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Tom Stevenson

Tom Stevenson lives in Cairo and writes about the Middle East and North Africa.

From The Blog
29 October 2019

Baghdadi was born in the Samarra countryside in Iraq to a family of pastoral farmers who claimed they could trace their ancestry back to the prophet Muhammad. As a young man he had been an aloof theology student and football coach. After the invasion and occupation of Iraq he was imprisoned for ten months in Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca. He emerged a fanatic of the jihadist insurgency. In 2006 the US assassinated the former leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Zarqawi’s successor was assassinated by the US in April 2010. Baghdadi took control of the group a month later.

From The Blog
21 October 2019

Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria has displaced tens of thousands of civilians, most of them Syrian Kurds. As with the Turkish army’s forays into Jarabulus in August 2016 and Afrin in March 2018, its reliance on Syrian Arab militias for the assault has not lessened the impression of vengeful marauding. (Many of the militias were once supported by the United States and Britain in their abortive attempt to bring down Bashar al-Assad.) As before, there are multiple accusations of war crimes. The difference this time is that the incursion and its consequences for the Syrian Kurds have clearly been tacitly authorised by the United States.

How to Run a Caliphate

Tom Stevenson, 20 June 2019

The horrors of IS rule are well known: the killings of Shia; the choice offered to the Christians of Mosul (conversion, ruinous taxation or expulsion); the slaughter of polytheists; the revival of slavery; the massacre of Yazidis on Mount Sinjar. Less well known are the thousands of mundane regulations instituted by the caliphal bureaucracy. The claim to be a state, not just another band of zealous militiamen, was central to what IS stood for. In support of its statehood it operated marriage offices, a telecommunications agency, a department of minerals and a central birth registry. Its department of alms and social solidarity redistributed wealth to the poor. Its department of health brought in sanitation regulations that stipulated more frequent bin collections than in New York.

The Gulf Bargain

Tom Stevenson, 9 May 2019

Anglo-American interest in the enormous hydrocarbon reserves of the Persian Gulf does not derive from a need to fuel Western consumption. Britain used to import considerable quantities of Saudi oil, but currently gets most of what it needs from the North Sea and hasn’t imported much from the Gulf since the 1980s; Saudi oil currently represents around 3 per cent of UK imports. The US has never imported more than a token amount from the Gulf and for much of the postwar period has been a net oil exporter. Anglo-American involvement in the Middle East has always been principally about the strategic advantage gained from controlling Persian Gulf hydrocarbons, not Western oil needs.

The Kurdish Referendum

Tom Stevenson, 18 October 2017

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...

In Libya

Tom Stevenson, 2 March 2017

‘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...

Diary: Human Remains 629667

Tom Stevenson, 19 November 2015

For most of US history no one much cared that Latinos were entering the country and driving the economy of the South-West. In the 1920s the US introduced restrictive immigration laws but it didn’t have Latinos in mind: the perceived dangers were ‘inassimilable’ Italians and Eastern European Jews. During the Second World War the government laid on trains to bring thousands of Mexican labourers across the border to work on farms and ensure food security. In the 1950s the US started deporting Latin Americans.

In Sisi’s Prisons

Tom Stevenson, 19 February 2015

It’s no secret that Hosni Mubarak’s regime was repressive. Yet although in its treatment of prisoners and many other ways besides, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s is worse, statesmen around the world praise its role in Egypt’s ‘democratic transition’. When John Kerry visited Cairo last year he reported that Sisi had given him ‘a very strong sense of his commitment to human rights’. These issues, he said, were ‘very much’ on Sisi’s mind. For more than thirty years it was US policy to support autocratic government in Egypt as a route to ‘regional security’.

From The Blog
18 June 2019

Egypt’s former president Mohamed Morsi collapsed and died yesterday in the glass-enclosed dock of a jailhouse courtroom. No images have been published of his final moments: the authorities confiscated the cameras of everyone present. Morsi had spent years in the Scorpion wing of Cairo’s Tora prison, often in solitary confinement. He was denied medical treatment for long-term illnesses. His family say he was subject to a programme of medical negligence. They have not yet seen his body. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called for an investigation but there is no chance of that.

From The Blog
3 May 2019

On 15 April, President Trump made an unexpected phone call to Khalifa Haftar, a Libyan military officer and former CIA asset who has launched an attack on Tripoli with the aim of overthrowing Libya’s nominal ruling authority, the UN-backed Government of National Accord. According to a White House statement, Trump ‘recognised Field Marshal Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources’, and the two men discussed their ‘shared vision for Libya’s transition’.

From The Blog
5 March 2019

The reporter Marie Colvin was killed in Homs in February 2012. A Private War, Matthew Heineman’s movie based on her life, begins with archival footage of Colvin being asked by an interviewer what she would want a young journalist to know about being a war correspondent. Her answer comes in two parts: first, that you should care enough to write in a way that makes others care; second, some tough-sounding advice on not acknowledging fear until the job is done.

From The Blog
8 October 2018

Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul on the afternoon of 2 October and did not come out. The local police think that Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist writing regularly for the Washington Post, was killed inside the consulate building and his body smuggled out by car.

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