Middle East

Gideon Rachman

 

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair speaks on on the Middle East in London on April 23, 2014. (Getty)

There are plenty of people who will simply refuse to listen to anything that Tony Blair has to say about the Middle East – on the grounds that he is an idiot or a war criminal, or some combination of the two. I am not one of them. On the contrary, I think that the speech that Blair has just given on the Middle East is worth reading. He is intelligent, passionate and well-informed. But I still think he is wrong or, at the least, unconvincing, on a number of crucial points. Read more

David Gardner

Patrick Seale, journalist and scholar, Middle East commentator and impassioned Syria expert, died last week after succumbing to brain cancer. He was 83.

Best known as the biographer of Hafez al-Assad, the late dictator of Syria, and as a foreign correspondent, first for Reuters news agency and then as the Middle East correspondent for the Observer, Seale was also at different times an art dealer, a literary agent and in 1999 an intermediary in ultimately vain efforts to secure a peace treaty between Syria and Israel. Read more

The aftermath of a barrel bombing by Bashar al-Assad’s government in Aleppo on March 18 (Getty)

Earlier this week the famous-for-being-famous celebrity Kim Kardashian regurgitated Syrian regime disinformation about a rebel massacre of Armenians in the town of Kasab in the country’s northeast on her Twitter feed after it was captured by rebels.

The Tweet – Please let’s not let history repeat itself!!!!!! Let’s get this trending!!!! #SaveKessab #ArmenianGenocide – went viral, further damaging the reputation of Syria’s opposition, a ragtag rebellion struggling to make inroads against Bashar al-Assad, a dictator who continues to massacre hundreds of people daily in bombing raids and inside his dark dungeons. Unlike in Kasab, these murders have been meticulously documented by independent human rights groups and the UN. Read more

Roula Khalaf

 

Egyptian policemen standing guard outside the courthouse in Minya during the trial of some 683 Islamists on March 25, 2014. AFP/Getty Images

That Egypt’s judiciary is politicised is nothing new. Usually, though, at least it goes through the motions of a trial, allowing some form of defence and taking its time in issuing controversial verdicts.

A court in the southern city of Minya, however, has dispensed with all formality, opting instead for an absurd and outrageous miscarriage of justice. On Monday, it delivered the biggest mass death penalty in the country’s modern history, sentencing 529 Muslim Brotherhood followers to death for an August attack on a police station, in which the deputy police chief was killed. The defendants’ lawyers were not allowed into the proceedings – which lasted a mere two days. Read more

♦ In the new cold war, Russia could hit the US where it hurts – in Iran.

Vladimir Putin has confounded three US presidents as they tried to figure him out.

♦ The decision in Egypt to hand the death sentence to 528 Muslim Brotherhood members was widely condemned, but Egyptian TV told a different story.

♦ The US is losing its edge as an employment powerhouse after its labour participation rate fell behind the UK’s.

♦ Russia’s actions in Crimea have sent a chill through its former Soviet neighbours in Central Asia and the Caucasus.

♦ American economist Hyman Minsky is back in vogue as his ideas offer a plausible account of why the 2007-08 financial crisis happened.

♦ A report on how former Tunisian president Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali changed the rules of business underlines the challenges still facing the country. Read more

Gideon Rachman

How do we decide what matters in the world?

The question is prompted by the coincidence of the crisis in Ukraine and the third anniversary of the outbreak of war in Syria.

There is no doubt that it is Ukraine that is dominating the attention of world leaders and the media. John Kerry, US secretary of state, is meeting Sergei Lavrov, his Russian counterpart, in London today to discuss Ukraine, while Angela Merkel has been working the phones with Vladimir Putin to try to defuse the crisis.

The front-pages of newspapers blare about the build-up of troops on the Russian-Ukrainian border. My own work has reflected these priorities, with my last three FT columns on the Ukrainian crisis.

But are we right to be so focused on Ukraine rather than Syria? Read more

Gideon Rachman

Winston Churchill once famously described watching Soviet politics from abroad as “like watching two dogs fighting under a carpet”. It feels slightly similar today, watching Iranian politics from the West. There is clearly a struggle going on, underneath the Persian carpet, but exactly who is doing what to whom remains opaque.

Take last night’s television interview with President Hassan Rouhani. The president’s appearance was delayed, prompting his staff to tweet that he had been “prevented live discussion w/people…which was scheduled for an hour ago.”

 Read more

The Syrian armed forces that took control of the Homs province town of Deir Balbi in 2012 wanted to show the locals they meant business and avoid attacks by approaching rebel units. So they forced children out of their homes, and allegedly placed them as human shields between their tanks and soldiers to dissuade the rebels from attacking.

The incident is described in a harrowing report issued by Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general, chronicling the devastating effects of the Syrian civil war on the country’s children, and adds fresh urgency to efforts to end the war. At least 10,000 children have died as casualties or combatants of war or under torture in Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s prisons, the report estimates. Read more

By Gideon Rachman
Faced with a dangerous political threat, governments the world over tend to place their faith in the same magic medicine – economic growth. When world leaders try to address the roots of terrorism, for example, they instinctively assume that prosperity and jobs must be the long-term answer. And when a regional conflict threatens to get out of control – in east Asia or the Middle East – the standard political response is to call for greater economic integration. From Europe to China, governments place their faith in economic growth as the key to political and social stability.