent escalation. After Ben Ali’s nonviolent coup, hopes were initially high that Islamists would be able to participate politically, however Ennahda’s strength in the 1989 elections proved threatening to Ben Ali and resulted in increasingly brutal attempts to silence the Islamists.


Chapter 4

The chapter outlines the patterns of oppression and torture enforced by the Ben Ali regime, against Islamists and particularly members of Ennahdha. Wolf then tracks Ennahda leadership’s response to the oppression through the organization of a foreign network, centered in London where Rached Ghannouchi was exiled. At this point Ennahda were poorly connected and did not have significant support either from the international committee, or from their brethren still inside Tunisia who believed themselves to have been abandoned by the now largely international Ennahdha leadership. It also tracks various endeavors of fighting the Ben Ali controlled narrative, like Zaytouna TV or the newspaper Al-Insan. Despite this, the 2000s represented a period of decreasing influence for the party. A number of younger members began to question the moderate nature of Ennahda and defected to more extreme groups like the Salafis.


Chapter 5

The Ben Ali regime became less oppressive against Ennahda as it became less of an active threat. However, starting 2008, there was a resurgence of the Islamic faith as more and more Tunisians grew to see their practice as a form of passive resistance against the RCD regime. Additionally, this rise in religiousness was accompanied by a marked lack in consumerism. Once this started to appear as a sustained trend, Ben Ali tried to reach out to this religious sentiment by attempting to draw the line between Islamist and Muslim so as to maintain control. While Ennahda tried to take advantage of this sentiment, it still had to deal with internal divisions on what the Ennahda mission was. It further documents the attempted rebuilding of Ennahda’s underground national network and the simultaneous growth of salafi and other extremist Islamic groups. This growth of extremist groups would eventually force a negotiation between the moderate Ennahda and the Ben Ali regime.


Chapter 6

During the uprisings of 2011, Ennahda had a largely limited role, but was able to harness the spirit of the revolution and gain significant political advantage leading to its significant victory in the 2011 elections. However, despite its popularity, in the immediate years after its election, Ennahda had to battle a number of challenges, first in the form of the Islamist-Secularist conflict, and then with maintaining its political goals with the demands of an increasingly extreme grassroots organization. In the years after the January 14th movement, Tunisians were searching for their Islamic identity and to many, that manifested in largely extremist ways, leading to the widespread of influence of the Salafis and groups like Ansar al-Shari’a. The chapter tracks attempts made by Ennahda to separate itself from these groups but being unable to, lost a significant amount of influence to groups like Nidaa Tounes, who would eventually win the next election, after the acts of extremist groups forced the resignation of the Troika. Ennahda finally turned to defining itself as Muslim Democrats as opposed to political islamists as a finals attempt to label themselves as the moderate Islamic party.

Political Islam in Tunisia: The History of Ennahda is a poignant and nuanced look at one of the key players in what is one of today’s most scrutinized governments. It dispels the Western narrative of a uniformly applied Islamic democracy and explains Ennahda’s actions as a political leader in the context of its past victimhood and repression. Its history as part of the Tunisian identity serves to separate it from other Islamist movements in the region such as the Muslim Brotherhood and explains its continuing success. Wolf describes the challenges of being a truly moderate Islamic party in the face of the secularist vs. Islamist conflict as well as internal conflict with its more extreme elements. According to Wolf, religion incorporated into democracy is no more dangerous than instrumentalized secularism.


(Text by Akhila Roy Chowdhury and Rowen Price)

(Isabella and Sophia and David)


Chapter 1: Freedom’s Ride

Long-time observers of regimes in the Middle East and North Africa were well-aware of issues present in the region, but the series of revolutions that took place in the region in 2011 and the following years still took many by surprise. Among those taken by surprise was the United States government. Under the leadership of President Obama, the administration valued stability over democratization, and while they began to support the process as regime change appeared inevitable in many states, they also feared who might fill the power vacuums that would follow uprisings in the region.
Many media observers were more hopeful. Many assumed that the revolutions occurring in the region were sure to bring democracy. Looking to the governing AKP party in Turkey as a model, they viewed Islamist parties as effective potential forces for democracy, ignoring the issues present in the Turkish system.
Academics brought more nuance to the conversation. Scholars had long understood authoritarian regimes to be stable and knew that such regimes could use the tools of democracy as a way to strengthen their power. However, the focus paid to explaining the stability of regimes caused many scholars to overlook factors such as militaries, neo-Liberalism, and pan-Arabism, ultimately causing them to miss the signals of impending change. While many scholars reversed course in the aftermath of the so-called “Arab Spring,” insisting that democratic change was soon to come, Cook argues that they got the dynamics of authoritarian regimes partially right. While authoritarian regimes are indeed durable, he claims, academics simply misjudged their stability.


Chapter 2: Bread! Freedom! Social Justice!

