A Rage for Order
The Middle East in Turmoil, from Tahrir Square to ISIS
The definitive work of literary journalism on the Arab Spring and its troubled aftermath
In 2011, a wave of revolution spread through the Middle East as protesters demanded an end to tyranny, corruption, and economic decay. From Egypt to Yemen, a generation of young Arabs insisted on a new ethos of common citizenship. Five years later, their utopian aspirations have taken on a darker cast as old divides reemerge and deepen. In one country after another, brutal terrorists and dictators have risen to the top.
A Rage for Order is the first work of literary journalism to track the tormented legacy of what was once called the Arab Spring. In the style of V. S. Naipaul and Lawrence Wright, the distinguished New York Times correspondent Robert F. Worth brings the history of the present to life through vivid stories and portraits. We meet a Libyan rebel who must decide whether to kill the Qaddafi-regime torturer who murdered his brother; a Yemeni farmer who lives in servitude to a poetry-writing, dungeon-operating chieftain; and an Egyptian doctor who is caught between his loyalty to the Muslim Brotherhood and his hopes for a new, tolerant democracy.
Combining dramatic storytelling with an original analysis of the Arab world today, A Rage for Order captures the psychic and actual civil wars raging throughout the Middle East, and explains how the dream of an Arab renaissance gave way to a new age of discord.
Veteran correspondent Worth traces the "Arab Spring" through five countries, from the heady idealism of 2011 to the largely grim aftermath. Significantly, he does so through the stories of individuals rather than groups or sects, challenging simplistic, monolithic conceptions of rival factions. Through this approach, readers can better understand, for example, why a charismatic Egyptian doctor remained a loyal member of the extremist Muslim Brotherhood even after its crude efforts to theocratize the country prompted a military coup backed by secular liberals. Elsewhere, Worth interviews Libyan militiamen who dream of a nation of laws while rounding up former Gadhafi loyalists at gunpoint. He tracks former best friends in Syria one Alawi, one Sunni as violence and fear undercut efforts to straddle sectarian divides. Worth recounts the story of Yemen, a failed state where decades of bitter local clashes presaged the region's current agonies, through a longtime dissident's eyes. Finally, he shows Islamist and secular Tunisian politicians haltingly attempt to compromise and avoid the upheavals afflicting other Arab states. Worth provides no easy path forward. Instead, he skillfully presents the competing perspectives in play to explain the daunting impediments to stable states in the present-day Middle East.
Easy read but will soon be dated
Most of the book is first hand accounts by the author with the occasional retelling of stories from his sources. It is an easy read and it is coherent in its vignettes. However, the merging of all the internal Arab country's internal conflicts seems forced. In the future this may become source material for historical analysis, but it will be dated for the casual reader. In short, good but not one to write home to mom about.