I tell stories about the East and the West that I think help both understand each other, seriously. These stories almost always connect history, culture, international relations, current affairs, and often the influences on and the interests of people who shape these stories.
I try to keep the complexities of big social and political stories. Over-simplifying robs the stories of their essence, and the readers of real meaning. I try to dissect the complexity and present its constituents in digestible, relatable ways; to preserve the essence of the stories; and while doing so, to convey my view of the meaning of the story – in a not too demanding way on the reader.
I wrote two books: “Egypt on the Brink” (Yale, 2010), which luckily turned out to be an international bestseller as it was published three months before Egypt’s 2011 revolution. The book tells the story of Egypt (and the Egyptians) from the fall of the monarchy and the rise of Nasser in the early 1950s to the end of the first decade of the 21st century when it became clear to me that the then prevailing structure will crumble.
The second book, “Islamism: A History of Political Islam” (Yale, 2017) tells the different stories of the different strands of political Islam from the fall of the Ottoman Empire almost exactly a century ago, until now - and how and why these stories continue to have major influences on the Arab World and the wider Middle East, as well as spill over beyond.
I wrote and presented several BBC documentary series, including “The Making of the Modern Arab World” (2014), the BBC’s biggest series on the history of the region; “Islam Divided: Sunni-Shii”; “Sands of Time: A History of Saudi Arabia”; “Stirring a Revolution: Coffee Culture in the Arab World”; and the episode on the British military intelligence officer Gertrude Stein in the series “Minds at War”.
I write regularly for Foreign Affairs magazine in New York, Ahram newspaper in Cairo, and for CNN Arabic. For the latter, I also write and present a programme that tries, in each episode, to dissect a political theme of relevance to the Middle East, North Africa, and the Gulf, in less than ten minutes.
I write other stories as well – ones that I think are important, and that I’m keen to tell. For example, reviews of books that merit attention, some of which are far from well known; and stories about cultures, especially when they intersect, such as Muslims in Europe now.
In the past year, I have started a series I call “Know” that delves into different ways of understanding ourselves and what we tend to call the Divine.
For the past ten years, I have been the political counsellor for the Arab World at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). My job is to provide the Board of Directors and management with political and political economy contexts of situations and developments that affect the Bank’s operations in the region, and to contribute to the Bank’s strategic foresight.