In the aftermath of the uprisings of 2011, many observers drew a line between the unrest and economic concerns. Cook concedes that there is some truth to this argument. Following independence from colonial powers, there was a general move first to centralized economies and then to privatization and neoliberal. While this development brought some economic prosperity, it failed to address many underlying issues in the economic system, leaving high unemployment throughout the region. However, the so-called “Arab Spring” occured at a moment of relative prosperity, indicating that these social movements were driven by much more than simple economic grievances.
Because of what they saw as economic success, regimes in the Middle East and North Africa were taken by surprise by popular movements in their countries and tried to explain them away with old work from scholars like Samuel Huntington that argued that economic success bred political instability, but Cook claims that the source of the protests was a more complicated mix of social, economic, and political concerns. Protesters rallied against what they saw as broken social contracts between themselves and their governments, calling for democracy and dignity.
The conflict between power and powerlessness, Cook writes, is vital in understanding these movements. Many states in the region had histories of repression and police abuses with no accountability. While governments claimed to give their citizens rights, these liberties often existed only on paper, hiding regimes that didn’t care about their citizens. Many of the groups most involved in the protests were the same groups that suffered the most repression under autocratic regimes.
Outside groups such as the United States State Department failed to recognize the call for dignity. They heard economic concerns raised and proposed economic development as a solution without realizing that what was really being expressed was a call for the much broader idea of prosperity. While protesters did want economic improvements and democratization, structural reforms to ensure dignity and success were far more important to many.


Chapter 3: Unraveling

Cook goes on to discuss in greater detail the barricades that prevented the uprisings in 2011 throughout the Arab world to result in democracies. He begins by analyzing Egypt’s authoritarian rule and uprisings in 2011. After Mubarak was ousted, Egyptians continued to protest in Tahrir Square, and security forces continued violently cracking down on protesters. The difference between these protests and those asking for Mubarak to leave is the confusion, and lack of direction. While protests asking to end Mubarak’s rule had a clear and definitive goal, protests post “the Arab spring” were ambiguous, and not always well understood. When Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was elected president, he made the mistake of “pursuing authoritarian measures in the name of democracy” (111). Cook stresses the difficulty the Muslim Brotherhood had in understanding that emphasizing democracy is the best way to ensure democracy. In their attempts to secure a ‘changed’ Egypt, Morsi and his political party revived Mubarak-era laws and systems of policing and elections, creating more uncertainty and violence. Morsi was quickly overthrown by a coup d’état in July 3, 2013.
Turkey’s evolution from democracy to authoritarianism is then analyzed in great detail. Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) initially promised a third option for religion and democracy; AKP promised to be a religious party, and to embrace Islam in Turkey, while maintaining a secular state. The party provided a commitment to democracy, allowing the Kurds greater autonomy and more transparent national elections, while at the same time embracing religious conservatives. However, in reality, Erdogan’s Turkey was a deep state of secret police and informants, ensuring that no one would challenge Erdogan’s system. Turkey’s president became more and more paranoid, banning aspects of social media, and publicly denouncing Gülen, an outspoken enemy of Erdogan’s regime, living in exile in Pennsylvania. Turkey’s authoritarian turn prevented plausible hopes of Turkey entering the European Union, and continued to oppress those who spoke out. After the failed July 2016 coup, 67,000 police officers, soldiers, teachers, judges and citizens were arrested, suspended, or fired (121). Journalists saw freedom of press decrease substantially.
Illiberal and populist returns from democratic promises also amassed in Libya after the 2011 uprisings. When Qaddafi was killed, Libyan forces divided into East and West. A new president, Mohammed al-Magariaf, attempted to create a national government, but it seemed to tilt towards the east. When the US embassy was stormed, killing Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans, Libya seemed to escalate once again into crisis. Violent and more complicated than originally expected, Cook emphasizes the strange dichotomy of foreign diplomat’s celebrating each and every new head of state and small move towards democracy in Libya, while Libya fails to find even a glimmer of stability or democracy.
Finally, Tunisia’s relative success is noted a tentative and vulnerable process. Cook recounts current president Beji Caid Essebsi’s coded, yet clear, language against Ennahda, and his Ben Ali-like attempts to appease Western, ‘modern’, governments. Representing Nidaa Tounes, the regime before the uprisings, Essebsi seemed to effectively clean his hands of his involvement with the dictatorship. The National Constituent Assembly created a Troika government and worked to create a fair constitution. However, Cook points out Essebsi’s strange role in the old regime, and reversions back to old-regime-like behavior: Police did little to stop attempts on the attacks of the US embassy in Tunis, or the American School in Tunis, and the Tunisian elite remained intact. The Nobel Peace Prize award to the National Dialogue Quartet in Tunisia was seen as a push to continue the difficult, and fragile, attempts at democracy at play in Tunisia.
Cook goes into detail not only about the historical happenings after the uprisings in Egypt, Turkey, Libya and Tunisia, but then goes forward to analyze the countries’ difficulty to create democracies. His analysis is careful, and often nuanced. After discussing the barriers to open democracies after the uprisings in 2011, Cook leads into his next chapter, forcing the question, why was it more likely that these countries would not succeed as direct democracies when so many voices called for change?

