At dawn on July 26, one day after the assassination of National Constituent Assembly (NCA) member Mohamed Brahmi, the opposition -- led by Jibhat Shaabia (the Popular Front), Nidaa Tounes (the Call for Tunisia), and a number of civil society activists -- demanded the dissolution of the Tunisian government and the NCA in order to "correct the course of the revolution and to spare the country further economic and security afflictions."
Despite the absence of a clear connection between Brahmi's murder and the policies of the government -- which has been cracking down harder on Salafi jihadi extremism and trying to provide more security -- and despite that the opposition had no plans to create a democratically legitimate body to replace the NCA, this announcement was received with great euphoria by many Tunisians. Ongoing protests in the Bardo neighborhood of Tunis, just outside the Constituent Assembly, have been fueled by emotion and the shortsighted power hunger of opposition elites, including figures in Nidaa Tounes, Jibhat Shaabia, the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) -- the country's largest trade union -- and the media.
FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images
One could have written "in Egypt," the truth is the greatest victim: but in truth, the level of misinformation with regards to coverage on Egypt, be it written in Egypt or abroad, is incredible. Over the last week, it has become clear that time-honored analysts on Egyptian affairs could spend their entire day simply issuing clarifications on misleading, or simply wrong, media. Such misinformation is not coming from simply one source, or from one "side" of the political divide -- but all sides, for various reasons, and with magnificent intensity. What is striking is that the clarifications would not necessitate much in the way of research -- it would only require a limited amount of familiarity with Egypt over the past three years. Instead, overnight, it seems that commentators and analysts who wrote and published virtually nothing on Egypt in the past year (let alone the past three) have become noted authorities -- with more often than not, abysmal results. In the process, truth itself, on Egypt is the greatest victim.
MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/Getty Images
It is somewhat ironic that of all the images shown on Turkish television channels during the violent police crackdown in Istanbul's Gezi Park -- from cooking shows to soap opera reruns -- penguins should become the symbol of media censorship in Turkey's ongoing protests. After all, it is a magazine called Penguen that constitutes a bastion of social and political satire in Turkish media, using impressive wit to critique that which mainstream media most often does not -- or, more accurately, cannot. Now infamous for being the country with the most jailed journalists, Turkey's restrictions on press freedoms stem from an obstreperous prime minister who does not take criticism lightly and the complex business links between his ruling Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi -- AKP) and the media barons controlling the industry. Despite this highly contracted space for expression, Penguen continues to publish wickedly humorous and searingly critical caricatures of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. For now, at least.
There could be more outrageous public relations disasters for a government to engage in. There could be. I just can't think of any. Imagine Jon Stewart being arrested on charges of insulting U.S. President Barack Obama and insulting Judaism. Then imagine that in the entire English-speaking world, there are only political satirists. You then get to what it means for the Egyptian authorities to issue an arrest warrant for Bassem Youssef, and the easily predictable repercussions. But this case goes far beyond Bassem Youssef -- it speaks to the future of freedom of expression and the media in the largest Arab country, and to the success of its ongoing revolution.
Bassem Youssef is a unique phenomenon -- a political satirist that is well known all over the Arab world, as well as the West. His meteoric rise through the use of social media and television over the past two years could never have been planned, but he emerged at a time when Egyptians and Arabs were waiting for a non-partisan critic to combine classic Egyptian irony with political awareness. In the aftermath of the Egyptian uprising, Bassem Youssef considered the revolution as a continuing one -- and that his role within it would be to push the envelope of public discourse, holding authority to account. But always with humor -- and thus far, he has touched not only the hearts of Egyptians, but of Arabs around the world.
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
"Freedom of The Press" is often referred to as the fourth pillar of any modern democracy. Democratizing the media has been one of the achievements of the United States in many state-building experiments around the world -- but this was not the case in Iraq. After the U.S. intervention in 2003, Iraqi media was transformed from being a heavily controlled state propaganda tool, to a plethora of political, ethnic, tribal, and sectarian mouthpieces.
