Review: The New Middle East by Paul Danahar


The period since the Arab Spring kicked off has been a time of momentous, exciting – and in some cases, baffling – change in the Middle East. With events moving quickly, often for unexpected and apparently contradictory reasons, the whole thing becomes confusing for the man in the street.

However, fear not! The BBC’s former Middle East Bureau Chief Paul Danahar is here to put that right. As a highly knowledgeable journalist, Danahar utilises his connections with leaders, diplomats, military men and ordinary people to slice through the intractable background noise and stereotypes that pervade the region, and to illuminate the forces shaping the Middle East.

Each chapter visits a different country in the region. It quickly becomes clear that although there are certainly similar undercurrents running between all the countries in the region, there are also significant differences. Danahar goes into far greater detail than is usually the case in putting the current situation in each nation into a historical, political and economic context.

The overrunning theme is unresolved conflict. It is explicitly clear that in every flashpoint and conflict in the Middle East there are huge countervailing forces at work. Whether between the army and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, or the battle between a hugely disaffected youth and their elderly rulers across the Arab world. Danahar explains that these forces have been suppressed for decades, and are only now beginning to be released.

It would be wrong to say that this is a seminal work on the Middle East. The New Middle East’s biggest weakness is that it has been written during a time of on-going, change, and thus, many of Danahar’s predictions will inevitably be proven wrong in the light of history. But the book never was intended to be the final guide to the revolution.

The real value of The New Middle East comes from its clarity and how effectively it conveys the incredible forces and dynamics at play in the region. It shines a light on a extremely complex and misunderstood part of the world and at least provides some sort of anchor point for us to even begin to comprehend a fascinating period in history.