Chapter 4: What Went Wrong

Cook begins this chapter by warning readers about simplifications made in various parts of the world (the United States, Saudi Arabia, Europe), about the ‘Arab spring’ and its similarities to Iraq and terrorism. He carefully notes that while extremism and terrorism do indeed plague the region, blaming the difficult road to democracy on extremism is too convenient of an excuse. Rather, he pushes for a deeper look into the failure to create actual change, democratic development, or overthrow the old-regimes’ elite.
The word revolution is questioned, as none of the studied countries went through the social revolutions necessary to lead to citizen-led democracy. Rather, social and political legacies continued to prop up the Egyptian elite and Mubarak-like policies in Egypt, the Tunisian-elite and members of the old regime in Tunisia, a lack of institutionalism in Libya, and corruption and authoritarianism in Turkey. In order to reach the perfect political equilibrium, each government post the uprisings managed to balance a display of democracy, and underlying authoritarianism.
Institutions, as well as the elite, tend to stick around, even after regime changes. Libya’s lack of institutions created utter chaos. Tunisia’s careful institutionalization of the country prepared its people for a relatively better success story, but still managed to keep Essebsi, a member of the old-regime, in power. Importantly, Cook discusses laws like the Organic Law number 22 (158) in Tunisia that allowed the government to imprison people based on vague links to terrorism. These laws actually allowed leaders post-uprisings to oppress their opponents, just as their predecessors did. For example, in April 2016, the Tunisian government accused 157 civil society organizations of links to terrorism, claims that are “vague, at best” (159). Similarly, in Turkey, leadership used the judiciary and prosecutors for political advantage. In Egypt, anti-terror laws under Sisi “ensured democracy while in actuality imprisoning opponents” (178). Cook underlines the difficulty of creating change when the elite, legal systems, and institutions remained the same, merely under the veil of different names.
Finally, Cook discusses identity after the ‘Arab spring’. He discusses the difficulties of land masses cut-up by colonial powers coming together despite varying tribes and traditions, particularly in Libya. He notes Turkey’s “Kurd problem” (188), and each country’s difficulties tying together Islam and democracy. In looking to the relative success of the Islamic State, Cook notes that their ability to pander to people who feel lost without a strong sense of national identity, like the Kurds, or a member of Ennahda in Tunisia, or someone in a rural area. In analyzing what ‘went wrong’ after the uprisings, Cook points to each country’s inability to create a sense of unity and national identity, and notes how the Islamic State thrived by filling that hole.


Chapter 5: “Getting the Middle East Right”

The title of this chapter describes the impossible. Getting the Middle East “right”, at least for the time being, is not something that the United States is capable of doing. Within these pages, Steven A. Cook sheds light on the “America, the savior, complex” and illustrates the reality that only those in the Middle East can save themselves. Because the conflict in the region dates back to inherent systemic governing differences, international actors understand little of the history that lies beneath surface of the struggles in the Middle East. In this chapter, the author recounts several intervention attempts made by the United States and other countries to remedy the region but explains how the essence of their failures lies in the discrepancies between Western values and Middle Eastern ideologies. He focuses on the Bush and Obama administrations, before, during, and after the 2011uprisings, noting how the optimism in their strategies of establishing partnerships with countries in the region like Egypt, Tunisia, and Turkey to combat the crisis ignored the realities of what what actually happening, considering that those countries were by some manner relative exceptions to the rule. By looking at the conflict through a lens positioned on the Arab and Muslim world but located in Washington, the United States never has and never will be able to successfully implement change. Instead, Cook suggests that America can be a leader, but she must be a leader from the sidelines and abandon her overbearing power stance. Additionally, if America and other countries are to intervene, they must do so without disrupting and then abandoning the state to fend for itself when it its most vulnerable. Imposing Western values onto a region that is struggling to bring about democracy on its own goes against the core of the concept. It has to be for the people, by the people. America can and must help, he notes, but America must also let the people help themselves.


Chapter 6: Freedom Interrupted

In this final chapter, Steven A. Cook explores the reality of the Middle East region and the sad truth that dusk, rather than dawn, is cast upon it. He questions the future of these countries and reveals an often dismissed perspective that despite the apparent, slow and minor, progress, the Middle East will be chronically and violently unstable. He concludes with a sense of cynicism and pessimism that unfortunately paints a picture of what he sees the future to look like. He recalls several failed attempts at catalyzing earth shattering change in Tunisia, Libya, Turkey, and Egypt but awakens us, forcing us to open our eyes and distinguish between the ostensible and the apparent.


Overall Review

In False Dawn, Steven Cook to shift the narrative of the so-called “Arab Spring.” Cook tries to show that the situation in the Middle East following the uprisings in 2011 has been misunderstood and misinterpreted on all sides. He shows the story told by governments, media institutions, and academics of profound change in the region that would result in more just and democratic governments and societies. He then proceeds to challenge this view, presenting an alternate telling of the “Arab Spring” abandons the optimism so common in early analyses and introduces a more nuanced understanding of changed in the region.
Cook describes uprisings that are more complex than a simple response to economic factors. In his telling, social movements were predicated on a complex mixture of factors, but at the center of these movements was a call for dignity. While these movements caused great change in the region, toppling governments in some cases, their long-term effects were far less dramatic. Some governments remained in place with little change. Elsewhere, non-democratic institutions persisted, and some states were simply thrown into chaos. The democracies that did result teetered on the brink of failure, and as a result, Cook argues, little changed, and the lives of relatively few were substantially improved. The book takes a thoroughly pessimistic view, painting a picture of a region that cannot change for the better through foreign intervention and seems unlikely to do so on its own accord.
Cook dives deep in his analysis, tracking the change in the ways the region has been understood since 2011 and before. It expands the conversation beyond a set of simplistic variables and portrays a rich and complicated region. Economic concerns and political institutions play an important role in his analysis, but he moves beyond these concerns, emphasizing the role of dignity and the pursuit of prosperity in social movements. In his telling, these are powerful forces, but they ultimately fall short of creating fully free and democratic societies, impeded by legacies and systems that resist change.

