Where the Islamic State hides

THE ISLAMIC STATE WAS LONG IN THE MAKING. It is here to stay, if not in the Iraqi city of Mosul, then in people’s minds and our own memory. Under its current name or its next avatar, it likely will linger on in our lives like a trauma—a familiar fear, quick to surface, however deeply burrowed.

The Mediterranean crush

THE MEDITERRANEAN was born in a massive collision between North and South, when the African, Arab and Eurasian plates ground into each other—a process started millions of years ago and ongoing today. Mountains rose, volcanoes erupted, and a depression was formed, which was fated to become a crucible of civilizations. Contemporary Europeans, if they had…

What the war on terror looks like

THE GAP could not be greater between the war on the Islamic State as it is narrated, on one side, and how it is experienced by ordinary people trapped in the crossfire, on the other. In Iraq, the story pushed by the various anti-Daesh protagonists is a consensual and simple one: as progress is made…

The Syria aid regime that needed help. Touching the ground

THERE WILL BE YEARS OF SOUL-SEARCHING to do on the many aspects of our failure in Syria, but humanitarian aid is one area that warrants bold and immediate action. The issue is not so much our inability to address the sheer magnitude of suffering and disruption, which may well be beyond anyone’s capacity to alleviate…

Charting the course

FIVE YEARS HAVE COME AND GONE, wrecking hopes and spreading sorrow. In the giant maelstrom in which the Arab world is foundering, all seem to be clutching at the flotsam: some cling to hatreds that are consuming them, while others grasp at the receding horizon of salvation through migration.

Obama’s Iraq policy: That curious feeling of deja-vu

ONE OF THE GREATEST IRONIES of Barack Obama’s presidency is the extent to which he is repeating, rather than correcting, his predecessor’s mistakes in Iraq. Obama originally defined himself as the anti-Bush, chastising reckless foreign policy, vowing to bring the US’ military adventures overseas to a close. In general, he framed his international posture as…

The Syrian trauma

EVERY NOW AND THEN, the conflict in Syria produces an iconic image of horror and suffering, which many brandish as an undisputable truth that will finally shake the world into “doing something”. Others break down at the sight of such images, or instinctively avert their senses. Mass killings and disappearances, industrial-scale torture and sexual abuse,…

Why Iraqis fear victory

IRAQ’S NATIONAL GRID is a metaphor for the country’s problems. Access to electricity, the starting point for all modern human activity, is the last problem you would expect in a country with plentiful hydrocarbon reserves, big rivers and as much sunshine as the Garden of Eden. (1) But the electricity supply illustrates the failings and…

Basra, dystopian city

BASRA, THE SECOND or third largest city in Iraq, should be a great metropolis, more dynamic than Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha or Kuwait City, and should dominate the Gulf. Its port, Umm Qasr, offers the rest of the world access to one of the biggest oil-producing countries, which is also a huge potential consumer market….

The reinvention of Jihadism in the Middle East

THE FUTURE OF JIHADISM in the Middle East is looking bright. Indeed, a threshold appears to have been crossed whereby the response to the mounting jihadist threat perpetuates and exacerbates the very causes of the phenomenon in a self-reinforcing loop. The ever-expanding recourse to airstrikes has been destroying more and more of the region’s urban…

The digital path to real citizenship in Lebanon

AS THEY BUSY THEMSELVES with sorting out a profitable model, Lebanese digital entrepreneurs are doing much more that we are less aware of: Keen to live by their own rules, they challenge the prevailing patronage system based on ingrained sectarianism, nepotism and corruption. The meritocratic, egalitarian, secular and self-sufficient work ethos that transpires from their…

The West and the Arab World, between ennui and ecstasy

TO OUTSIDERS, the Middle East usually is an intellectual object —a place on a map onto which they project their fears, fantasies and interests. But to many it is a home to live and despair in, to flee and to cling to, to loath and to love. When writing for the truly concerned, commentary has…