When Saddam Hussein assumed power on July 17, 1979, the Iraqi press was mostly government-owned. The former Iraqi dictator used the media to promote his ideas and to control the country in a style reminiscent of the Nazi regime in Germany. His propaganda machine was active until the end. Remarkably his official newspapers were still being distributed on April 9, 2003 -- the day his brutal regime was toppled.
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When Saudi activists Abdullah al-Hamed and Mohammed Fahad al-Qahtani headed to the Criminal Court in Riyadh on Saturday morning, they knew what was waiting for them. The two founding members of the banned Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) have been on trial since June 2012, and the judge was expected to hand down his ruling at the session scheduled on Saturday. As the defendants arrived to the court, they were received by more than 100 activists who came to show their support and attend the hearing which was also marked by a heavy presence of security officers with truncheons hanging from their belts.
The government has been accusing al-Hamed and al-Qahtani with a series of charges that include founding an unlicensed human rights organization, seeking to disrupt security and inciting disorder, undermining national unity, breaking allegiance to the ruler, disobeying the ruler, and questioning the integrity of officials. These are considered serious charges in Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy where political dissent in not usually tolerated. It does not allow protests, political parties, or unions. Saudi Arabia is also a main ally of the United States in the Middle East.
JACQUELYN MARTIN/AFP/Getty Images
On Friday, February 22, I flew from London to Dubai to participate in a conference jointly organized by the Middle East Centre of the London School of Economics (LSE) -- where I work -- and the American University of Sharjah (AUS). The theme of the conference was "The New Middle East: Transition in the Arab World," and my paper was entitled "Bahrain's Uprising: Domestic Implications and Regional and International Perspectives." The one-day event was scheduled to take place on Sunday, February 24 at the AUS campus. However, the LSE abruptly pulled out of the conference on Thursday after the United Arab Emirates (UAE) government intervened to inform AUS that no discussion of Bahrain would be permitted. By leaving their decision until the very last minute -- the weekend immediately prior to the conference -- the authorities may have hoped that AUS and the LSE would accept it as a "fait accompli" and proceed. To their credit, the LSE immediately withdrew from the event, citing "restrictions imposed on the intellectual control of the event that threatened academic freedom." With many of the U.S.-based workshop speakers already in Dubai or in the air, we took the decision to continue with our trip; for me it was the first leg of a three-country visit in the Gulf, and I also had been invited to lecture at Zayed University on February 25.
On arrival at Dubai International Airport, I was stopped by immigration officials and separated from the two LSE colleagues with whom I had been traveling. My passport clearly had triggered a red flag in the system and the official called over his supervisor. I was separated from my colleagues and taken to a backroom where security personnel examined each page of my passport in minute detail. An official then disappeared with my passport for 45 minutes before returning with a representative from Emirates Airline who informed me that I was being denied entry to the UAE and sent back to London. I had to purchase my own ticket to fly back to Gatwick -- but not before randomly being approached by an airport staffer who asked if I would complete a customer satisfaction survey.
Oman's Basic Law (Implemented November 6, 1996)
Article 18: Personal freedom is guaranteed according to the Law, and it is unlawful to arrest, search, detain, or imprison any person or have his place of residence or freedom of movement or residence restricted except in accordance with the provisions of the Law.
Article 29: The freedom of opinion and expression thereof through speech, writing or other forms of expression is guaranteed within the limits of the Law.
Article 32: The citizens have the right to assemble within the limits of the Law.
It started with a road trip.
On May 31, two Omani human rights activists, Ismail al-Muqbali and Habeeba al-Hina'i, and a prominent local lawyer, Yaqoub al-Kharousi, drive to Fahud, a major oil facility about 217 miles southwest of Muscat.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of oil workers had taken part in strikes across the country demanding better working conditions and pay over the previous few days, and they were keen to see for themselves how the strikers were being treated by the police.
