In his disturbing and timely political history of the ‘Deep State’ in the Middle East, Jean-Pierre Filiu reveals how the autocracies of Syria, Egypt, and Yemen crushed the democratic uprisings of the ‘Arab Revolution’. They did so by turning to the shadowy intelligence agencies and internal security arms of the so-called ‘Deep State’ — emulating strategies pioneered in Kemalist Turkey — who had decades of experience in dealing with internal dissent, as well as to street gangs (the Baltaguiyya in Egypt) or death squads (the Shabbiha in Syria) to enforce their will.
Alongside intimidation, imprisonment and murder, the Arab counter-revolutionaries released from prison and secretly armed and funded many hardline Islamists, thereby boosting Salafi–Jihadi groups such as Islamic State, in the hope of convincing the Western powers to back their dictatorships. They also succeeded in dividing the opposition forces ranged against them, going so far as to ruthlessly discard politicians and generals from among their own elite in the pursuit of absolute, unfettered, power.
The impact of the Arab counter-revolution surprised most observers, who thought they had seen it all from the despots and security mafias of the Middle East: their perversity, their brutality, their voracity. But the wider world underestimated their ferocious readiness to literally burn down their countries in order to cling to absolute power. Bashar al-Assad clambered to the top of this murderous class of tyrants, driving nearly half of the Syrian population into exile and executing tens of thousands of his opponents. He has set a grisly precedent, one that other Arab autocrats may yet resort to.
Jean-Pierre Filiu is Professor of Middle East Studies at Sciences Po in Paris, and has held visiting professorships at both Columbia University and Georgetown University. His book The Apocalypse in Islam was awarded the main prize by the French History Association. His books and articles on the Arab world have been published in a dozen languages.