Media Mention of Hussein Ibish in The New York Times - January 27, 2012 - 1:00am

PARIS — Raised, if respectful voices at a private dinner party in Paris on Thursday. Among the guests — two Syrians, both anti-regime but with diametrically opposite analyses of what is going on in their home country.

“We’re in the last quarter of an hour,” said the first guest, a very recent exile from Damascus, predicting the imminent demise of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

“There was a chance in August,” countered his companion, who left his country more than 30 years ago. “Now it’s all over. The opposition has no leadership. If there were elections tomorrow, Assad would be voted back in.”

If, after more than a year into the Arab Spring, even the locals have such widely different interpretations of events in their region, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Perhaps our Syrian friends are too close to the issue. The upheaval in the Arab world would not be the first such event in which views were colored by a combination of ideology, wishful thinking and misinformation.

Arabs as much as others are vulnerable to a plethora of conflicting accounts and rumors from within closed and disoriented societies, and the Internet now serves as a megaphone that can increase the volume of both informative and misleading voices.

But there are analysts, both in the Arab world and outside it, with a solid grounding in the region who try to act as a compass on the path to a better understanding of events.

Below is a far from comprehensive list, rather a tentative starter pack to which we hope you will add your own recommendations.

A good starting point for commentary, news and links is The Arabist, a website on Arab politics and culture established by freelance journalists in 2003.

Solid on-the ground analysis is available from the International Crisis Group, a non-profit group dedicated to the resolution of conflicts. ICG has professional analysts based in the Middle East. Peter Harling, its project director for Iraq, Lebanon and Syria,wrote in Foreign Policy this week about how all sides involved in the unrest in Syria have a role in averting a slide towards civil war.

Another source of reliable mainstream commentary is the venerable London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. Look out for an IISS lecture on Monday by Shahid Javed Burki, a former finance minister of Pakistan and World Bank vice-president, who will analyze the Arab world’s place in the global economy.

For a lively and challenging take on events in the region, there is a regular blog by Hussein Ibish, Senior Research Fellow at the Washington-based American Task Force on Palestine and a tireless Tweeter.

Hussein Ibish @Ibishblog

Brace yourselves for this headline. Ready? Okay: In Bahrain, Worries Grow of Violent Shiite-Sunni Confrontation
26 Jan 12

In a recent post, he explained the jockeying for power among the emerging power centers in Egypt.

Two commentators whose articles are worth regular Googling are Ezzedine Choukri Fishere, an Egyptian novelist and former diplomat, and Olivier Roy, a French expert on political Islam.

Dr. Choukri Fishere, who served as a diplomat for both Egypt and the United Nations, wrote a vivid, personal account for the Financial Times of the birth of the Egyptian revolution, which coincided with his wife going into labor.

Professor Roy is a professor of social and political theory at the European University Institute in Florence and has written reference works on political Islam.

In the latest edition of Britain’s New Statesman, he writes: “The truth is that we are in the middle of a long-term process, in which changes in Arab society and the evolution of religion – what I and others have called ‘post-Islamism’ – struggle to find expression in a political arena still dominated by actors from the old world.”

Among think-tanks worth bookmarking is a U.S. heavyweight, The Brookings Institution. Brookings offers user-friendly access (including an iPad app) to commentary on a wide-range of foreign policy issues, including the Middle East.

Rendezvous has asked members of the Middle East Experts group on LinkedIn to come up with their own reading list of favorites. Members include Juan Cole, professor of history at the University of Michigan, who blogs extensively on the Arab world.

If you are a LinkedIn member with an interest in the region, head to the group for further suggestions. And please add a comment below if you have recommendations of your own.


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