The advent of civil society in the Arab world, the proliferation of nongovernmental advocacy organizations, and the expansion of civil society activism have been heralded as promising developments with significant implications on the region’s immutable political environment. While noting the vibrancy of civil society, Zayani’s article questions its ability to affect the existing political culture of the region. It argues that the proclivity of civil society activism and associational life to generate political change in the Middle East and North Africa is limited. This is so not so much because the Middle East does not have a strong tradition for supporting civil society or because the concept of civil society is anathema to the region, but because the development of an effective civil society is contingent on a set of political realities, social dispositions, and economic conditions that are missing in the Arab world. In spite of the increasing popularity of civil society activism founded on religious beliefs and the West’s vigorous promotion of associational life as a policy tool to induce political change, the social, political, and legal conditions for a potentially consequential civil society are not fully developed.

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