The Middle East: From the End of Empire to the End of the Cold War

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THE MIDDLE EAST: From the End of Empire to the End of the Cold War by PT Vatikiotis. 284 pages. Routledge Press, New York. 1997. $65.00.

This book brings together 23 papers by one of England's foremost Arabists. Written between 1962 and 1995, the papers collectively offer an excellent overview of the political evolution of Egypt and the Levant from the end of the Ottoman Empire to the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Author P.J. Vatikiotis writes as an intimate of the cultural elite. He is an astute observer and participant in the painfully slow efforts to engage the masses.

Egypt is by far the most populous state in the Middle East. It is also the only nation with ethnically defined borders and is a key force for long-term stability. Almost every other state consists of diverse tribal, religious and cultural groups within artificially contrived areas defined by colonial powers in this century.

Vatikiotis is at his best when describing the fissures that split the area's major religions-I slam's Shi'as and Sunnis and Judaism's traditional Orthodox and more modem reformist movements. He also elaborates on the goals and beliefs of extremist organizations such as the Islamic Hezbollah and Israeli Kach.

Each of these organizations conceives a transcendent, theocratic state based on revelations made known to its historic prophet. Each rejects compromise, ostracizes nonbelievers and depends on violence to gain its objectives. …