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Across the Arab world, Islamists' brief stints in power have failed

BEFORE 2011 many Arabs believed that, given a fair chance, Islamists would be an unstoppable force in democratic politics. This view was shared by supporters and opponents alike. The former saw Islamists as clean, unsullied by power, adept at providing social services and well-placed to run campaigns. The latter thought they would use democracy to swoop...

Iran scores a pyrrhic victory in its cold war with Saudi Arabia

VISITORS TO BEIRUT last year noticed an odd diptych on the drive from the airport. Head north along Imam Khomeini avenue and one passed billboards to Qassem Suleimani, an Iranian general assassinated by America in January 2020. Yet just a kilometre farther on his gaunt visage gave way to a jowly image of Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s Founding...

Why the Arab world has an identity crisis

TO WANDER TODAY through Tahrir Square, the heart of Egypt’s 2011 revolution, is to stroll through an empty, haunted house. During those 18 days of unrest the atmosphere alternated between festive and terrifying. Young people sang, schemed and spoke freely about politics. Thugs on camels rode past the Egyptian museum and charged headlong into the crowds....

The Palestinian cause no longer binds the Arab world

IN THE FIRST years after Israel’s founding, David Ben-Gurion promoted an “alliance of the periphery”. The father of modern Israel saw the Arab world as implacably hostile. So he sought ties with non-Arab states, chiefly Turkey and Iran, which both established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1950 (the first Muslim-majority countries to do so). The...

Egypt is again under military rule, but Sisi lacks Nasser’s appeal

EGYPTIANS SOMETIMES call their country umm ad-dunya, the “mother of the world”. Egypt has never lacked a distinct identity: the sons of the Nile are heirs to one of the world’s oldest civilisations. Theirs is the most populous Arab state, a bridge between the heartlands to the east and the Maghreb to the west. It was only natural that Egypt would...

Most Arab countries now focus on domestic concerns, not unity

A FEW SUMMERS ago, scores of people packed into a Beirut concert hall for an evening of nostalgia. An Iraqi-born singer performed songs by Umm Kulthum, Egypt’s most famous diva. “The Lady” was an icon of Arab nationalism: a champion of the Palestinian cause and friend of Nasser, who often scheduled his speeches to follow her monthly concerts. On this...

The Arab League has done little for its members in nearly 70 years

NO ONE COULD blame Morocco. In 2016 the kingdom was due to host an Arab League summit, an expensive undertaking. The meetings are so dull that some heads of state fall asleep. So in February, two months beforehand, Morocco said it could not be bothered to play host. “This summit will be just another occasion to approve ordinary resolutions and to pronounce...

Busybodies, backed by AI, are restoring the party’s visibility

IN 2018 XI JINPING visited one of Shanghai’s grandiose new structures, a ponderous, low, glass-clad building that had been used mainly as an exhibition centre. A space inside had been taken over by the district government for an entirely different purpose. On one wall a vast screen showed live feeds from street cameras. With the help of artificial intelligence,...

A future, but with Chinese characteristics

AS COLUMNS OF smoke rose from Tiananmen Square and tanks took up positions along Beijing’s central thoroughfare, it was hard to imagine the Communist Party celebrating its 100th birthday still firmly in charge. It was the day after the army had slaughtered hundreds, if not thousands, of people on June 3rd-4th 1989. The massacre had crushed a nationwide...

The party is eager to expand its influence within business

IF IT EVER was Shanghai’s tallest building, the 40-metre-high headquarters of the North China Daily News did not remain so for long. Skyscrapers became fashionable before the Communists took over in 1949 and turned China into a world leader for them. In 2015 the tallest building in China (and second-highest in the world) opened in Lujiazui, Shanghai’s...

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