Instead he tells the story through individuals whose lives were turned upside down in Egypt, Libya and Syria. The triumph of A Rage for Order is in the individuals he has chosen. There are the young Syrian women, Noura and Aliaa, who are best friends since childhood but become wrenched apart by civil war because Noura is Sunni Muslim and Aliaa is an Alawite. There is Nasser, the Libyan rebel, who has the difficult job of interrogating his brother’s executioner, a former prison guard and Gaddafi loyalist. There’s also the bohemian Pierre Soloufi, ‘an Arab version of Alan Ginsburg’ who opens his apartment overlooking Tahrir Square as a sanctuary and plug-in station for the revolution’s youth. As young Egyptians are converting Facebook likes into boots on the ground, Soloufi cooks them lentils.
These are a few of Worth’s subjects who, like the region’s fractured masses, are all united in their dislike for the old regimes, but divided in their ideas of what comes next. Through these vignettes, the book is about how the revolution both lifted and drowned the voices who needed it most.
Having covered the region for seven years, Worth is well practiced at explaining Arab politics. He avoids patronising the reader with Ottoman factoids in order to focus on the immediacy and emotion of 2011 as he witnessed it. Looking from Soloufi’s balcony to Tahrir square, he recalls ‘it wasn’t just the heart-lifting feeling that was conjured everywhere with the same phrase: the barrier of fear is broken. Larger than this was the sudden but vast shift in perspective, as if the Earth had tilted on its axis.’ This is an arresting piece of literary journalism.
This review was published in the October 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.