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…

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.

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…

The Islamic State through the looking-glass

ONE OF THE PARTICULARITIES of the movement calling itself the Islamic State is its investment in the phantasmagorical. It has an instinctive understanding of the value of taking its struggle to the realm of the imagination as the best way to compensate for its real-world limits. Even as it faces setbacks on the battlefield, it has made forays into our collective psyche

The Arab World into the unknown

TWO AND A HALF YEARS AGO, Arab countries were abuzz with interesting conversations. Rich and poor, old and young, villager and urbanite, Islamist and secular all had their own take on the bewildering turmoil of the uprisings they were caught up in. They tended to be aware of the risks, hopeful that change was both…

Egypt’s quest for itself

SINCE PRESIDENT MOHAMMAD MURSI was deposed last July, the coalition leading the transition may not be liberal and inclusive, but it does enjoy (for now) broad popular support, is committed to a clear electoral roadmap and, in any event, is a reality on the ground; “let us deal with it on that basis”, say most…

Le monde arabe est-il vraiment en hiver ?

SI LE “PRINTEMPS ARABE” suscitait l’enthousiasme aux beaux jours, le pessimisme est désormais de saison. Dans les médias, un glissement sémantique s’est opéré du thème révolutionnaire vers un registre à connotations négatives, où le triomphe des islamistes, les dynamiques de guerre civile, la désillusion et l’impuissance figurent en bonne place. Aussi les commentaires donnent-ils la…

Turkey and the Arab World: From ‘zero problems’ to losing count

TURKEY ARGUABLY RANKS HIGHEST on the outside players’ score sheet after a first year of Arab revolts. Ankara responded fastest to the region’s paradigm shift, taking the lead in calling Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak to step down; defined clear principles, pushed for sweeping reforms and denounced repression; avoided rushing into a questionable war to oust Libya’s Muammar…

Syria following the script

PRESIDENT BASHAR ASSAD’s strongest asset, in the face of growing frustration in the street, was the lapse of time he was offered to study developments elsewhere in the region. Indeed, surprise was a key factor in the speed with which his Tunisian and Egyptian counterparts were overtaken by events. With the president’s speech today, the…

Europe and the Middle East: Divorce by mutual consent?

IN THE FACE OF ASTONISHING DEVELOPMENTS in the neighbouring Middle East, Europe has been looking West of all places – to the U.S. – for cues on how to respond. Almost all European statements have echoed those made by the Obama administration, itself timidly playing catch-up with events it could not predict, comprehend or influence. It…

Remettre les pendules a l’heure au Moyen-Orient

L’IRRUPTION de la “rue arabe” (concept jusqu’ici bien commode par son abstraction) place l’Occident face à ses contradictions : si l’interpellation populaire de pouvoirs autocratiques et corrompus résonne avec les valeurs démocratiques dont on se targue à Washington, Paris et ailleurs, elle s’accorde mal avec les aspects pratiques d’une politique occidentale qui n’a jamais fait…

Beyond moderates and militants

IN THE MIDDLE EAST, U.S. President Barack Obama has spent the first year and a half of his presidency seeking to undo the damage wrought by his predecessor. He has made up some ground. But given how slowly U.S. policy has shifted, his administration runs the risk of implementing ideas that might have worked if President George W. Bush had pursued them a decade ago. The region, meanwhile, will have moved on.

The Middle East’s dangerous equilibrium

A YEAR INTO U.S. President Barack Obama’s presidency, the Middle East is on the brink. Almost every country in the region spent 2009 waiting in vain for something dramatic to come out of Washington. By the time 2010 was rung in, most players appeared to have given up just as hastily on the Obama administration….