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The New Middle East: The World After the Arab Spring written by Paul Danaher, A Book Review

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Paul Danaher has been the BBC’s bureau chief of several high profile regions such as the Middle East, South Asia, East Asia and currently, North America. He ran the entire news operation in the regions and even helped the BBC to win an Emmy for its 2013 coverage of the Syrian Crisis.[1] (Middle East Institute) Thus, all these accolades must point to a man who has extensive knowledge and experience in the Muslim world and specifically, the Middle East. However the fact that he is well versed in the histories and political realms of many Arab nations does not prevent him from committing a number of over estimations and incorrect predictions.

Danaher’s book The New Middle East, the World After the Arab Spring, gives a concise and detailed account of the events that led up to the Arab Spring revolutions of 2011 as well as the political environment that they left behind in the Middle East. This new environment is dubbed “The New Middle East” by Danaher in his book as he looks at the cases of several key Arab nations that were and continue to be vital cogs in the Middle Eastern machinery. The main approach Danaher uses to give credence to his argument is by giving a detailed historical account of political Islam in the key Arab nations and consequently comparing it in the nations’ current post Arab Spring forms. These nations include Libya, Egypt, Iraq and Syria. He also covers the all-important Palestine-Israel conflict as well as the role of the United States in the toppling of dictatorships in the Middle East. Danaher asserts that “The New Middle East” is one that has been changed forever, unable to revert to its former submissive self.

The first claim that Danaher makes is the uprisings did not start from the mosques and they were not originally intended to be a sort of jihad. He says that “political Islam will have to adapt to reflect a more personal approach to religion“. Furthermore he feels the people did not overthrow dictators to have their liberties curbed by Islamic fundamentalists. He argues that “Islamic or Shariah law is not wanted in these new democracies even if faith is their reference point“. Two interesting points made are that previously dictators such as Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi used to ruled their countries by divisions and creating schisms and that it was the Arab people themselves that brought democracy to the Arab world in 2011 rather than the Western world through their meetings with regime leaders.

In the case of Egypt he mentions the long running battle between the secular forces of Egypt and the Islamist political parties, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood. The events in Egypt correspond to Danaher’s vision of a new Middle East since for the first time ever in the Arab World, the Muslim Brotherhood was openly contesting and eventually winning the general elections in 2012. However the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to fame was short lived as was made certain by General Abdel Fatah Sisi.

Danaher also focuses on two dominant aspects of the Middle East, the Israel-Palestine conflict and the role of the US in the Arab Spring Revolutions. An aspect of the Israel-Palestine dispute that supports his idea of a new Middle East is the position of Hamas in the Sunni/Shia battle. Previously Hamas was under the patronage of Iran and was on the same side as Hezbollah. However the post Arab Spring World shows Hamas on the opposing end of the spectrum vis a vis Iran and Hezbollah since Hamas explicitly supports the Anti-Assad groups in the Syrian Civil War which Iran is opposed against. Danaher infers that the US is ceasing to deal with high-powered ruling families as it used to and is instead communicating directly with the representatives of the people, a fundamental aspect of the New Middle East.

The three nations of Iraq, Syria and Libya arguably received the most tumultuous shares of the Arab Spring with Libya descending into a chaotic battleground for militias after Gaddafi’s death, Syria continuing to be the venue of a brutal civil war that has taken more than 100,000 lives and Iraq having almost half the country overrun by jihadists from the group ISIS. Danaher once again focuses on the historical aspect of the conflicts, namely the role of the Baath Party in stifling Islamism and dissent. According to Danaher, this heavy-handed approach to dissent within the country was a key aspect of the regimes of Gaddafi, Assad and Saddam. He asserts that dictators controlled their multi-religious and multi-ethnic countries through a divide and rule campaign, a key feature of the old Middle East.

However his initial claim of the masses of protestors not voting for the rule of Islamists or intending to lead jihad is fairly weak. This can be seen by the events that happened in Syria since the strongest anti-Assad factions with the most dedicated fighters are the jihadist groups such as Al Nusra and ISIS. This points to a battleground where religious fervour is at the forefront. However Danaher is supported by the events in Egypt where Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was elected into power, only to be overthrown by General Sisi with the support of the people. Thus showing that the people indeed did not want to be run by Islamists and one explanation is that people voted for the Islamist Parties in Tunisia and Egypt because they were oppressed under the former regimes as well as the fact that many of them were uneducated rural people.

His argument that Hamas joining the Anti-Iran group in the Middle East is reflective of a shift into the New Middle East does indeed show a change in alliances in the region, however it is still reflective of the more broad Sunni vs Shia conflict that has been raging for hundreds of years thus going against Danaher’s argument. His point on the United States working directly with the Arab people also has a few cracks since the “people’s representatives” are not exempt from behaving autocratically such as Morsi who although elected, chose to give himself unlimited powers. This shows a Middle East that has not changed that drastically, opposing Danaher’s argument.

His points on the dictators of the Old Middle East using a divide and rule tactic to keep the countries from uniting against them does have some value especially in the case of Iraq as Saddam ensured the Shia and Sunni rivalry did not die out. However in the cases of Iraq and Libya, the fall of the dictators actually widened the fissures between the two sects thereby negating Danaher’s argument. In Syria, Assad is an Alawi, part of the Shia sect thus himself being embroiled in the sectarian war. His approach of giving more power to his own sect supports Danaher’s point on divide and rule.

Overall, Danaher refers to an “old Middle East” where the Arab population could never even dream of raising their voice against their regimes and a “New Middle East” where they will never again be stifled. General Sisi’s bloodless coup casts doubt into this idea whereas the continuing Syrian Civil War shows that the people have had enough. However although Danaher mentions the Sunni/Shia conflict throughout the book, he does not give it the importance it is due especially in the conflict of Syria and Iraq. The book is well researched as Danaher gives extremely detailed historic accounts of all the countries he studies and the manner by which he presents his views is written for a general audience rather than mere political junkies. Overall Danaher does a good job in providing a detailed account of all the nations involved in the Arab Spring however his argument that the Middle East has been forever changed has some holes in it due to the fact that the political climate in the region is very mercurial and unpredictable.

Bibliography

Paul Danahar, Author of The New Middle East: The World After the Arab Spring | Middle East Institute.”Paul Danahar, Author of The New Middle East: The World After the Arab Spring | Middle East Institute. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2014.

Danahar, Paul.The New Middle East: The World after the Arab Spring. 1st ed. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013. Print.

[1] Paul Danahar, Author of The New Middle East: The World After the Arab Spring | Middle East Institute.” Paul Danahar, Author of The New Middle East: The World After the Arab Spring | Middle East Institute. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2014.

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  • Published: 9 months ago on February 3, 2018
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  • Last Modified: February 3, 2018 @ 3:55 am
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