Turkey, Iraq, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt, and Tunisia
The “Arab Spring” all started when a young Tunisian fruit seller set himself on fire in protest of a government official confiscating his apples and slapping his face. The aftermath of that one personal protest grew to become the Middle East movement known as the Arab Spring—a wave of disparate events that included protests, revolutions, hopeful reform movements, and bloody civil wars.
The Fires of Spring is the first book to bring the post-Arab Spring world to light in a holistic context. A narrative of author Shelly Culbertson’s journey through six countries of the Middle East, The Fires of Spring tells the story by weaving together a sense of place, insight about issues of our time, interviews with leaders, history, and personal stories. Culbertson navigates the nuances of street life and peers into ministries, mosques, and women’s worlds. She delves into what Arab Spring optimism was about, and at the same time sheds light on the pain and dysfunction that continues to plague parts of the region. The Fires of Spring blends reportage, travel memoir, and analysis in this complex and multifaceted portrait.
Culbertson, a RAND Middle East analyst, travels through Tunisia, Turkey, Iraq, Qatar, Jordan, and Egypt, trying to understand the 2011 political upheavals that were "optimistically," and, she ultimately argues, inappropriately, called the Arab Spring. Shifting gender roles and the relationship between Islam and democracy are among her central concerns, as is the huge increase in the number of young people that will shape the region's future. Culbertson walks through the citadels of Amman and Carthage and the pyramids of Egypt, vividly illustrating the omnipresence of the ancient in the modern; her treatment of the Ottoman Empire's demise is particularly illuminating. She is quick to note that the Middle East is not monolithic and that the six countries had varying roles and experiences in the Arab Spring; but without a manageable focus, she writes like a travel writer with a tight deadline, seeking to concisely answer questions an academic might probe over several hundred more pages. At the end of her "journey," Culbertson articulates what might be the work's greatest drawback: "Now it was time to try to make sense of what I had learned for this book." Her conclusion is useful, if not unexpected: "Pessimistically declaring the Arab Spring a failure in 2016 would be as naive as optimistically declaring it a success in 2011."