There is no doubt that the Middle East has never been a contention-free zone; this is a region where people have suffered enormous economic, political, and social grievances often imposed upon them by the state. And yet, for years effective and credible opposition parties were rarely organized (save for Islamist ones) and protest movements remained flaccid. This failure to mobilize effective, regime-changing parties and protest movements has constituted an important puzzle for analysts. Here we will consider only one cluster of books—those that address the incidence of massive popular mobilization observed in the Arab world during 2011–2012. These books aim to achieve one of three objectives: description, explanation, and theorization—the first two largely retrospective in intent, the latter straining to distill generalizable lessons that might deliver analytic leverage on when and how mobilization might occur.

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