Wilson Center Experts
I have lived and worked as a journalist in the Arab world for the past 15 years. I moved to Egypt in 1993, and in 1997, I helped found the Cairo Times, which at the time was one of the region's few genuinely independent news magazines in any language. Throughout much of this time Egypt experienced a low-level Islamist insurgency, which caused significant casualties and economic damage before collapsing due both to a brutal security crackdown and to its failure to win much sympathy with the general public. I also covered Egypt's economic liberalization, human rights issues, and social transformations. My work at the Cairo Times also afforded me a first-hand look at how Egypt's government attempted to coerce and co-opt their country's media. In 2003 I moved my focus of work to Iraq, working at first as a freelance writer, then as a trainer and editor for the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, an organization which taught Iraqis the basics of journalism and helped them cover events in their communities. At this point it was still possible to travel safely around most of the country, and I saw how young Iraqis confronted the dramatic changes brought by the 2003 US-led invasion—the humiliation of foreign military occupation, the dangers posed by crime and political violence, and the hardships caused by the collapse of state institutions, but also the opportunities created by economic liberalization as well as the new political and religious freedoms. I also learned about fissures in Iraqi society that had pre-existed the invasion, and saw how Iraqis gravitated towards political movements which played to their historical experiences and their sense of class or sectarian grievance. In 2004 I began working full-time for the Financial Times and the Economist. I continued to move around Baghdad and the immediate environs through the middle of 2005, but as the security situation worsened I relied increasingly on embeds with the military to go farther afield. I heard how the movement later known as al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia was able to extend its influence through what was previously a very disorganized and ideologically varied resistance movement. At the same time, I saw how the massive car- and suicide bomb attacks on mostly Shia civilian and religious targets began to push the country towards civil war. I also witnessed some early signs of Sunni backlash against the radicals, which ultimately contributed to al-Qaeda's decline in 2007 and 2008. This project grew from my curiosity as to how an insurgent movement rooted in Iraq's Sunni Arab minority adopted a seemingly suicidal strategy that pitted it against the much larger Shia majority. I believe that it will ultimately be useful in showing how a well-organized and ideologically cohesive network can steer a larger but less organized insurgent movement towards its particular ends, and suggest some ways to prevent the spread of the more extreme versions of Islamist militancy in the future.
B.A. (1992) Political Science from the University of California, Berkeley, with a year abroad (1990-1991) at the American University in Cairo
- Iraq correspondent, Financial Times, 2004-08
- Iraq correspondent, the Economist, 2004-08
- Trainer/Editor, the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, Baghdad, Iraq, 2003-04
- Editor, the Cairo Times, Cairo, Egypt, 1999-2000
- Reporter, the Cairo Times, Cairo, Egypt, 1997-99
- Reporter, the Middle East Times, Cairo, Egypt, 1993-96
Iraqi politics and society after 2003; Egyptian politics and society in the 1990s; Iraq conflict; Iraqi insurgency
The project will chart the evolution of Iraq's Sunni Arab insurgency by examining three specific areas, Samarra, al-Qaim, and western Baghdad's al-Ghazaliya and al-Bayaa districts, focusing on how a highly decentralized movement evolved locally. It will explore how factors such as the dissolution of the Iraqi military, sectarian tensions and the inevitable friction between civilians and an occupying army built upon each other to create a large but disorganized network of part-time insurgents, which different militant leaders competed to control.