Book review : Expat-ing Democracy: Dissidents, Technology and Democratic Discourse in the Middle East

Nir T. Boms, Expat-ing Democracy: Dissidents, Technology and Democratic Discourse in the Middle East, (Bern: Peter Lang Publishers, 2017), 246 pp.

The upheavals throughout the Middle East in 2010-2011, popularly known as the “Arab Spring,” changed the political paradigm throughout the region. For several decades, gradual political and economic changes were the norm and the political paradigm seemed to be fixed. The sudden regime changes in Tunisia and Egypt, however, reverberated in Syria, Iran, Bahrain and elsewhere. Nothing has remained the same. Hence, the importance and timeliness of Dr. Nir T. Boms’s study, Expat-ing Democracy.

A research fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University and the vice president of the Washington-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), Dr. Boms offers both academic and scholarly expertise and an approach of practical application. His book presents a penetrating analysis of the nature of the events and causes which led to the upheaval and the political and social consequences of these transformations in the Middle East. He discusses aspects of the “Arab Spring” which have not appeared in other scholarship on the subject. This is the result of his unique selection of sources which includes surveys conducted by the author over a period of several years and interviews with individuals active in attempting to implement the democratic process in the region. As both an observer and a participant, Boms encouraged the activists whom he interviewed. His initiatives in humanitarian projects, such as assistance to people stranded in Southern Syria, provided him with a rare opportunity of building a network of activists who are directly involved in social and civic initiatives for democracy. Ex-pating Democracy not only presents the content of the interviews but also describes the circumstances under which they were conducted. Therefore, the book is informative, original and exciting.

The study is divided into several chapters. Boms first gives a comprehensive description of the media, social networks and the role of technological advances in the Middle East. He then continues with examples of the use of internet and the users of the web concentrating on their interaction with the authorities and officialdom.  The third chapter presents information from open sources. Here, Boms explains the nature of the opposition movements in Syria and Iran in all their complexities. The fourth and fifth chapters offer one of the few scholarly analyses of information and communications technology (ICT) and the media among opposition groups. The author compares the events in the Middle East and the attempts at achieving democracy with those in Eastern Europe in the late Twentieth Century that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of Communist dictatorships. This comparative approach is useful and interesting.

Regrettably, Dr. Boms focuses mainly on Syria and Iran. In addition, a list of Syrian and Iranian opposition groups and movements that are not officially recognized would have been useful. That being said, Expat-ing Democracy is essential for those who wish to understand and explore the underpinnings and mechanisms of political change in the Middle East. Boms’s  use of written sources, scholarly works and interviews displays vast knowledge and deep insight. Hopefully, using the same methods and focusing on technology and communication, he will expand the study beyond Syria and Iran to other Middle Eastern countries, such as Lebanon and Egypt, and explore the possibilities of further pursuing democracy in the region.

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