Egypt’s sham election

Egypt’s President – once General, now Field Marshal, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi – has earned another title: Mr 97 per cent. In an election held at the end of March, Sisi retained Egypt’s presidency with 97 per cent of the valid votes – the same percentage he won in 2014, when he first took the office. The Egyptian election authority claimed that 41 per cent of the electorate turned out, a figure that seems highly unlikely, at least if the countless photographs of deserted polling stations are anything to go by.

The kind of crude rural vote-buying that is de rigueur in most poor countries certainly went on. The regime bought large numbers of votes in the countryside, often for sugar. In an effort to pump the turnout numbers, the election authority threatened to fine non-voters, another well-worn trick. There were also some innovations: on the first day of the election the governor of Beheira province pledged that the villages with the highest turnout would be rewarded by having their water and drainage fixed…

April 19


Letter from Cairo

Die Gamaat-ad-Daula-al-Arabija-Straße ist die Hauptachse des Mohandessin-Viertels im Westen Kairos. Der langgezogene Boulevard ist von teuren Geschäften und Cafés gesäumt, die vor allem reiche Ägypter und Touristen aus der Golfregion anziehen…

(This article was published with Le Monde Diplomatique in German, Spanish, and Persian)!5458249

November 9

In Hewler

Almost everyone who lives in the city known to the rest of the world as Erbil calls it by its Kurdish name: Hewlêr. The Kurds in what is now Iraq – like the Kurds in Turkey, Syria and Iran – have for decades been administered by a state that few of them think of as their own. The independence referendum held last month in Iraqi Kurdistan delivered the result everyone expected: 92.7 per cent of the population answered ‘yes’ to the question (posed in Kurdish, Arabic, Turkmen and Assyrian) ‘Do you want the Kurdistan Region and the Kurdistani areas outside the administration of the Region to become an independent state?’ Their hope is that we will all start using Hewlêr instead of Erbil before long.

October 6

The man on the island

For eighteen years Abdullah Öcalan has been imprisoned on an island in the middle of the Sea of Marmara. Once an Ottoman naval base used against the Byzantines, the island of İmralı is now a modern Château d’If, designed to hold the man successive Turkish governments have regarded as the greatest threat to “the indivisible unity of the Sublime Turkish State”. Öcalan commanded the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) during the height of its war, in the 1980s and 90s, to establish an independent Kurdistan in south-eastern Turkey. His capture in 1999 was met in western Turkey with fevered triumphalism, but Öcalan’s incarceration has done little to dampen Kurdish ambitions for political autonomy. The PKK remains in the mountains on Turkey’s periphery, attacking Turkish army outposts and harried by Turkish F-16s; over the past two years the war has reignited at a level not seen for decades, with entire…

May 3, 2017

In Tripoli

‘Honourable was the swift and timely aid offered to them in their struggle by the West,’ the Times said of the Libyan rebels who rose up against Gaddafi during the Arab Spring in 2011; Western military intervention on behalf of the rebellion was ‘a good deed in a weary world’. Today, more than five years after Gaddafi’s fall in October 2011, Libya has been relegated to that class of countries (Afghanistan, Somalia) from which we hear occasional news of US drone strikes but little else.

March 2

The Kingdom that came in from the cold

Morocco is often perceived by Western governments and companies as a model of stability, chugging along quietly with solid economic indicators and reasonable growth compared to its more tumultuous neighbours.

But its decision to rejoin the African Union (AU) at the beginning of 2017 highlights two issues that complicate the picture: popular discontent with political and economic stagnation, and Morocco’s continued occupation of Western Sahara.

March 1

Egypt’s opposition to challenge government in court

Activists, lawyers and human rights groups in Egypt are mounting a fight back against the government’s repressive assembly law and its crackdowns on the country’s embattled opposition.

February 2