After its rosy beginnings, there were never any guarantees that the Arab Spring would stay pretty, and in August it has seen a strong turn for the worse. Egypt's military, content with America's (complete lack of) reaction to their bald-faced coup d'état in July, decided to up the ante with a thuggish and bloody crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. Much ink was spilled on the growing Algeria parallels there before the Asad regime wrenched the world's attention back toward Syria with an apparent chemical weapons that is forcing governments worldwide to make some very difficult decisions. Recommended reads from this month on these weighty subjects and more:
A Short Guide to the Middle East (K.N. Al-Sabah, Financial Times)
In a month where the comedians sometimes seemed to offer more insight than the pundits, this ultra-brief letter to the editor put the absurdity of the modern Middle East conflicts and alliances into much-needed perspective.
9 Questions About Egypt You Were Too Embarrassed To Ask (Max Fisher, Washington Post)
A solid guide for the uninitiated. (Also, don't miss Fisher's 40 Maps That Explain the World.)
The Liberal Dark Side (James Traub, Foreign Policy)
Ominous: "Morsy's single greatest mistake, in retrospect, was failing to put those fears to rest by ruling with the forces he had politically defeated. He was a bad president, and an increasingly unpopular one. But nations with no historical experience of democracy do not usually get an effective or liberal-minded ruler the first time around. Elections give citizens a chance to try again. With a little bit of patience, the opposition could have defeated Morsy peacefully. Instead, by colluding in the banishment of the Brotherhood from political life, they are about to replace one tyranny of the majority with another. And since many Islamists, now profoundly embittered, will not accept that new rule, the new tyranny of the majority will have to be more brutally enforced than the old one."
Will Egypt's Agony Save the Arab Spring? (Daniel Brumberg, Foreign Policy)
If only it were that easy. Nonetheless, a great analytical effort to extract lessons from Egypt's democratic meltdown.
Recent analysis of the Syria conflict has fallen out of date almost as soon as it has been published, so most links aren't of much use. Nonetheless, remembering a certain recent war into which the US rushed headlong without sufficient justification, I hope public opinion considers the questions raised by George Packer, John Cassidy, Michael Collins Dunn, and other cool heads (including even The Onion). If we can't even express in plain language what we hope to accomplish by striking Syria, we definitely shouldn't do it, however touched we all are by the latest tragedy or the larger conflict.
Reunited After 50 Years, An Algerian Buena Vista Social Club Makes Its U.S. Debut (Anastasia Tsioulcas, National Public Radio)
Finally, an uplifting story! A nice overview of Algeria's talented El Gusto orchestra.
Slow Ideas (Atul Gawande, The New Yorker)
From India, a useful reminder that there are no shortcuts when it comes to the hard work of changing human behavior.
Air Travel, Like Other Facets of American Life, Is Not What It Used To Be (Anand Giridharadas, New York Times)
On the growing "class divide" in flying, reflecting broader trends in our society.
FDA Issues Its Strongest Warning on Malaria Drug Lariam (Traci Tong, PRI's The World)
I've been saying it for years: this stuff is poison, and someday soon we're going to look back and wonder how doctors ever prescribed it. (Think bloodletting.) I'm done with it.
Is Elon Musk's Hyperloop a Pipe Dream? (Tad Friend, The New Yorker)
Maybe, but anything that might revolutionize transport in our lifetimes is still tantalizingly cool, especially when someone as dynamic as Musk is behind it.
The High Costs of Travel Visas (Alex Tabarrok, Marginal Revolution)
Mathematical proof of the idiocy of visas: requiring a visa for travelers from a given country is "associated with a 70% reduction in inbound travel from that country".
Mauritania, The Most Amazing Place You'll Probably Never Visit (Mitchell Kanashkevitch, mitchellkphotos.com)
I have visited, though I didn't have as much fun as this guy did there! An enjoyable photo essay.