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May 12, 2020

Noah Feldman

Harvard Book Store's virtual event series welcomes Harvard Law Professor NOAH FELDMAN—author of The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State— for a discussion of his latest book, The Arab Winter: A Tragedy. He will be joined in conversation by MALIKA ZEGHAL, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Professor in Contemporary Islamic Thought and Life in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization at Harvard University.


The Arab Spring promised to end dictatorship and bring self-government to people across the Middle East. Yet everywhere except Tunisia it led to either renewed dictatorship, civil war, extremist terror, or all three. In The Arab Winter, Noah Feldman argues that the Arab Spring was nevertheless not an unmitigated failure, much less an inevitable one. Rather, it was a noble, tragic series of events in which, for the first time in recent Middle Eastern history, Arabic-speaking peoples took free, collective political action as they sought to achieve self-determination.

Focusing on the Egyptian revolution and counterrevolution, the Syrian civil war, the rise and fall of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and the Tunisian struggle toward Islamic constitutionalism, Feldman provides an original account of the political consequences of the Arab Spring, including the reaffirmation of pan-Arab identity, the devastation of Arab nationalisms, and the death of political Islam with the collapse of ISIS. He also challenges commentators who say that the Arab Spring was never truly transformative, that Arab popular self-determination was a mirage, and even that Arabs or Muslims are less capable of democracy than other peoples.

Above all, The Arab Winter shows that we must not let the tragic outcome of the Arab Spring disguise its inherent human worth. People whose political lives had been determined from the outside tried, and for a time succeeded, in making politics for themselves. That this did not result in constitutional democracy or a better life for most of those affected doesn't mean the effort didn't matter. To the contrary, it matters for history—and it matters for the future.

About Author(s)

Noah Feldman is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. In 2003 he served as senior constitutional advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. Selected as a Rhodes Scholar, he earned a D.Phil. in Oriental Studies from Oxford University in 1994. He received his J.D. from Yale Law School in 1997. He is the author of eight books: The Three Lives of James MadisonCool WarScorpionsThe Fall and Rise of the Islamic StateDivided by GodWhat We Owe Iraq, and After Jihad. He most recently co-authored Constitutional Law, Eighteenth Edition with Kathleen Sullivan.

Malika Zeghal is the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Professor in Contemporary Islamic Thought and Life in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization at Harvard University. She is also an Affiliated Professor of Government in the Government Department, and a member of the Committee on the Study of Religion. Her research focuses on the interaction between Islam and politics in the modern Middle East. She is the author of Gardiens de l'Islam. Les oulémas d'al-Azhar dans l'Egypte contemporaine and a forthcoming book on Islam and the state in the Arab world in the modern period.