Tunisia

An Arab Anomaly

Safwan M. Masri. Foreword by Lisa Anderson.

Columbia University Press

Tunisia

Pub Date: March 2019

ISBN: 9780231179515

416 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $22.00£18.99

Pub Date: September 2017

ISBN: 9780231179508

416 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $35.00£30.00

Pub Date: September 2017

ISBN: 9780231545020

416 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $21.99£18.99

Tunisia

An Arab Anomaly

Safwan M. Masri. Foreword by Lisa Anderson.

Columbia University Press

The Arab Spring began and ended with Tunisia. In a region beset by brutal repression, humanitarian disasters, and civil war, Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution alone gave way to a peaceful transition to a functioning democracy. Within four short years, Tunisians passed a progressive constitution, held fair parliamentary elections, and ushered in the country's first-ever democratically elected president. But did Tunisia simply avoid the misfortunes that befell its neighbors, or were there particular features that set the country apart and made it a special case?

In Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly, Safwan M. Masri explores the factors that have shaped the country's exceptional experience. He traces Tunisia's history of reform in the realms of education, religion, and women's rights, arguing that the seeds for today's relatively liberal and democratic society were planted as far back as the middle of the nineteenth century. Masri argues that Tunisia stands out not as a model that can be replicated in other Arab countries, but rather as an anomaly, as its history of reformism set it on a separate trajectory from the rest of the region. The narrative explores notions of identity, the relationship between Islam and society, and the hegemonic role of religion in shaping educational, social, and political agendas across the Arab region. Based on interviews with dozens of experts, leaders, activists, and ordinary citizens, and a synthesis of a rich body of knowledge, Masri provides a sensitive, often personal, account that is critical for understanding not only Tunisia but also the broader Arab world.
A wise and carefully drawn analysis of one of the mysteries of the Arab Spring. Safwan M. Masri explains why Tunisia, where the revolt germinated, has been the only country to give birth to a real democracy. In examining why Tunisia succeeded, Masri shows why other Arab countries failed. They lacked Tunisia’s culture of tolerance, moderation, and coexistence, which had been nurtured by decades of educational and social policy. Bottom line: Democracy needs deep roots, which sadly don’t exist in most of the Arab world. David Ignatius, Washington Post
Why did Tunisia’s Arab Spring experience succeed when others have failed? Drawing on Tunisia’s history of modernism, independent thought, and, most crucially, a progressive education system, Safwan Masri demonstrates that the country has a unique identity that sets it apart from the rest of the region, and accounts for a diverse culture and a spirit of moderation. Richly researched and analyzed, and based on a compelling historical narrative, this is a provocative book that will make a valuable contribution to the understanding of North Africa and to the body of work on the modern Arab world. Roula Khalaf, deputy editor of the Financial Times
Masri’s work shines both through his incisive points of view and comprehensive factual data without losing itself in the details. No decisive phase of Tunisian history escapes him. Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly is an exciting work for those who want to understand the deep meaning of the political and social upheavals of the whole Arab world, using Tunisia as a lens. Yadh Ben Achour, Professor at Carthage University, Former President of the High Authority of the Revolution (Tunisia), and Member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee
Safwan M. Masri offers an informed history and an astute assessment of the case of Tunisia, specifically focusing on the country’s distinctive blend of modern Islam and secular democracy. He provides an extended and authoritative contemplation and a unique synthesis of the phenomenon that is Tunisia. Brinkley Messick, Columbia University
Drawing on Tunisia’s rich history, Safwan Masri offers a convincing interpretation of why Tunisia has succeeded while other Arab states have not. L. Carl Brown, Princeton University
This is a book that demanded to be written. Clearly, one of the great questions of our time is why some democratic movements succeed while others fail, either at birth or through erosion over time. And the story, and example, of Tunisia is at the core of that critical inquiry. Masri brings to the telling and the analysis of this modern tale of democracy what virtually no other author could: the lived knowledge of both the Arab and American worlds, a deep sensitivity to the evolution of societies, and a passion to understand what is on the surface, at least, a contemporary mystery of societal development. Lee C. Bollinger, president of Columbia University
Masri...has done Arabs an enormous service by highlighting the catastrophic state of their education systems - despotic and as intellectually sterile as the political systems that engendered them. David Gardner, Financial Times
Masri presents a stimulating account of Tunisia’s democratic transition that deserves to be read widely in the Arab world as well by students of the Middle East and policy makers. Highly recommended. Choice
Tunisia at least offers some guidance as to how political actors elsewhere in the region might negotiate their own paths away from authoritarianism and how the challenges they confront could yet be overcome. LSE Blog
Safwan Masri’s book is a very welcome explanation of why Tunisia has a reasonable chance of growing deeper democratic roots. Arab Digest Newsletter
Masri's book offers a holistic account of the story of Tunisia through the ages. Al Ahram
Masri does an excellent job of examining the historical factors that make Tunisia what it is. Arab Weekly
Masri does an excellent job of showing that the success of Tunisia's Jasmine revolution has deep roots in history. Development and Cooperation
Masri does an excellent job of showing that the success of Tunisia's Jasmine revolution has deep roots. Qantara
Engaging and well-written. Reading Religion
Highly readable. Weekly Standard
Noteworthy. Foreign Affairs
A deeply learned, sensitive, and searching book. . . . Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly is an essential document for those who wish to understand the Arab Spring’s lone (if tentative) democratic victory. Journal of Democracy
The most important recent work on the topic.... the volume is gracefully free of jargon and the narrative flows freely and is well structured. The book shines in its easy storytelling fluency and therefore in its appeal to nonspecialists. Journal of Global South Studies
Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly is an insightful, well-researched study about the North
African country that had launched in 2010 what is referred to as the “Arab Spring.”
Little studied by scholars, Safwan M. Masri fills in the gap in the literature about
the unique history and culture of Tunisia. With meticulous details, he explores the
reasons behind the contemporary uprising which seems to have made headway
toward democratic reform, unlike the rest of the Arab countries whose spring
seems to have turned into winter! Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly is a valuable addition to the plethora of scholarship
about the Arab world, a must read for scholars, students, and the average reader
who seek knowledge about the region. --, Arab Studies Quarterly

About the Author

Safwan M. Masri is Executive Vice President for Global Centers and Global Development at Columbia University. He holds a senior research scholar appointment at Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs and is an honorary fellow of the Foreign Policy Association. Previously vice dean of Columbia Business School, he earned his Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1988. Masri lives in New York and Amman.