A well-written analysis of the “Arab Spring”

by | Jul 18, 2016 | Book Reviews

A Rage For Order—The Middle East in
Turmoil: From Tahrir Square to ISIS
Robert F. Worth
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016
259 pages, $26

When Robert Kaplan published his collection of articles, Balkan Ghosts, in 1995, it was immediately recognized to be more than a survey, more than a travelogue and more than a regional history of the countries that made up the former Yugoslavia. It was the rare current events book that did not slide into immediate obsolescence. A Rage for Order stands out among reports and analysis of current events by virtue of writing that is several cuts above what we have come to accept.

Author Worth, like Robert Kaplan, earned his status as a correspondent, spending 14 years with The New York Times, four of which as the Beirut bureau chief. Worth takes the reader deep into the lives of the people who effected (and were affected) by the sweeping changes in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Tunisia. He interposes his personal observations upon those of participants in the events of the last decade that were dubbed “Arab Spring.” Sadly, the surge toward political freedom resulted in unintended consequences— civil wars fueled by the “virus of religious hatred.”

“As the hopes of Tahrir receded, the visions of unity it inspired gave way to a terrifying undertow. Indeed, for a time the Al Qaeda leadership was concerned that the apparent success of a secular democratic movement might delay the creation of the inevitable caliphate. People who had trusted each other for decades now saw barriers rising between them.”

The insurgent Arab masses, having a pretty good idea of what they did not want, had no idea at all of what they did want. Of course, words like “dignity” and “freedom” were bruited about, but no concept of governance was agreed upon in advance. Thus, the Islamists of Egypt brushed themselves off and, eyes blinking in the new sunlight, took over—until the Army had enough. Syria, Libya and Yemen are in chaos, consumed by fear, anger and revenge. Worth introduces the reader to the heart of darkness, embedding himself with dissidents, jihadists and poets. The reader will be drawn closer to players on both sides; are there only two sides in these matters? Ordinary Arabs who have lived in peace and even friendship with neighbors of a different sect for decades now fear the “other” and are set up for betrayal.

There is no good news in A Rage for Order. The quality of the writing and telling of the story, rarely achieved in a work of non-fiction, carries the reader along, learning and wondering how such a powerful series of movements just fell apart.

—Hal Sacks is a retired Jewish communal worker who has reviewed books for Jewish News for more than 30 years.