Bowen takes us through the last few years of 'revolution, from the beginning in Tunisia, through Libya, Egypt, Yemen, and of course a great deal of the book covers the Syrian situation. The whole area is split into many factions, religious and political. In some states such as Tunisia a 'secular' approach is found even though the majority call themselves Muslim. In Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood won the first election because they had a well ordered organisation that had been working since the time of Nasser, the middle class secular city dwellers did not possess such and lost out through squabbling amongst themselves. A violent uprising in Libya, supported by the western air forces, removed Qaddafi from power but has not led to a peaceful settlement. Militias, Islamist''s and criminals hold much power yet. Saudi has thrown £100 billion at avoiding rebellion in the state, more on offer in an attempt to keep the Kings position safe. Yemen alone has begun a six month 'conversation' to decide the future of that troubled state. Some secular people find themselves at odds with Al-Qaeda types from the mountains in the north. Iraqis seek to go their own way in spite of being allies but not lackeys of Iran, and Iran aids Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon while saying little.
Iran finds itself Saudia Arabia's main enemy, and the Saudi's have attempted to invite a US invasion. This has not found much support in Washington where foreign adventures are harder militarily and public opinion opposes violently! Iran is of course Shia Muslim, Saudi Arabia Sunni. That sectarian divide runs through the region threatening to explode and involve many nations. Syria, led by 'Alawite' Assad who finds himself supported by rich Sunni businessmen and minority Christians now is being opposed by Sunni extremists who are proving stronger than the original rebels, who just wanted a more prosperous and safe life without the secret police beating them. This conflict falls over into Lebanon where the delicate balance is under threat. Here some 18 groupings share power. Already sections of some towns are unreachable because of the conflict there and almost anything could lead to this part of the world giving us a war of First World War proportions. That conflict was savage enough, this would be much, much worse!
Bowen provides no answers here. This book merely covers the ground, explaining the background, allowing us to see from both sides and here the words, often truthful in spite of the dangers, exposing the immense difficulty anyone has in producing peace quickly in this area today. The west has little understanding of what to do, William Hague the UK Foreign Secretary spouts comments often but Bowen leaves us in no doubt as to the limited information and government double speak on offer here. The west wish to support the good side and now, after Iraq, find they have an Iraq government that is friendly to Iran the west's enemy, support by the million given to rebels in Syria, the strongest of whom are Al-Qaeda types, the types that threaten our troops and encourage bombs and murder on UK streets! The confusion does not stop there just look at the Islamist's in Libya who we provided air cover for!
To understand the Middle East it is imperative to read a book like this. No doubt there are others around but I found this book full of clarity on the situation from a man who risks his life, carefully, to meet the people and report the situation. One of the BBC's better journalists his writing enlightens the minds of those who wish to see the Middle East as she is today.