Jefferson in Benghazi
June 09, 2011
The border crossing from Egypt into rebel-controlled eastern Libya offers few clues that the country is at war. The Libyan immigration officers wear ragged uniforms and carry on the routine of stamping passports, though with a friendliness and ease that is undoubtedly new. The eight-hour drive to the rebels’ de facto capital of Benghazi is dramatic only for its scenery—a rugged coastline with wide open beaches, then, surprisingly, green hills, crossed by deep gorges and adorned with beautifully preserved Greek ruins, visited by no one.
May 25, 2011
In his State Department speech last week, Barack Obama threw down the gauntlet to Benjamin Netanyahu. In the Oval Office a day later, and more fully in an address to Congress yesterday, Netanyahu picked it up and threw it right back. The question now is whether this clash can be turned into a new understanding between the United States and Israel that improves the prospects for the two-state solution both parties say they want. To bring this about, Obama will have to make further tweaks to his approach and rethink his declared stance on Palestinian refugees, among other matters.
The Great Democracy Meltdown
May 19, 2011
As the revolt that started this past winter in Tunisia spread to Egypt, Libya, and beyond, dissidents the world over were looking to the Middle East for inspiration. In China, online activists inspired by the Arab Spring called for a “jasmine revolution.” In Singapore, one of the quietest countries in the world, opposition members called for an “orchid evolution” in the run-up to this month’s national elections. Perhaps as a result, those watching from the West have been positively triumphalist in their predictions.
Room for Growth
May 16, 2011
Politicians in Washington are grappling with how to address rising gasoline prices, but most of their answers—from repealing tax breaks for oil companies to expanding offshore drilling—are unlikely to make much of a difference any time soon. The Arab awakening, coupled with Iran’s accelerated pursuit of nuclear weapons, ensures that energy prices will likely remain elevated for a long time. In the near- and long-term, those events are leading to less energy produced and exported from the Middle East and North Africa than there otherwise would be, as well as greater risk to their transport.
April 30, 2011
In 2001, Amr Moussa, the current Egyptian Secretary-General of the Arab League, briefly achieved pop-icon status. Serving at the time as Hosni Mubarak’s foreign minister, Moussa’s frequent anti-Israel pronouncements caught the attention of Egyptian pop singer Shaaban Abdel Rahim, who released a song with the line, “I hate Israel and I love Amr Moussa.” The song became a tremendous hit. Shortly thereafter, Mubarak, who had come to regard Moussa as a serious political rival, exiled him to the Arab League. Ten years later, however, Moussa is back in the public eye.
Tel Aviv Journal: Notes on a Roiling Region
April 29, 2011
I. “The standard left-wing person never seems more comfortable than when attacking Israel.” This is the novelist Martin Amis talking to Ha’aretz when he was in Israel this past fall.“Everyone else is protected,” Amis continued, “by having dark skin or colonial history or something. But you can attack Israel.” Freely! Of course, it’s not only the standard left-wing person who is so empowered, but also those who belong to mainstream Protestant churches associated with the National Council of Churches on Riverside Drive in Manhattan.
Divided They Stand
April 07, 2011
Sana’a, Yemen—On a recent rainy afternoon at the anti-government protest in Yemen’s capital, an old tribesman, dressed in a long white robe belted at the waist with a foot-long dagger, danced hand-to-hand with a young man wearing tight jeans and a khaki jacket, more Williamsburg than Arabian Peninsula. The two men hopped and whirled in tight circles, their shoulders draped in Yemen’s tricolor flag, their bare feet scuffing in unison on the dusty asphalt.
Some Questions About Obama’s Speech
March 28, 2011
We have found much to like in President Obama’s actions over the past week. He acted to stop a looming slaughter in Libya—a decision that, based on the number of lives it likely saved, must now be judged a clear success. Moreover, the air campaign against Qaddafi has significantly weakened one of the world’s most brutal dictators, providing momentum and hope to the rebels who are fighting to unseat him. This has not just been a hopeful development for Libya; it is also a hopeful development for the entire Middle East.
Sphinx, Lies, and Audiotape
March 26, 2011
Cairo, Egypt -- On a hot July evening this past summer, toward the end of our interview, Aref Desouki, vice-chair of a faction of the liberal Ghad Party, suddenly got defensive. After dodging questions about Egyptian State Security’s infiltration of his party, the bespectacled, cane-carrying mathematics professor wanted to emphasize that political conspiracies aren’t unique to Egypt. “You are controlled in the U.S. by an underground government,” he said, completely seriously. “A secret government that is related to the Zionists and the Jewish-Christian Zionists.
March 26, 2011
When the inspiring images of hundreds of thousands of Egyptian men and women demanding their freedom at enormous personal risk first appeared and everybody was talking about whether that revolution would spark similar revolutions in nearby countries, I found myself saying to friends, "What about here? Maybe the example of their courageous actions will shake the American people out of their long apathetic stupor." Inevitably I was met with laughter. Sometimes I felt a friend's laughter was conspiratorial—the exhilaration of imagining together that things could be different from what they are.