The events that optimists dubbed the Arab Spring signify the end for the secular military elites which displaced Ottoman and European colonial rule in the wake of the two World Wars. Although these revolutions have a long way to run, just as they did in France, Russia and Iran, one thing is clear: the human rights campaigners, feminists and liberals whose winning spokespersons captured the Western media’s imagination last year have already been brushed aside by highly motivated and organised political Islamists. Unlike the liberals, the Islamists had a ready-made nexus based on mosques, clinics, charitable foundations and religious schools. Despite having no cogent policies to solve such long-term regional problems as youth unemployment, over-dependence on oil, gas and tourism, and the looming water shortage, large numbers of people apparently find their petty-minded, moralising interventions in the lives of others compelling.
It is fair to say that the journalist and writer John R Bradley is not among the optimists. Bradley speaks Egyptian Arabic, knows the region well, and writes in a robust and punchy style. He palpably appreciates the tolerant, hedonistic atmosphere of Tunisia under Habib Bourguiba and his ill-fated successor,