Negotiating Transition: A Review of "Arab Spring: Negotiating in the Shadow of the Intifadat"

Timothy Hodge
May 26, 2016

Arab Spring: Negotiating in the Shadow of the Intifadat is essentially a collection of negotiation case studies, with nine cases from the major transition points in the Arab Spring, and two outlying cases—Serbia and South Africa—that share thematic similarities. These 11 cases are capped on both ends by theoretical papers on negotiating in transition from editor I. William Zartman, and a mid-length paper on the implications for policy by Fen Hanson. It is an excellent reference collection, and is best suited to readers who want specific information with some analysis rather than an overarching direction in the work.

As might be expected, the style and focus of the individual short works within are somewhat variable. Some authors provide a comprehensive level of detail and explanation concerning the events of the Arab Spring as viewed through a negotiation lens, others provide a blow-by-blow example of the negotiation itself, and still others are focused on championing a particular thesis related to negotiation. Outside of the previously mentioned introduction and conclusion pieces, there is no attempt made to thematically tie together the smaller works or to compare them against each other. This often leaves the reader feeling that they are perusing a helpfully-compiled series of essays for their own research rather than following a larger direction intended by the author. As a result, Arab Spring feels more like a reference collection than a single-purpose work, and readers will get the most out of it in that regard. This also leads to an unfortunate repeating of certain basic information at an introductory level—the role of Islam and civil society in particular often get reintroduced from scratch—given the independent nature of the essays. Zartman tries to tie them loosely into a comprehensive set of lessons, and generally succeeds in mapping a workable model for how negotiations in transitioning environments are conducted, as well as the particular pitfalls of these situations.

Recognizing the standalone nature of the components, the individual pieces are all very good or excellent. They are comprehensive and deep in their research, and typically have well thought-out, if somewhat liberal, conclusions. Any reader who wants to gain a summary expertise on the power plays for any given uprising during the Arab Spring will be duly rewarded if they move to the correct essay. Details of tribal negotiations in Yemen, the Islamist parties’ rise in Egypt, and the political process of how NATO decided to conduct an air campaign in Libya are all included, and all meticulously laid out in short order. Despite its limitations, Arab Spring is an excellent body of work that serves as a primer for the political transition portion of each of the major Arab Spring revolutions and neatly explains just how the people who ended up in power managed to do so. It is not a seminal piece of theoretical work, but it is an exceptional survey collection for anyone interested in the topic.