American freelance journalist Matthew VanDyke travelled to Libya on March 6 to report on the North African nation's nascent uprising -- at that point in its third week. He went there to do the job he loved in a region he had long studied, and to "witness history in the making," his mother, Sharon told me about three months ago as we tried to figure out what had happened to her son. VanDyke has not been heard from since March 13. The sole piece of information about the 31-year old reporter since then has been a single unconfirmed sighting in a Sirte prison about two months ago.
Unfortunately, VanDyke's case is not unique. The Committee to Protect Journalists' (CPJ) research shows that at least 15 journalists and media workers are currently missing or in government custody in Libya. Since mid-February, CPJ has documented nearly 100 attacks on the press. They include five fatalities and 50 detentions, as well as assaults, attacks on news facilities, jamming of satellite news transmissions, destruction of equipment, disabling of the Internet, obstruction, and expulsions.
"Long live Al Jazeera!" chanted Egyptian protesters in Tahrir Square on Feb. 6. Many Arabs -- not least the staff at Al Jazeera -- have said for years that the Arab satellite network would help bring about a popular revolution in the Middle East. Now, after 15 years of broadcasting, it appears the prediction has come true. There is little question that the network played a key role in the revolution that began as a ripple in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, and ended up a wave that threatens to wash away Egypt's long-standing regime.
"We knew something was coming," Mustafa Souag, head of news at Al Jazeera's Arabic-language station, told me Monday. "Our main objective was to provide the most accurate and comprehensive coverage that we could by sending cameras and reporters to any place there is an event. And if you don't have a reporter, then you try to find alternative people who are willing to cooperate because they believe in what we are doing."
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
CAIRO — The revolution is not over.
Waving flags and chanting, "We're not leaving; he's the one who's leaving," huge crowds surged into Cairo's Tahrir Square on Tuesday, Feb. 8, calling for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak and demanding fundamental political change.
It was clear that new faces, including a much larger proportion of women and children, had decided to venture into the square for the first time -- perhaps inspired by the gripping television interview of Wael Ghonim, the Google executive and activist who was released from prison on Monday after being detained for 12 days.
PEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images
I don't have a lot of time this morning before the panel discussion I'm hosting at GW on Tunisia -- webcast here, if you can't make it to the Elliott School! But I do want to make a few quick comments on Egypt. The images and stories of protests today have been impressive, both in numbers and in energy and enthusiasm. The Egyptians are self-consciously emulating the Tunisian protests, seeking to capitalize on the new mood within the Arab world. Their efforts are not new, despite the intense Western desire to put them into a narrative driven by Twitter, WikiLeaks, or demonstration effects. Egyptians have been protesting and demonstrating for the last decade: massive demonstrations in support of Palestinians and against the Iraq war from 2000 to 2003; Kefaya's creative protests for political reform and against succession which peaked in 2004 to 2006; lawyers and judges and professional associations; the Facebook protests and April 6 movements; the plethora of wildcat labor strikes across the country.
One key factor was missing, though, at least early on. Al Jazeera has played a vital, instrumental role in framing this popular narrative by its intense, innovative coverage of Tunisia and its explicit broadening of that experience to the region. Its coverage today has been frankly baffling, though. During the key period when the protests were picking up steam, Al Jazeera aired a documentary cultural program on a very nice seeming Egyptian novelist and musical groups, and then to sports. Now (10:30am EST) it is finally covering the protests in depth, but its early lack of coverage may hurt its credibility. I can't remember another case of Al Jazeera simply punting on a major story in a political space which it has owned.
Flickr January 25, 2010
The Palestine Papers -- more than 1,600 internal Palestinian documents summarizing negotiations with Israel over the past decade -- are no "Palestinian WikiLeaks" aimed at bringing transparency and good government to the Palestinian Authority. Rather, they are a direct attack on the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), its negotiators, and the very idea of negotiating peace with Israel.