Chapter 1: The Rise of ISIS


This chapter documents the rapid takeover of ISIS and compares its size and influence to that of Al- Qaeda. This comparison allows for the reader to understand why ISIS gained territory, support, and power in a way that Al- Qaeda did not. This chapter discussed the effects of the Arab Spring on the political and defense mechanism and their response to the hostile takeover of cities by the group. It also discussed the effect of the Sunni and Shi’a conflict in the region and the effect of arming anti-Assad militants had in indirectly aiding ISIS in its terror campaign over the region. This chapter also discussed the importance of International Politics


Chapter 2: “The Battle of Mosul”


This chapter depicts the four-day assault on Mosul –the second largest city in Iraq– that began June 6th, 2014. It discusses the effect of corruption on the state level that left the city unprotected and also discussed the history of Al-Qaeda’s forces in the region and their evolution into ISIS. The chapter describes the effective tactics used by the group on the city and the surrounding areas and the effect that taking this city had on the rest of the country as from there the rumors of an attack on Baghdad became a very real fear as  it would grant the group historical legitimacy, as they would claim the historical site of a former caliphate. It also continues to depict the effect of Sunni and Shi’a conflict fueling the fear of the Sunni minority and the conflict amongst the people of Mosul on how to respond to the ISIS campaign when the alternative was the corrupt government. It also discusses the effect of allies in responding to the invasion.


Chapter 3: “In Denial”


The chapter begins with a critique of the U.S. and Western and their use of force through a “bombast” to deal with ISIS. It discusses the effect of media coverage on the group’s campaign and how when there was no imminent attack on Baghdad then and how coverage shifting to other conflicts (Malaysian aircraft over Ukraine shot down by Russia) it cleared a path for the group into Syria. This chapter also critiques the effectiveness of going after oil and monetary influx into the group and relating the ineffectiveness of fighting violence with violence to the lack of faith by the people of the region for a forceful solution. It also continues on to discuss the anti-Assad sentiment used by ISIS to gain ground in Syria. It also continues to talk about the way that the influx of jihadis from abroad into the group further entrenched the group’s strength in the region (disillusionment in their countries post “Arab Spring” pushing them toward extremism).


Chapter 4: Jihadis on the March


This chapter begins by illustrating the actions and practices of individuals in order to demonstrate their loyalty to the cause of jihad.  Furthermore, Patrick Cockburn spends a significant amount of time portraying the burning of passports to signify that once joining the ranks of jihadism, members vow to uphold its practices and never return to their home country.  From here, Cockburn moves to outline the campaigns of the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda in Iraq and Syria in order to provide readers with a rudimentary understanding of their advances in recent years.  He marks the captures of Mosul and Tikirit as quintessential gains representing the Islamic States’ territorial expansion, as an example.  Here, the author identifies “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi” as the group’s leader and raises issue with attempting to quantify his involvement in the security and military actions of the Islamic State as it is a multifaceted entity.  Cockburn argues that while groups such as ISIS and other jihadist organizations capitalize on a similar ideology to that of al-Qaeda, they are separate and distinct functioning individually on different levels.  In this light, Cockburn remains skeptical of the western practice which tends to lump these groups together and takes issue with reserving active intervention for those which reflect similarities to al-Qaeda in particular.  In doing so, countries such as the United States remained uninterested in the work of ISIS, for example, until it was able to capture significant territory (Mosul).


Chapter 5: The Sunni Resurgence in Iraq


In this chapter, Patrick Cockburn focuses on the events in Iraq which contributed to advances made by the Islamic State.  He begins by providing an account of ISIS’ capture of Fallujah and Tikrit, both of which he regards as revealing “an important political truth about contemporary Iraq” (81).  Cockburn states that in these instances, “neither the government nor any of the constitutional political movements were as strong as they pretended to be,” which left the door open for ISIS to emerge faster than expected in the country (81).  The author additionally blames the Iraqi military for the cause of defeat in that it lacked the morale and discipline to silence the opposition.  With regards to American aid, Cockburn reports that financial corruption on the part of the Iraqi forces was also a point of contention.  In doing so, he further moves to focus on corruption as the main component which saturated Iraq and caused many of its inhabitants to lose faith.  Corrupt practices, as the author believes it, were both inevitable and historically rooted in the folds of Iraqi society–leading ISIS to exploit its disgruntled Sunni population.  Thus, this introduces Cockburn’s argument that sectarian conflict inherently catered to the Islamic State.


