A candid narrative of how and why the Arab Spring sparked, then failed, and the truth about America's role in that failure and the subsequent military coup that put Sisi in power--from the Middle East correspondent of the New York Times.
In 2011, Egyptians of all sects, ages, and social classes shook off millennia of autocracy, then elected a Muslim Brotherhood president. The 2013 military coup replaced him with a vigorous strongman, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who has cracked down on any dissent or opposition with a degree of ferocity Mubarak never dared. What went wrong? Is the Arab world stuck between military and theocratic authoritarianism? And how did Washington manage to be so feckless and reactive?
Egypt has for centuries set in motion every major trend in politics and culture across the Arab world, from independence and Arab nationalism to Islamic modernism, political Islam, and the jihadist thought that led to Al Qaeda and ISIS. The Arab Spring revolts of 2011 spread from Cairo, so Americans naturally look to its disastrous democratic experiment with cynical exasperation; but they fail to understand the dynamic of the uprising, the hidden story of its failure, and Washington's part in that tragedy. David D. Kirkpatrick arrived in Egypt less than six months before the uprising broke out. The book juxtaposes his account of Tahrir Square, the elections, and the eventual coup, with new reporting on the conflicts within the Obama administration over how to handle the tumult. It is the story of Kirkpatrick's education in the Arab world, in a time of revolution and violence.
Conventional wisdom now holds that the Arab Spring revolts lifted the lid off a simmering caldron of sectarianism, extremism, and violence, and authoritarianism may be the only way to bring it under control (until Arab and Muslim culture goes through some imagined reformation). Kirkpatrick's experience was the opposite: decades of autocracy contributed to the sectarianism, extremism, and violence.
Into the Hands of the Soldiers is a heartbreaking story with a simple message: The failure of autocracy and authoritarianism is the reason for the chaos we see across the Arab world. Because autocracy is the problem, more autocracy is unlikely to provide a durable solution. Egypt, home to one in four Arabs, is always a bellwether. Understanding the story of what happened in those years can help readers understand everything taking place across the region today--from the terrorist attacks in North Sinai to the bedlam in Syria and Libya.