The documents were apparently provided to Al Jazeera by disgruntled Palestinians who set out to harm the PLO leadership and their peaceful path toward realizing Palestinian national goals. The Qatar-based satellite network has played along, insinuating that the documents show that the Palestinian leadership has proved weak and willing to capitulate to Israeli desires. On the documents pertaining to Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, it laments that Palestinian negotiators "gave away almost everything to the Israelis, without pressuring them for concessions or compromise."
Uriel Sinai/Getty images
In the winter of 2004, a treatise called da'wat al-muqawamah al-Islamiyyah al-alamiyya (The Call of Global Islamic Resistance) first appeared on jihadi forums. The 1,600-page document, written by al Qaeda's arch-strategist Abu Musab al-Suri, called for a radical restructuring of global jihadism. Suri, having observed that the post-9/11 era was distinctly uncharitable toward organized and hierarchical jihadi groups, wanted to transform al Qaeda into a diffuse international movement connected mainly through Islamic solidarity and ideology.
The terrorist network, Suri had already written in 2000, "is not an organization.… It is a call, a reference, a methodology." Accordingly, he now recommended that al Qaeda focus on projecting its ideas and solutions around the globe. By encouraging this new, decentralized version of al Qaeda, Suri hoped to see the creation of numerous "self-starter" individuals and terrorist cells with no organizational connections to the group. These self-starters, he hoped, would be just as eager to kill as any well-trained terrorist and would also be better protected from detection by enemy security services.
SAID KHATIB/AFP/Getty Images
Writing for Foreign Policy's Middle East Channel, Jonathan Guyer recently panned "P@lestinian Pulse: What Policymakers Can Learn from Palestinian Social Media," a study I co-authored with Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Guyer's review is wrong on several critical points, and necessitates corrections.
Dubowitz and I
undertook our study to explore the relatively new realm of Palestinian social
media. Our study found that, in their discussions online, Palestinians are
generally opposed to diplomacy with Israel. We also found that the Fatah
faction, the most prominent party representing the Palestinians in U.S.-led peace talks, is
divided somewhat evenly over the utility of violence against Israel. We also found
that Hamas supporters online do not waver in their jihadist view of violence
against Israel. Indeed, they appear to be in sync
with a growing
contingent of Salafists on this point.
Darren McCollester/Getty Images
The last time you visited your favorite blog, how wide of a cross-section of public opinion did the comments represent? It probably depended on the blogger, on the article, and on the mood of the day.
Yet these limitations haven't stopped advocates from trying to discern Palestinian public opinion from bloggers' views. Last week, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) presented to Congress a new report that puts Palestinian public attitudes, in contrast to polling data, in a decidedly hostile light. "P@lestinian Pulse: What Policymakers Can Learn From Palestinian Social Media," by Jonathan Schanzer and Mark Dubowitz is the first published study which attempts to ascertain Palestinian public opinion exclusively from web sources. But is the report accurate?
FDD contracted out to ConStrat, a D.C.-based communications firm, which mined an array of content, and then FDD drew broad conclusions such as Hamas "supporters showed no apparent disagreement with Salafists such as al-Qaeda" and "Palestinian reform factions are weak and have little influence online." But the study's methodology leaves much to be desired: it's impossible to confirm whether the sample only includes Palestinians; there isn't a clear theory of how to analyze this content or how FDD reached these conclusions.
For years, the newspaper al-Dostour has been one of the few independent voices in the Egyptian press. No longer: Its editor in chief, Ibrahim Eissa, was fired today for refusing to toe the government line.
The immediate reason for Eissa's firing appears to be his plan to publish an article written by opposition leader and would-be presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei commemorating Egypt's 1973 war with Israel. But in an exclusive interview with Foreign Policy, Eissa said that his dismissal had been planned since the paper was purchased by Sayyid Badawi, a businessman and head of Egypt's Wafd Party, a liberal party that has nonetheless been co-opted by the regime. Eissa referred to Badawi as a member of Egypt's "soft opposition" -- someone publicly pushing for reforms, but who isn't willing to challenge the regime in any serious way.
