Getting Perspective on the Middle East

I have to admit that I have been taken by surprise by the extraordinary events happening in the Middle East. Although I keep up with the news, I think it was easy for the casual reader (like me) to miss the significance of Tunisia’s revolution. It wasn’t until the protests began in Egypt that I even had a clue of the domino effect happening in the region. And in large part I owe that realization not just to the New York Times or NPR coverage, but to Facebook and Twitter. The postings and repostings of videos showing people in the streets of Cairo protesting an oppressive government and displaying solidarity in the face of violence were not only moving, but created a connection for me to these places that otherwise are just names on a map.

Now with our attention directed towards a violent revolution in Libya, I’m reminded that none of these uprisings happened as suddenly as they seemed to me. There have been smart journalists and historians writing about the issues in the Middle East for some time, and I turn to them to understand the history of the region, and how that history has created the current political climate.

The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, by Lawrence Wright
The Looming Tower was included in “A Reading list for the Egypt Crisis” (Compiled by Alexander Star for the New York Times ArtsBeat) for its focus on Islamic fundamentalist movements, specifically the Muslim Brotherhood.

Star says “[The Looming Tower] suggests that Mubarak’s torture cells radicalized Egyptian Islamists such as the future al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, and helped bring about the Sept.11 attacks.”

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award Finalist.

Mullahs, Merchants, and Militants: The Economic Collapse of the Arab World, by Stephen Glain
Stephen Glain provides an economic perspective of the instability in the Middle East. Library Journal recommends Mullahs, Merchants, and Militants, and provides a brief summary:

“Through interviews with a cross section of people in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, and Egypt, Glain, a former Middle East correspondent for the Wall Street Journal who now covers the region for the Boston Globe, explains how some of the most endemic problems facing the Arab world today are caused by the decline of its once dominant economy. His approach in bringing to life the everyday struggle of ordinary people is one of the book’s most distinctive aspects.”

A Peace to End All Peace, by David Fromkin
This New York Times bestseller provides a gripping history of the modern Middle East. From the publisher’s description:

“In A Peace to End All Peace, David Fromkin reveals how and why the Allies came to remake the geography and politics of the Middle East, drawing lines on an empty map that eventually became the new countries of Iraq, Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon. Focusing on the formative years of 1914 to 1922, when everything—even an alliance between Arab nationalism and Zionism—seemed possible and oil was not a political issue, Fromkin shows how the choices narrowed and the Middle East began along a road that led to today’s endless wars and escalating acts of terrorism.”

Includes notes and an index.

Hosni Mubarak, by Susan Muaddi Darraj
This short biography provides an overview of modern Egyptian history and politics through the lens of Hosni Mubarak’s military career and presidency. Includes photos, a timeline, and a brief reading list.

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