Examining the forces shaping history - as it is happeningby Wendell Steavenson / August 21, 2013 / Leave a comment
Published in September 2013 issue of Prospect Magazine
The New Middle East
by Paul Danahar (Bloomsbury, £25)
Are you confused by the welter in the Middle East, headlines crowded with revolution and coup, Islamism, civil war and resurgent jihad? May I recommend Paul Danahar’s excellent regional survey, The New Middle East: The World After the Arab Spring? Danahar is the BBC’s Middle East bureau chief, experienced and clear eyed. His style is crisp and elegant, equally adept at telling human portraits as interviewing generals and presidents and sketching historical context. He neatly breaks down the story into sections on Egypt, Syria, Libya, Iraq, Israel and American foreign policy, but as the book progresses it is clear that each chapter informs the others. So we understand that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood may share an ideology with Hamas in Gaza, but that they are very different entities focused on different issues. The Shia-Sunni violence in Iraq overspills into sectarian Syria and draws in Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah, and along with it, the spectre of Israeli reaction. The American debacle in Iraq is not only a tragedy for Iraqis, but it has repercussions for America’s willingness to get involved militarily again; their inconsistent reactions to the uprisings have weakened them as a regional power broker.
But writing history while it is happening is as tricky a proposition as trying to shape it. Events have overtaken Danahar’s eulogy of the Egyptian army, which has returned to power after a popular coup. The events of the Arab Spring and its aftermath will continue to defy prediction; but in the meantime, it’s worth reading Danahar to take stock of some of the geopolitical tectonic shifts and the forces that are remaking our old assumptions.