FP's Middle East Thinkers

The FP Top 100 Global Thinkers List -- or as I like to call it, the "Blake Hounshell makes 100 Friends and Loses a Few Thousand Who Secretly Think They Should Have Been On It List" -- hit the stands today. As you'd expect, given this year's astonishing events, the Middle East features prominently. My contribution was an article, The Big Think Behind the Arab Spring, which reviewed of some of the key ideas, thinkers, and trends which contributed to the Arab uprisings. I tried to focus on what Arab intellectuals and writers have said about their own revolutions, not on what we in the West have written about them. I can't blame Blake for that one. 

On the list itself, you'll find profiles of:

  • Alaa Al-Aswany, the Egyptian novelist who laid bare his country's deteriorating public culture; we can't wait for his next book
  • Mohamed el-Baradei, the Nobel Laureate who took the reins of the National Association for Change to challenge Hosni Mubarak; he may have missed his moment to lead Egypt, but he helped make January 25 possible
  • Wael Ghonim, the once-anonymous administrator of the We Are All Khaled Said Facebook page whose dramatic appearance in Tahrir Square restored the spirit of the revolution
  • Ali Ferzat, the Syrian cartoonist whose savage renditions helped puncture the Assad regime's cult of personality and paid a heavy price
  • Razan Zaitoune, the Syrian human rights activist who helped expose the brutal facts of repression
  • Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of Tunisia's Ennahda Movement who oversaw its astonishing electoral rebirth and has worked to reassure both Tunisians and the West of his party's commitment to democracy and moderation
  • Khairat el-Shater, the power behind the throne in Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood who has emerged from prison to become a key player in shaping its uncertain political future
  • Tawakkol Karman, the Nobel Laureate Yemeni activist who simply would not stop protesting against President Ali Abdullah Saleh
  • Wadah Khanfar, the former director of Al Jazeera who helped shape the narrative of protest and populism which defines the new Arab era
  • Manal al-Sharif, the Saudi women's right activist who really wanted to drive
  • Eman al-Najfan, a leading Saudi blogger pushing for reform
  • Fathi Terbil, the determined Libyan human rights activist
  • Ahmed Devotogulu and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the architects of Turkish foreign policy who seem to be doing something right
  • Sami Ben Gharbia, the Tunisian internet activist who has done such phenomenal work on transparency and played a key role in his country's revolution
  • Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad, the President and Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority whose electoral mandates have long since expired, authority over half their territory lost, and peace negotiation strategy failed. Um, yeah.
  • Meir Dagan, the former director of the Mossad who has taken to pointing out the idiocy of an Israeli attack on Iran

Among those on the list who are not as obviously connected to the Middle East, I would especially point to Samantha Power, whose ideas about the urgency of preventing genocide and push for global norms against impunity have emerged as one of the defining principles of the new Arab order, and Anne-Marie Slaughter, who pursued the same ideas at the State Department and then emerged as a forceful public advocate. I would also include my old Williamstown friend Ethan Zuckerman, for his brilliant and innovative work pushing the limits of the social uses of the internet, including helping to create the Global Voices Online collective which included so many key figures in Arab social media.

There are obviously so many more who could have been selected. FP couldn't cover every country or every brilliant mind. If you're one of them, or you really think there's someone who should -- or should not -- have been included, let me repeat: blame @blakehounshell. 

Elbaradei for Presidency Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=123551066565#!/group.php?gid=123551066565&v=photos

The Middle East Channel

Despite unrest, voting begins in Egyptian parliamentary elections

Despite unrest, voting begins in Egyptian parliamentary elections

Egyptians waited peacefully in long, heavily guarded lines on Monday as the first day of the three phases of parliamentary elections began. The voting went on as scheduled despite a week of the worst violence since the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak between the ruling military and protesters calling for their resignation and a transition to civilian rule. The clashes have caused the death of an estimated 42 people and the wounding of nearly 2,000. That ongoing tension brought about concerns that elections would be postponed after many parties suspended their campaigns and encouraged a boycott. Regardless, early reports have found turnout to be high. Although these will be the first nominally free elections in the country's history, their legitimacy has come into question as the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces are reluctant and unlikely to cede power. According to the SCAF's leader, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, "the position of the armed forces will remain as it is -- it will not change in any new constitution." Either way, many feel further that elections will not address poverty, unemployment, and other major social concerns.