Chapter 6: Jihadists Hijack the Syria Uprising


Patrick Cockburn, in this chapter, moves his work to concern conditions in Syria which allowed for jihadist activity in the region.  To begin, he uses primary sources to give an account of human and civil rights infractions which led to the Syrian uprising.  However, according to Cockburn, such popular movement was unsuccessful in replacing tyranny with a secular and democratic state–leading it to be silenced by a sectarian civil war.  Furthermore, he writes that “Syrians [were forced] to choose between a violent dictatorship” or an “opposition that shoots children in the face for minor blasphemy and sends pictures of decapitated soldiers to the parents of their victims” (97).  Cockburn equates modern Syria to Lebanon two or three decades ago which has been diminished to abandoned buildings and infrastructure “smashed by shellfire” (97).  Aleppo today reflects many of these same characteristics and what Patrick Cockburn calls “government successes” only contributed to the jihadist cause in the end.  [Note for our class: this chapter is interesting in that it credits the Syrian uprising to the “Arab Spring” in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Bahrain (99)].  


Chapter 7: Saudi Arabia Tries to Pull Back


The chapter details the jihadi salifist movements in Iraq and how Saudi Arabia has responded to the radicalization of some of their own people. Cockburn calls into question the intentions of the Saudi regime. Cockburn also indicts Western governments for failing to care about Shia deaths in Syria, Iraq, and Pakistan, and reiterates the narrative that the West operates in a security mindset concerned with stopping ideology. Saudi Wahhabism, recognized in the educational and judicial system, is quite similar to al-Qaeda and Salafi jihadist groups and has contributed ideologically and financially to the violent Sunni-Shia violence. Saudi rulers who aided jihadis in the overthrow of Assad Syria now likely regret their action, evidenced through a 2014 invitation to the Iranian foreign minister to Saudi Arabia.  


Chapter 8: If it Bleeds it Leads


Cockburn argues that media coverage of Syria, as well as ISIS, has been profoundly influenced by a history of foreign intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria over the past 12+ years. No local powers to date have been successful in the state-building process. This history of armed struggle has been also a history of propaganda wars that have mislead and sensationalized. Cockburn tries to set the record straight and explain why misperceptions have lead to poor strategy, predictions, and outcomes. The Taliban’s rise in 2006 can be partly explained through the misleading narrative that they had been largely defeated and were no longer significant. War reporters were given the lion’s share of news platforms, but missed the bigger picture, solely focusing on military combat. Oversimplification, the idea that “If it bleeds it leads”, deceived the world especially when paired with political propaganda.


Chapter 9: Shock and War


Shock and War begins with the fall of Mosul in June of 2014 and the failure of the Iraqi army. Stories about Iraqi army corruption where commanders bought posts and received benefits from kickbacks and embezzlement turned out to be true. ISIS, on the other hand, was run with “a chilling blend of ideological fanaticism and military efficiency.” Western governments again missed the mark. In reality the Mosul fall, Cockburn says, happened due to the war across Iraq’s border. The West’s failure dates back to 9/11 when the US targeted Afghanistan and Iraq and gave Saudi Arabia and Pakistan a free pass even though their ideologies and regimes were most involved in supporting al-Qaeda and the attacks. Until the role of these regimes is properly addressed, no real progress will be made in combating Islamic extremism. In addition to governmental missteps, revolutionaries overestimated the effects of the 2011 Arab Spring. Years later, democracy has retreated and the narrative is quite different. Even still, problems will not disappear if democracies are installed successfully. The failure of many areas has left the Middle East vulnerable and unprepared for events, and the result is likely a “long period of ferment in which counterrevolution may prove as difficult to consolidate as the revolution itself.”




As a Westerner in Iraq, Cockburn is uniquely positioned to critique the region and the West’s intervention. However, it is important to note that to understand much of what Cockburn’s analysis in his book one must have a good background understanding the Sunni versus Shi’a religious conflict in the region. In focusing in on some of the key areas that the west went wrong, such as media narratives, failure to properly characterize regime relationships such as the relationship between al-Qaeda and Saudi Arabia detailed in chapter 9, and the failure of revolutionaries as well, Cockburn paints a discouraging but realistic picture of what went terribly wrong. The Middle East and the West moving forward must understand how these failures can be remedied in a destabilized region. The big question that Cockburn asks, again and again, is, why did the West miss these events? The division and civil war in Syria is ultimately a tale of multiple opposition parties having different views of strength and success. Cockburn does well to explain why there is so much conflict, but like everyone else does not know how to resolve it.

It is important to note, however, that while Patrick Cockburn’s work does provide a unique perspective as a westerner, his writing is a bit contradictory at times.  For example, he argues for taking into account jihadist organizations with a narrow lens–demonizing the work of Western forces which view them all as one in the same.  While this may seem inherently contextualist on the surface, his use of sweeping statements in anecdotal account remains inherently essentialist.  For example, in chapter 4 concerning jihadis burning their passports, he claims that they are “most likely in Syria” leaving the reader to question accuracy and legitimacy (61).  Thus, the inferring done on the part of the author at times inadvertently detracts from the work’s overall academic value to some extent.



