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

The Syrian civil war in 2017

The Syrian civil war is without doubt the worst and most brutal conflict in the world, a generational war without real historical comparisons.

On the ground, a classic hereditary tyranny that survives only through force and external contrivance is fighting disparate militias across the country for control of the state.

January 18

In Western Sahara

The Summer 2016 issue of the Los Angeles Review of Books includes Tom Stevenson’s 4000 word essay on the Western Sahara conflict.

Death in the Sahara

It was a clear afternoon in Egypt’s western desert on Sept. 13, 2015, and an AH-64 Apache helicopter was gliding over the Abu Muharek dunes. A hot sun was beating down, though the helicopter’s pilots wouldn’t have felt it in their air-conditioned cabin. Below, just over the next ridge, 14 Mexican tourists had paused their desert safari to enjoy lunch.

August 2