  • The moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party won the Moroccan elections, taking 107 out of 395 seats in Parliament.
  • The Arab League has approved sanctions on Syria in an unprecedented move to curb regime violence after the government failed to implement a peace plan and admit observers.
  • Despite his agreement to transfer power, Yemen's President Saleh has announced a "general amnesty" for those implicated in violence over the past months. Meanwhile, Vice-President Hadi named opposition leader Mohammed Basindwa as interim prime minister.
  • Kuwait's cabinet has resigned in response to protests and corruption charges in a political battle between the government and the elected parliament.
  • In retaliation for increased sanctions, the Iranian Parliament has unanimously approved a bill downgrading relations with Britain and expelled the British ambassador.
  • A suicide bomber in a minivan hit a prison at a military base in an Iraqi town 12 miles north of Baghdad, killing 19 people in the third major attack in a week. 

Daily Snapshot

Egyptian voters gather outside a school turned polling station in the Ain Shams district of Cairo on November 28, 2011. Post-revolution Egypt headed to the polls for a chaotic election clouded by violence and a political crisis, the start of a long process to bring democracy to the Arab world's most populous nation (AMRO MARAGHI/AFP/Getty Images).  

Arguments & Analysis

'Tahrir protesters don't speak for all in anxious Egypt' (Issandr El Amrani, The National)

"Even if the military's star is waning and there is a large degree of disappointment in its performance thus far - notably its failure to deliver tangible changes after Mr Mubarak's fall -- many Egyptians do not see a clear alternative. The position of the average Egyptian is probably between Tahrir and Abbasiya: they back the demand for real change and accountable government, but at the same time worry about prolonged instability. The most enduring effect of last week's protests may well be a serious rupture in the Egyptian tradition of putting the military above scrutiny, and a move toward obtaining a firm commitment from the generals to relinquish power to civilians. This is in good part the result not only of the SCAF's lacklustre management of the country for the past nine months, but also of the more recent tactical mistake of having explicitly demanded that their interests be protected in the next constitution."

'Egypt on the edge' (Wendell Steavenson, The New Yorker)

"S.C.A.F. may think it can continue muddling through, waiting out the Square as it did in July, when protesters camped for a month, but I am not so sure. They have badly miscalculated the mood, taking two days to apologize for the deaths on Tahrir and appointing a weak flunky as Prime Minister, moves which have only angered many Egyptians further. They seem to be living in that strange padded room that we have now seen several dictators inhabit before they fell." 

'The Arab education revolution' (Marwan Muasher, The National Interest)

"The Arab world also needs more highly skilled teachers and classroom environments more conducive to learning. Teaching remains mostly didactic and lecture based, emphasizing rote memorization of facts. This doesn't provide for open discussion and active learning. The kind of educational reform that empowers citizens is resisted, however, by an unspoken alliance between governments and religious institutions, which want to maintain their monopoly over school curricula and practices. Status-quo forces see independent, creative and well-educated students as threatening. Until this changes, democratic hopes will suffer."

'Israel's other occupation' (Gershom Gorenberg, New York Times)

"If and when Israel finally leaves the West Bank quagmire behind, it will face a further challenge: the settlers need to be brought home. But allowing them to apply their ideology inside Israel, or to transplant whole communities from the West Bank to the Galilee, will only make the situation worse in Israel proper. The reason for Israel to reach a two-state solution and withdraw from the West Bank is not only to reach peace with the Palestinians living in what is now occupied territory. It is to ensure that Israel itself remains a democracy -- one with a Jewish majority and a guarantee of equality for its Arab minority. Israel does not need to bring the war from Samaria home. It needs to leave that war in the past."

Recently on the Channel

-- 'Egypt needs a new roadmap, not just new elections' by Leila Hilal & Khaled Elgindy

-- 'To Mecca and back again' by Ethar El-Katatney

-- 'Bahrain's uncertain future' by Kristian Coates Ulrichsen