By Emily, Jake, and John

Book Critic:

In an effort to describe the events that led up to the Libyan revolution and its repercussions, this book goes into great detail, outlining many important characters, and militant forces that contributed to the Libyan revolution. Additionally it describes the variety of motives for the revolution through a geographic lense. Although there are two main sections of this book, each chapter is an essay written by a different author. Together these essays form a complex narrative of the Libyan revolution. For a person who is looking for a deeper understanding of the Libyan revolution we highly recommend this book. 

The first section analyzes Libya’s uncertain revolution, including details on the fall of Tripoli as well as NATO’s intervention and the National Transitional Councils battle for legitimacy and recognition, finalizing with transitional justice in Libya. I especially thought the section on NATO’s intervention was interesting as the author discussed both the point of view from the Libyan people and their frustrations and tension with NATO.

The second section discusses sub national identities and narratives. This section looked at Libya in a regional lense which was very beneficial for understanding the effects of conflicts that built up within the region. Understanding the regional conflicts is not only vital to understanding how the revolution played out the way it did, it breaks down the international narrative that describes the aftermath of Libya as “chaos”. Instead, the reader realizes that at the local level, people have been effective with political organization and efforts towards reconciliation have been made. For anyone looking to understand how Libya can move forward, this is a good resource because it explains the relationships and structures put in place that one can work off of to promote healing and begin large scale political structure.

The compilation of essays affords the reader a variety of unique perspectives to understanding the variety of conflicts within the country without repeating too much information. However, one possible critique is that there is no clear chronology of events. While the stories were written in an intentional order, each essay follows its own time frame, making it difficult to consider the important events of each essay in chronological order.

In conclusion, each essay and it’s coinciding author brought a unique point of view to the Libyan revolution and we highly recommend this book to anyone in search of a multifaceted understanding of this time period. (Hanna Mass, Sabrina Quintanilla, and Raouf Belkhir)

Chapter Summaries: 

Chapter 1:  

Author Peter Cole discusses the main challenges the Libyan people faced in rebuilding their country after the 2011 revolution and the lasting effects that Gadhafi’s regime had on this process.  During Gadhafi’s era, he created a government where the only encompassing institution was himself. This along with Libya’s tumultuous history and Gadhafi’s systematic use of economic patronage, led to the people’s distrust in national institutions and lack of interpersonal trust which made building a new stable state extremely difficult. To add to this, he also nullified all forms of affiliations leaving a low sense of political community. During the debate over federalism and decentralization Libyan’s lack of national identity was highlighted. This lead to an uncertain revolution where the people were still in search of their own identity and torn between different visions with little understanding of the concept of national rather than personal or group interests. However, the main achievement that shone hope on Libya at the time is that the people finally owned their revolution and considered themselves state citizens rather than subject to their rules.

Chapter 2:

Chapter 2 describes how the National Council formed and its battle for legitimacy and recognition as it transformed from a committee to a political entity. On February 26th, an agreement was reached to bring the local councils under a national council to run the liberated areas in the east. This emerging political body grew as other politicians joined until March 5th when its 30 members came together to make a founding statement. They did not declare themselves as a government, however their goals were to set protocols for regular and emergency meetings; make decisions in accordance with the peoples demands; the fall of the Gadhafi regime; and the establishment of civil, constitutional, and democratic state. It wasn’t until March 10th that the first outside nation, France, formally recognized the NTC, soon followed by many other nations. The NTC knew their legitimacy would be largely based upon their ability to pay salaries and run a wartime economy; hence, on March 19th they began by designating the central bank of Benghazi as a monetary authority and established the Arabian Gulf Oil Company. The NTC also relied heavily on donations from foreign countries and ad hoc pledges to keep the economy running. This lead to the liquidity crisis which presented the challenge of how to distribute cash to recipients on the ground. On June 27th senior military officer, Yunis, was assassinated, highlighting the internal crisis with NTC leadership. After continuous hardships and criticism, on August 3rd the constitutional declaration was finally enacted which stated that an interim government would call for elections for a national congress of 200 members and the NTC would then dissolve itself. Following this, congress would choose a prime minister who would then appoint a cabinet and form an interim government endorsed by congress.

Chapter 3:

Chapter 3 describes the events leading up to the fall of Tripoli. Beginning on February 17th, Gadhafi’s speech made many rebels realize there wouldn’t be any political reforms under his regime. This led to the February 20th movement where thousands of protestors poured into the street and occupied the green square. Within the following few days protests continued and were met with strong opposition and brutal police force killing several dozens and wounding many more. The February 17th coalition was formed, as well as many youth groups that were connected through blood line and satellite communications. In March, the NTC began negotiations with EU countries to support the fall of Tripoli. In the third week of May they met with President Bashir and secured 120 million in small arms, paid for by Qatar. Throughout this process clear internal conflict occurred around who was in charge of the situation. On May 5th, the Ministry of Defense was created, and in June attention turned to arming allied proxies in the Nafusa Mountains.  Leaders Jibril and Nayed continued to seek out more support from France, the UAE and the US. They attempted to train a small group of Tripolitania ‘special forces’ who later became known as the ‘red companies’. Jibril was pushing for a plan centered around an internal uprising in Tripoli supplemented by NATO strikes on the 27 operating rooms that had been identified.  In July, an operations room was set up, however the battle of who was in charge continued to cause tumult as well as the conflict between Islamists and secular networks that plagued the fall of Tripoli and beyond.

