5 Things to Read: the Arab World in Troubled Times

Like a deadly domino game, the unrest keeps coming in the Arab world. Tunisia, Yemin, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Algeria, Jordan.  Most travelers are shying away from, for example, tourist-dependent Egypt.  In private correspondence, an American who lives there reports seeing 30-200 people in the Valley of the Kings (mostly Egyptians), where normally there would be as many as 8,000 in a day.

Lest you despair that you will never be able to travel to this fascinating part of the world, take heart in the way that time changes dangerous places into tourist havens.

The Monastery
Petra, Jordan, The Monastery

As you perhaps put your plans on hold to visit the Roman ruins of Libya or Syria, or the monuments of Egypt, or Petra in Jordan…curl up with a couple of good books (or your computer) to plan your future trip.

1. Trazzler recently listed Places of Protest that are now visited routinely. (Update: This page has been taken down.

2. Longitude Books recommends  The New Atlas of the Arab World (ARB134, $39.50) and they carry many other books on Arabian lands as well.

Covering Libya, Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and more, this authoritative atlas features striking maps and up-to-date information on all 22 countries of the Arab League, from Morocco across North Africa to the Arabian Peninsula, north to Syria and south to the Sudan and the Comoros Islands. If you’d like to delve further, click on the link for our short list of books on The Arab World.”

3. My latest addiction, the daily e-mail from The Browser, recommends 5 books on a specific topic each day, and recently the 5 books were Egyptian novels . Another day, an Egyptologist recommended 5 books of nonfiction about Egypt

4. I frequently read history in an attempt to make sense of current day events.  Interlink Books provided me with one of their excellent Traveller’s History books, A Traveller’s History of Egypt. Published in 2007, it gives you background on how Egypt got to the place it is today. Some of the comments in the more recent history section about Mubarak and his government are eerily prescient.

And Penelope Lively (don’t you love that name?), says in the foreword:

History supplies the context to everything.  If you are ignorant of history, all that you see is just scenery; history supplies the narrative unlocks the codes, turn(s) scenery into vivid testimony.

One of the things I love about these history books for travelers is that you can totally immerse yourself in the whole history of the country, or you can pick and choose by era or by attraction/locale that you are visiting.  I turned immediately to the recent history section, “Nassar, Sadat and Contemporary Egypt” to learn about the background for today’s news.

There I was reminded that Egypt has struggled with violent protests for some time. In the nineties the problems arose from Jamaa Islamiya, who executed people they felt were not religious enough and purposeful disruption of tourism. By 1999 that movement had run out of steam.

Next the Muslim Brotherhood gained strength to the point where the concern arose that expanding democracy “would probably give an election victory to Islamists” who wanted to apply religious law, as in Iran. Domestic terrorism resumed in 2004 to protest Mubarak’s cooperation with the West.

The fifty-two pages at the back of the book help make the rest of the narrative supremely usable.  You can track the names and dates of the confusion of ancient Egyptian rulers, follow Egypt’s 7000-year history, find further reading, check a Gazeteer which allows you to zero in on the history of the place you visit, and get definitions of terms in a Glossary.

Matem Alajam, Bahrain
Matem Alajam, Bahrain


5. Read A Traveler’s Library.

Upcoming posts will talk about Syria, Afghanistan, Croatia, and other troubled places. Former related posts include:

Since I have not visited any of these countries (although we did travel to Israel) I borrowed photos from Flickr with Creative Commons licenses. Please click on the photos to learn more about them and see other related ones.

Have you been to any of these countries? Do you have them on your wish list? Tell us which Arab country you would like to visit and why.

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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

7 thoughts on “5 Things to Read: the Arab World in Troubled Times

  1. Great list,thanks for your sharing.I think that before visiting any country,we should discover some infomation about historry of its so that we can understand much when we come there

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  3. I enjoy reading history too, although I’d add that there are often as many perspectives in historical events and places and people as there are on current day happenings.

  4. I think it is important to read a little of history before visiting any country. So much more of what you see makes sense with just a brief idea of a place’s history. Some great suggestions…

  5. Thanks for sharing. I love travel books that focus on places you might not want to visit for whatever reason. For example Pelton’s “Most Dangerous Places”. -r

    PS – The name “Penelope Lively” is awesome!

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