Monarchical presidential regimes in the Arab world looked as though they would last indefinitely—until events in Tunisia and Egypt made clear their time was up. This is the first book to lay bare the dynamics of a governmental system that largely defined the Arab Middle East in the twentieth century, and the popular opposition they engendered.
This timely study by Harvard history professor Owen (State, Power and Politics in the Making of the Modern Middle East) explores why presidents who rule with no expiration date came to dominate the Arab world. Tracing the history of the Arab republics from their colonial pasts through the Arab Spring, Owen observes that the majority of these states obtained independence after WWII, and, borrowing from their colonial masters, rulers sought to control their populations through policing, security, and the management of elections. The "centralized state systems" in Egypt, Tunisia, and Syria created security states devoted to long-term economic and social development managed by a single leader, whose skills and personality placed him above all others, and allowed him to rule more or less unchecked. Examining political and economic structures from the monarchies of Jordan and Morocco to the "tribal republics" of Libya, Sudan, and Yemen, Owen suggests that despite their different histories, they emulated the same type of authoritarian government. Furthermore, Arab leaders learned from one another how to concentrate their power and prolong their rule until their sudden fall in 2011. Owen reveals how the Arab Spring demonstrates the inherent contradictions and weaknesses in the regimes, showing how their creation (and fall) resulted from modern political and economic circumstances. Though dryly written, this comprehensive and balanced history illuminates the current upheaval.