Chapter 4: 

Chapter 4 analysis the events and alliances that ultimately lead to the fall of Tripoli. By July 2011 two plans around the liberation and governance of Tripoli had emerged. Military councils grew larger as cells learned of each other and routes were established for the distribution of weapons. Once the Misrata airport was secured on May 15th Sudanese aircrafts began flying in weapons and the first Qatari shipments arrived soon after on June 12th.  On August 14th, it was decided that the armed uprising would occur on August 17th. An ‘operations center’ was created in Djerba and armed groups were built up in the Nafusa Mountains. Within Tripoli, I’tilaf focused on organizing the popular uprising. Nafusa Mountain fighters effectively surrounded the capital by August 17th and morale was at a high. Strikes hit August 18th-20th destroying 24 of the 28 targets. On August 20th, Jalil gave a televised speech with a code word and youths poured into the streets. Fights broke out everywhere as Misrata and Nafusa Mountain fighters swarmed into Tripoli. On August 25th Tripoli’s liberation was announced. After the fall of Tripoli, Nayid’s Stabilization committee and the Tripoli Local Council, which was set up by I’tilaf, were designated to address governance challenges. On August 30th the NTC called for all government employees to return to work and the UN met to discuss humanitarian aid issues. Issues quickly arose with the lack of an accepted military council, resulting in unknown groups springing up. In the first week of September meetings in the prime minister’s office set out a four-point agenda which would guide Tripoli in the following weeks.

Chapter 5:

Chapter 5 examines NATO’s involvement in the Libyan revolution and its interactions with the Libyan people. NATO entry began on March 19th and by March 29th the no-fly zone was established. Defected officers in Benghazi that form Libyan special forces were crucial interlocutors with NATO. During this time NATO’s civilian protection mandate was the subject of ambiguity, and frustration among many anti-Gadhafi forces. NATO also faced a shortfall of aircrafts and ISR assets needed to vet and corroborate targets which created frustration among anti-Gadhafi forces as NATO was not meeting their inflated expectations. Libyan rebels tried to influence NATO’s targeting process by flooding them with information, which in the end slowed down the process. There was a disconnect in communication between NATO and fighters on the ground, until April, when NATO began deploying their own ground advisors directly into operation theatres which sped up the flow of communication and precision and pace of airstrikes. During this time, Revolutionary fighters were reluctant to publicize errant strikes and civilian casualties for fear that NATO would stand down operations for a few days or that the Gadhafi government would exploit the mistake for propaganda. However, while cooperation between Libyans and NATO was frustrating at times, the Libyan people that worked with NATO were nearly unanimous for their appreciation on the campaigns strategic impact.    (Chapter 1-5 Hanna Mass)

Chapter 6:  

In this chapter, the author discusses NATO’s intervention in the Libyan Civil war on the side of the rebels. Without the assistance of the NATO forces, the capacity of the opposition to topple Gadaffi and his forces seemed very doubtful. Libyan reports of the NATO operation describe a partnership and collaboration wherein the Libyans were much more active collaborators than is commonly assumed. However, there were at the same time significant strains, divisions, and frustrations that marked the relationship. The NATO campaign significantly fortified the opposition’s resolve in the objective in ways that are difficult to measure. In many ways , the Libyan campaign represented a variation of the “Afghan model” with a combination of precision airpower, ground advisors, supplies and training to help local allies overcome their very clear deficiencies in military and fighting capacity

Chapter 7:

Chapter 7 focuses on Transitional justice in Libya and confronting Gadaffi’s legacy immediately after his downfall. According to the author, the phrase transitional justice “comprises the full range of processes and mechanisms associated with a society’s attempts to come to terms with a legacy of large-scale past abuses”. In Libya, the revolutionary powers moved to detain a widespread group of perceived Gadaffi powers, in an attempt to protect the revolution as a well as the strong desire to punish the previous authority. The transitional justice movement in Libya focused on political isolation, and the punishment of members of the former regime. Going forward, Libya should focus on building legitimate state institutions to prevent future violations as the long-term transitional justice goal for Libya. This will require the strengthening of justice and security institutions and the writing of a constitution that enshrines fundamental human rights.

Chapter 8:

Chapter 8 describes the role of the Libyan Islamists during and after the Revolution. According to the author, Islamism can be defined as the support for the introduction of Islamic tenants into political life through the teachings of Sharia. The rebel groups that first sprang upon in opposition to the Gadaffi regime in the 2011 uprising, in large part had roots to groups based in Islam, with a wide range of opinions as to exactly how significant a role Islam should play in such political and social policies. The two major islamist groups were components of the Muslim Brotherhood and Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). Members of these two groups were both imprisoned at a large scale, and it was arguably here in large prisons such as Abu Slim that allowed the revolutionaries to organize and join forces, as they could talk with less fear. Revenge for imprisonments and executions of the members of such groups were central to the revolutions narrative, and perhaps what ultimately led to Gadhafi’s downfall. After the revolution, the differences between the original revolutionary groups proved to be problematic in creating one cohesive government. Particularly in regards to the wide range of opinions as to exactly how significant a role Islam should play in such political and social policies. As such, this struggle based on Islamic ideology within will continue to shape the political and social landscape of the country for some time to come.

