Ramadan

ON A SULTRY MORNING in late September, I drove for two hours on the traffic-choked roads north of Cairo to Al Adwa, a Nile Delta town of dusty alleyways, mosques, and crumbling red brick houses. This is where Mohamed Morsi, the president of Egypt, was raised. Morsi left nearly four decades ago, but he returns regularly to visit his younger brothers, who still work the family farm, and to celebrate Islamic holidays.

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JEBEL ZAWIYA, SYRIA—The unglamorous municipal building, on which black daubs evince graffiti wars between the regime (“Bashar Assad or the country burns!”) and the opposition (“Leave, oh Bashar!”) did not look fit for a king. But it was immediately obvious when the man in the pressed green khakis strode in that we were in the presence of a leader. Men who had been sitting around in the room chatting fell silent. The leather chair behind the desk was seamlessly vacated.

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Fayoum, Egypt—The big story from Egypt’s parliamentary elections, the first round of which concluded on Tuesday, will likely be the Muslim Brotherhood’s impressive victory.

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Off the coast of Misrata—On the dark blue sea of the Mediterranean, Libyan rebels are planning their final offensive to bring down Muammar Qaddafi. More than a hundred fighters set out from Benghazi Tuesday, transforming two tugboats into the official rebel fleet. The passengers are aware that Qaddafi’s military barracks have fallen to the opposition. The rebels, most of whom are observing the Ramadan fast, pass their time reading the Koran and quietly celebrating their victory.

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Kampirak, Afghanistan—Hot wind swishes through the colorful flags that the women of Kampirak raised to mark the spots where anti-Taliban raiders murdered their men ten years ago. Dust eddies in the canals that irrigated the dead men’s orchards and wheat fields before running dry this spring. In the middle of the village, the oldest women of Kampirak chew their lips parched by the long, thirsty hours of Ramadan and evoke the name of god. They also evoke the Taliban. “Under the Taliban life was good.

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Cairo—In Liberation Square, the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan proved decidedly unfestive when baton-wielding security forces tore down protesters’ tents and chased them from the area. The group of demonstrators had taken over the square on July 8, vexed with the slow pace of reforms by Egypt’s military leaders since the 18-day revolution that toppled President Hosni Mubarak in February.

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Cairo—Friday, July 8 was an oppressively hot day in Tahrir Square, hot enough for protestors to wonder whether the country’s unpopular and widely distrusted transitional government was controlling the weather. Yet the government was notably missing from the scene: With activists guarding every entrance to the square, the country’s security services didn’t dare to enter the dusty, shade-free roundabout area where supporters of every major Egyptian political group had gathered in what was described as the largest protest in Cairo since President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation on February 11.

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Apparently, Muslims are also not particularly stirred by the president’s policies. They wanted him to be more forthright and more forthcoming on their issues as he had indicated he would be in his much-vaunted “new beginning” speech last year in Cairo. In a New York Times dispatch yesterday, Sheryl Gay Stolberg cites an Arab-American journalist as complaining that Obama has since left many Muslims disappointed. Well, on this count, at least, those disappointed Muslims are at one with most other Americans.

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