From Deep State to Islamic State

From Deep State to Islamic State

by Jean-Pierre Filiu
  • From Deep State to Islamic State.The Arab Counter-Revolution and its Jihadi LegaFrom Deep State to Islamic State.The Arab Counter-Revolution and its Jihadi Lega

Hurst Publishers, 2014

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.


‘It takes patience, clarity and perspective to explain the whole grim picture [in the Middle East] and the links between its constituent parts. These qualities are on impressive display in an important new book by the French scholar Jean-Pierre Filiu. His particular skill is to describe the development, survival and resurgence of the Arab “deep state,” the security agencies that have kept it going and the “monster they helped create” – in its most extreme form the jihadis of the Islamic state (Isis). … The answer, Filiu concludes bravely, has to be more democracy, not less, not a fatalistic acceptance that change can never come to the Middle East.’ — The Guardian

‘Far and away the best and most up-to-date survey of the Arab Security State and its ability to master the various waves of popular uprisings it faced during the Arab Spring. Based on a set of challenging hypotheses as well as an unrivalled feel for Arab political behaviour it must become required reading.’ — Roger Owen, Emeritus Professor of Middle East History, Harvard University

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