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
The raging questions about America's role in Iraq came to a boil earlier this year with "Arqoub's Promise," a controversial music video which captured public debate. Invoking Arqoub, a legendary character infamous for his unfulfilled promises, the Iraqi singer Shadha Hassoun bemoans both her affair with a U.S. soldier and the U.S. invasion of her war-torn country. Double-entendre lyrics about love and betrayal combine with images of the singer crossing wind and sand-swept streets to end up in a poignant post-lovemaking confrontation with her lover in the back of a U.S. military truck, with a large screen playing images of military hardware, explosions and torn bodies. As the U.S. soldier walks away, the video concludes in black and white, with a street strewn with dozens of shoes -- in homage to Bush shoe thrower Muntazher al-Zhaidi -- and a haunting close-up of a fright-stricken baby face encircled with barbed wire. The release of the video in mid-January, 2010 set the Iraqi and Arab press ablaze: "Shadha Hassoun glorifies the occupation of Iraq!" accused one columnist; "A political or romantic message?" wondered another; "Shadha Hassoun expels occupier," wrote a third, reflecting multiple and contrary readings of the video.
In the polemic spawned by the video, fans and critics opined and rebutted each other in mosque sermons, political speeches, op-ed pages, and social media, fuelled by rival campaigns in the March, 2010 Iraqi elections, against the backdrop of the ongoing Arab trauma over Iraq's tragedy. Eight weeks after the video's release, an Arabic Google search yielded more than 4000 hits, ranging from adulation on fan blogs to invective by Iraqi insurgents, showing that various publics -- young and old, secular and religious, pro-and anti-U.S. -- found in the video an invitation to argue and advance competing visions of Iraqi womanhood, patriotism, and identity.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is coming to New York again next week for the annual opening of the U.N. General Assembly. If the past is any guide, he will try to use the U.S. press as a prop to distract from his shaky standing at home.
Since he was first elected in 2005, the Iranian president has perfected the art of slipping and sliding around even the most seasoned interviewers. Typically, he answers questions with questions and deflects criticism by attacking the United States or Israel.
AFP/ Getty Images
Nearly nine years after the attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States still has 100,000 troops fighting and dying in Afghanistan, and another 50,000 holding down the fort in Iraq. One hundred seventy-six inmates remain at the U.S. prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. A number of disturbing near-misses -- the attempted Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253, the Times Square fizzle, and various other plots -- have put the threat of terrorism back in the news. In a Gallup poll conducted in late August, 47 percent of Americans surveyed said that terrorism would be "extremely important" to their vote for Congress this year, with another 28 percent rating the issue "very important."
Yet there's also a sense that terrorism has faded as a political issue as the economy and general dissatisfaction with Washington have crowded out all other concerns. The intense debates on the op-ed pages and in the blogosphere of the war on terror's go-go years have quieted. The military tribunals in Guantánamo have evoked little public interest. Anti-Islam fervor may be rising, but terrorism just doesn't seem to elicit the passions it once did. Indeed, it would be hard to imagine outgoing Newsweek columnist Fareed Zakaria, always a reliable barometer of conventional wisdom, writing this sentence in, say, 2008 -- "Nine years after 9/11, can anyone doubt that Al Qaeda is simply not that deadly a threat?" -- and barely making a splash.
SABAH ARAR/AFP/Getty Images
Mark Perry's article, "Red Team" (ForeignPolicy.com, June 30) argues that an intelligence unit inside the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) known as the "Red Team" is thinking outside the box about the Middle East and recommending strategies for Hezbollah and Hamas that are "at odds with current U.S. policy."