Chapter 9: 

Chapter 9 looks at the development of Eastern Libya from its situation as a place of promise after the revolution, to dire state we see it in today. The start of a federalist movement, defining the region as a separate state, adopting eastern Libya’s historical name: Barqa. The opposition of the militant groups in this region to the policies and implementations of the NTC, called on eastern Libyans to boycott the national election. This movement tapped into the long-standing sentiment of the easterners for autonomy and growing dissatisfaction with the government, even in the post-Gadaffi political development.

Chapter 10:

Chapter 10 examines the emergence of revolutionary battalions in Misrata. This chapter argues that Misratans self-reliance and vision of Libya are rooted in its history and reinforced to its insurgency – first in reference to the states history of colonial rule, the insurgency against the Italian colonial powers then, and then the 2011 uprising against Gadaffi. In the eyes of the Misratans, this was all one continued struggle, against an oppressive authoritarian regime. It took 100 years, before they succeeded in their original objective. The chapter examines the historical events and underpinnings that shaped the Misratans sense of manifest destiny, and how the historic and contemporary narratives shaped each other, and in turn the Misratans vision for its role in Libya’s future (Chapter 6-10 Raouf Belkhir).

Chapter 10

This essay uses the Misratan experience to demonstrate how the Tunisian struggle for national unity is deeply ingrained in ancestry. The author describes stories passed down through generations and interviews one man who shows the author a painting of the Italian colonization. The painting illustrates the 100 year struggle and describes how this story of strife has shaped the Misratan vision for the future of Libya. The essay then breaks down the fighting that took place in Misrata, 2011 into 3 stages; the success of the Misratan protest, the occupation of tripoli street, and the emergence of revolutionary battalions. Although each stage defined key turning points, the complex social, and military organization that took place between the citizens of Misrata emerged gradually and organically.

Chapter 11

Before the revolution, the people of the Nafusa mountains did not have a large role in Libyan politics. In addition, the communities in this region have historically not gotten along. However, during the uprising, solidarity and cooperation burgeoned and the geographic advantages of the mountains granted these communities political leverage in Libya. This chapter follows the divisions between the various communities, (in terms of values, politics and genealogy) and how these localized issues have transformed into identity politics. It then focuses on the Zintani tribe; how it’s social organization has changed since the revolution, and the means by which its people acquired a strong political standing.

Chapter 12

The city of Bani Walid fought with the regime. It was largely loyal to Gaddafi for two main reasons. First, citizens were enticed by Gaddafi’s anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist speeches. These speeches strengthened the Bani Walid identity which is based on the narrative of resistance to the Italian and Ottoman occupation and protection of Libyan statehood. Second, lasting repercussions of a past revolution by Bani Walid left citizens unwilling to rebel. In order to prevent another rebellion, Gaddafi altered the political and military organization of Bani Walid to become more dependent on the regime. In addition, the unsuccessful rebellion fractured relationships between Bani Walid and its neighboring communities, leaving it unwilling to join forces in 2011. Due to the success of the 2011 rebellion, the divisions between Bani Walid and its neighbors have amplified.

Chapter 13

The indigenous Tebu people joined the revolution with the hope of gaining full rights as citizens and dismantling the systematic oppression they faced under the regime. Starting with the Libya-Chad war, the chapter goes through the series of events that led the Tebu to create the Tebu resistance. The resistance was planning its own revolution for July of 2011 until the revolution in Benghazi, which catalyzed their rebellion. While the Tebu people still have not been granted the civil rights they originally sought, their social connections with tribes in Chad, Niger and Sudan, and Northern Libya, have allowed them to dominate trade routes for oil and weaponry. This role gives them a large part in the stability of the south.

Chapter 14
This essay challenges the western stereotype that the Sahara is a “no mans land”, devoid of politics. It follows the Tuareg people and its political relationships with Mali and Niger, largely influenced by Gaddafi. The Turab region plays a large role in the Trans Saharan trade which fuels the narcotics and arms trafficking economies. The Trans Saharan trade has a long history. When Islam was introduced to the region, a social stigma grew around the drug trade due to the increased motive to make pious decisions. However, an increase in Jihadism in conjunction with the fragility of the Libyan economy has complicated the social dynamics around the trade. (Chapter 10-14 Sabrina Quintanilla)


Tunisia’s Revolution: Five Years On, What Lies Ahead

Published: January 20, 2016


Panelists: Ambassador Faycal Gouia (Embassy of the Republic of Tunisia); Amy Hawthorne (Project on Middle East Democracy); Scott Mastic (International Republican Institute); Joyce Kasee-Mills (U.S. Institute of Peace)

Moderator: Linda Bishai (U.S. Institute of Peace)


Tunisia’s Revolution: Five Years On, What Lies Ahead, is a talk Read the rest of this entry »

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