Middle East Archive

More on Saudi Arabia

Lindsey Hillsum’s piece on Saudi Arabia (see earlier post) seems remarkably prescient in the light of the disappearance of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a fierce critic of the Saudi government.

The drive behind change in Saudi Arabia

One change the whole world has noticed recently in Saudi Arabia is the decree allowing Saudi women to drive. But what lies behind it? Lindsey Hillsum, assessing two new books about the country for The New York Review of Books, offers her answer:

MBS [Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman] knows that if the kingdom is to diversify its economy and reduce its dependence on oil, women must become more productive, so they need to drive and not waste their earnings on a driver. He wanted everyone to understand that women were being allowed to drive not because they had campaigned for it, but because their rulers had issued a decree. The point was clear: civil disobedience will not bring results; changes will come only from submission to a benign monarch who will decide what is best.

War in watercolours

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, a former architect who is now an award-winning correspondent for The Guardian, is writing a book about his life as a reporter, focusing on assignments in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. He makes sense of his experiences in those places not just with words and photographs but with sketches in pen and watercolours. “When you’re in a conflict zone,” he told his colleague Killian Fox in The Observer at the weekend, “drawing is amazingly therapeutic.”

The ‘journey of death’

“I met families scattered across the Middle East, the Mediterranean and Europe like the beads of a broken necklace. Having given up hope on Syria, they saw Europe as their only chance of coming together again. If even a single member could make it, perhaps they had a chance at reunification.” Priyanka Motaparthy, for The Nation, reports on the Syrian refugees intent on making a sea crossing from Egypt to Italy that they call “the journey of death”.

Princely progress in the Middle East

Francis Bedford’s photographs of the Middle East in 1862, taken when he accompanied the 20-year-old Prince of Wales, Albert Edward (“Bertie”), on a four-month tour, are now on show at the Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace. In The Guardian, Christopher de Bellaigue tells the story behind the tour, on which the prince was “less moved by the scene of Elijah’s sacrifice on Mount Carmel than [by] the prospect of shooting quail on the same slopes”.

Another side of Gaza

Having grown up in Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles, but in one of its less troubled parts, I’ve spent the years since dodging undeserved commiserations. No, daily life wasn’t a constant round of bomb scares and bullets, and I didn’t sleep under the bed in case of shooting (though I’ve met little boys who did). There was plenty of paddling and then swimming, rock-pooling and then fishing; family singsongs that gave way to Friday and Saturday nights at the disco. A place that’s described only in terms of conflict is hardly a place at all.

That’s why I was delighted to see Tanya Habjouqa’s pictures of people at play in the Palestinian territories win an award in the 2014 World Press Photo contest. I’ve embedded a link to those pictures in an extract from Meet Me in Gaza by Louisa Waugh, which was long-listed for this year’s Dolman Travel Book Award.