Perry's thesis is that there is an important divide in the U.S. government over how to deal with these militant groups, as evidenced by the apparent rift between "senior officers at CENTCOM headquarters" and everyone else. For Perry, a prominent advocate of negotiating with radical Islamist groups, this institutional discrepancy over Middle East policy proves that his ideas have achieved credibility at high levels within the U.S. policymaking community.
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Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al-Saud is a man who wears many hats. One of the richest men in the world, he has recently been accused of being one of the financiers behind the planned Islamic center in downtown Manhattan by Fox News -- which is owned by a company in which, ironically, he is also a major stakeholder. Jon Stewart's Daily Show lampooned the incongruity of this earlier in the week, joking that the only way to stop Al-Waleed from funding the Islamic center was to stop watching Fox.
Given that the prince is the frequent subject of magazine profiles and even an authorized biography, it is strange that we seem know so little about him -- and get so much of it wrong. The following is a brief, irreverent, account of everything you need to know about Prince Al-Waleed.
Amid widespread skepticism that sanctions will stop Tehran's nuclear development and grudging, belated recognition that the Green Movement will not deliver a more pliable Iranian government, a growing number of commentators are asking the question, "What does President Obama do next on Iran?"
For hawks, the answer is war. Last month, in The Weekly Standard, Reuel Marc Gerecht made the case for an Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear targets. With the publication of Jeffrey Goldberg's "The Point of No Return" in the Atlantic, the campaign for war against Iran is now arguing that the United States should attack so Israel won't have to.
ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images
"This BlackBerry Messenger rumor mill in the UAE is getting out of hand." I had posted this tweet several days before the UAE announced a ban last week on BlackBerry services by next October if Research In Motion (RIM), the smart phone's manufacturer, didn't meet the country's regulatory conditions.
The truth is there are legitimate concerns behind the UAE's surprising decision. After all, sinister individuals have taken advantage of the country's modern infrastructure as well as its lax regulatory environment before, especially leading to the September 11th attacks.
In a region where reprisals against journalists who fail to toe the government line may include imprisonment and torture, Kuwait has been a welcome exception. The country consistently ranks as having the freest media in the Arab world, in both Reporters Without Borders' and Freedom House's indices of press freedom. With a population of only around 3 million, it has more than 15 daily newspapers that publish editorials and columns from local politicians, activists, academics, and analysts. But Kuwait's relatively liberal media and public dialogue is just that: relative. It's also in decline.
The government is growing increasingly willing to act in ways that belie the country's reputation for tolerating heated political debate. Last month, prosecutors began the trial of Mohammad al-Jasim, a journalist accused of endangering national security. Jasim, trained as a lawyer, is one of the government's most vocal critics and has faced more than 20 separate charges for libel and slander of government officials based on his writings and public statements. In an October 2009 article, he informed the current prime minister, appointed by the emir of Kuwait and also a member of the ruling family: "You must admit that you lack leadership charisma … that you contributed in creating the people's current negative view of your abilities and that you lack adequate experience to lead the government."
YASSER AL-ZAYYAT/AFP/Getty Images
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, the energetic octogenarian who is in his fifth year as head of the oil-rich kingdom, will visit Washington on June 29. Abdullah has overcome divisions within the royal family and proceeded to restore stability to the kingdom, which just a few years ago was under siege by local radicals and wracked with fears about the possible regionalization of the Iraq war. For all his considerable political acumen, however, Abdullah has turned to an old playbook to consolidate the House of Saud's authority -- leaving important questions about what comes next for the kingdom unanswered.
Amid political uncertainty, Abdullah has taken measured steps to transform his country. Abdullah's Saudi Arabia is a remarkably different place than that of his immediate predecessor. With his blessing, the Saudi press, while hardly free, is occasionally vibrant and sometimes even critically introspective. Some of the kingdom's most sacred institutions and practices, including the reactionary religious establishment and the draconian restrictions imposed on women, have come under fire in the media by a growing number of Saudi journalists, intellectuals, and activists. Saudi citizens have been taking their cues directly from the king, who has worked to rein in the clergy, which has enjoyed tremendous power since the kingdom took a conservative turn in the late 1970s.
ABDELHAK SENNA/AFP/Getty Images
What will be the image that frames the news reporting of June 29's White House meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia? Surely not another bow toward the desert monarch, as caught on video at the London G-20 meeting in April 2009. Or what hypercritics saw as a further deferential bob in Riyadh last June, when the president leaned forward so the shorter king could confer on him the King Abdul Aziz Order of Merit, a chunky necklace that Obama took off within seconds.
Of course, what the White House staff most wants to avoid is any image as awkward as the shot of President George W. Bush and then Crown Prince Abdullah walking arm in arm at the start of a meeting at Bush's Crawford, Texas, ranch in April 2002. The shot was memorialized by Michael Moore in Fahrenheit 9/11 and, with Moore himself superimposed in place of Abdullah, became the poster for the movie, plastered on thousands of theater walls across the United States.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Neda Soltani is the ordinary Iranian woman whose image spread last summer in an instant around the world. She's a symbol of the brutality of the Iranian regime and the resilience of Iran's movement for democracy. She's also still alive.
A woman named Neda did indeed die last summer on the streets of Tehran, gunned down by members of an Iranian militia. Her full name was Neda Agha-Soltan. But mixed in with the tragic footage of that Neda's death, broadcast around the world in a viral video that galvanized world opinion against the Iranian regime, was a compelling Facebook snapshot of a smiling young beauty in a flowered headscarf.
Foreign Policy's seven-part series, "Misreading Tehran," is, for the most part, a disappointing example of the phenomenon it purports to explain -- inaccurate interpretations of Iranian politics surrounding the Islamic Republic's June 12, 2009, presidential election. Such misinterpretation has had a deeply corrosive effect on the debate about America's Iran policy.
The series starts with an egregious misstatement of reality in the introduction setting up the articles that follow: "When Iranians took to the streets the day after they cast their ballots for president, the Western media was presented with a sweeping, dramatic story.... It was a story that seemed to write itself. But it was also a story that the West -- and the American media in particular -- was destined to get wrong in ways both large and small."
It is certainly true that much of the American media -- including some of the writers featured in the "Misreading Tehran" series -- got the story of Iranian politics over the last year spectacularly wrong. But that was hardly destiny. That so many got it so wrong is not the result of a "proverbial perfect storm of obstacles in producing calm, reasonable reporting about the events in Iran," as the prologue suggests. The real culprit was -- and, unfortunately, still is -- willfully bad journalism and analysis, motivated in at least some cases by writers' personal political agendas.
In June 2009, Iranians took to the streets to protest what they saw as their country's stolen presidential election. It was a story that seemed to write itself. But it was also a story that the West -- and the American media in particular -- was destined to get wrong in ways both large and small. A year later, Foreign Policy asked seven leading Iranian-American writers to reflect on the events. Here's what they told us.
"What the West Isn't Hearing About," By Azadeh Moaveni
To understand the big stories of the last year in Iran, we need better access to the little stories.
"What We Got Wrong," By Reza Aslan
How the media both overestimated and underestimated the Green movement.
"Iran's Hidden Cyberjihad," By Abbas Milani
Taking a cue from the Soviets, the regime is creating a new Iron Curtain - online.
"A Forgotten Civil Society," Azar Nafisi, Interview by Britt Peterson
Reading Lolita in Tehran's Azar Nafisi discusses Iran's cultural crisis - and how the West got it wrong.
"What We Got Right," By Nazila Fathi
Against terrible odds, the foreign media did a remarkable job covering the past year's turmoil in Iran.
"The Real Impact of the Elections," By Haleh Esfandiari
Far from being a wipeout, the Green Movement was a historic success. Too bad no one was watching.
"The Twitter Devolution," By Golnaz Esfandiari
Far from being a tool of revolution in Iran over the last year, the Internet, in many ways, just complicated the picture.
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