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About Tarek Osman

Tarek Osman is the author of “Islamism: A History of Political Islam” (Yale, 2017) and the international bestselling book “Egypt on the Brink” (Yale, 2010). He wrote and presented several BBC documentaries including the Radio-4 series “The Making of the Modern Arab World”, “Sands of Time”, and “Islam Divided”. He writes at 


Articles by Tarek Osman

This week’s front page editor


Francesc Badia i Dalmases is Editor and Director of democraciaAbierta.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

England is anxious

Rather than comfort ourselves with nostalgia for monarchy, empire, church, and the ‘special relationship’, it’s time to embrace confusion - and optimism? - about what ‘England’ could mean in the modern world.

Four dilemmas facing Britain – as others see it

What is Britain's place in tomorrow's world? – a hugely important issue for a nation that, until seven decades ago, was a global empire.

The Islamic state in context

Almost by default, the swelling numbers of young Arabs, especially in the culturally vibrant centres of the Arab world (Cairo, Tunis, Beirut, Damascus, Casablanca, Kuwait, Manama), will create plurality - in social views, political positions, economic approaches, and in social identities and frames of reference.

Islamisation and the future of the Islamic world

When Islamic groups command the legislative and executive powers in a country, the Islamisation of society takes centre stage. Young, enthusiastic, and ideologically driven members want rapid moves: clear legislations, conspicuous political positions, and social policies to reflect what they consider to be their ‘victory’.

The middle east and war over Iran

The Arab world is remaking itself. But even as its states cope with multiple domestic challenges they also face a choice over how to respond to a prospective American and Israeli attack on Iran, says Tarek Osman.

Arab freedom vs geopolitics: a time of risk

The Arab spring of 2011 has entered a new phase. In this period, the emerging dangers to the fulfilment of its promise of transformation include the dynamics of inter-state power in the region, says Tarek Osman.

Egypt: nation, state, faith, and future

The political tumult in Egypt continues as the six-month anniversary of the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak nears. The rising Islamist influence puts the possibility of a religious turn in the revolution on the agenda. But how real is this prospect? Tarek Osman assesses it by looking at the deeper forces that have shaped modern Egypt over the last two centuries.

The green shoots of the Arab Spring

The Arab Spring is frequently portrayed as a series of uprisings against oppressive regimes. A more historically-oriented reading would see it as a rejection by young Arabs (the more than 185-million under the age of 30 years) of the socio-political heritage they inherited from the previous generation.

Egypt’s Islamists: asset and flaw

The forces of political Islam are everywhere in the kaleidoscope of post-revolution Egypt. But behind the confident exterior this is a movement divided and uncertain, says Tarek Osman.

The Arab prospect: forces and dynamics

The convulsions in the Arab world in 2011 are creating a new political and social reality. But what will be its character? Tarek Osman identifies three factors that are shaping the possible future.

Egypt, Algeria, Yemen: Further reading on the Arab uprising

Yale University Press have issued this sampler from recent books on the Egypt, Yemen and Algeria. All provide important background information on the histories, societies, politics and economies of nations now thrust into the media spotlight.

Egypt: after revolt, transition

The explosion of protest in Egypt has emerged from deep currents in the country's modern history. Tarek Osman maps the roots of tumult and the dynamics of the new political reality it has already created.

Egypt’s election: power, actors, and...“change”

The iron rule of Hosni Mubarak has dominated Egypt for three decades. The regime he heads is preparing for the succession and seeking to channel Egyptians’ hunger for change into a tool of retrenchment. The secular opposition is absorbed by the effort of staying in the political game; the Muslim Brotherhood has larger ambitions. What place does a parliamentary election have in this landscape? An assessment from Tarek Osman, in Cairo.

Egypt: the blinkers of expertise

The tendency of foreign observers to reduce complex Egyptian reality to formulaic description misses some of its most significant and dynamic elements, says Tarek Osman.

(This article was first published on 12 August 2009)

The Islamic world, the United States, democracy: response to Shadi Hamid

The effort to forge a new relationship between the west and Islam and to nurture democracy in the middle east requires that the United States in particular reframe its view of the Islamic world, says Tarek Osman. 

Democracy-support and the Arab world: after the fall

An appeal to Barack Obama to reinvigorate the United States's democracy-promotion efforts in the Arab world is based on flawed understanding both of political Islam and the real needs of the region's people, says Tarek Osman.

Egypt’s dilemma: Gaza and beyond

The Gaza war exposes the longer-term security and political predicament of the country at the heart of the Arab world, says Tarek Osman.

Egypt: the surreal painting

Egypt today is scarred by inequality and corruption, degraded by poverty and exclusion, divided by cultural conflict, ruled by unaccountable power, and challenged by the anger and alienation of its young. Tarek Osman seeks a pattern amid the flux and a path that could lead through it.

(This article was first published on 14 May 2008)

China and the Olympics: a view from Egypt

The rise of a great civilisation from poverty and humiliation has complex echoes at the heart of the Arab world, says Tarek Osman.

Youssef Chahine, the life-world of film

A great filmmaker of Alexandria and Egypt portrayed his country with a singular, passionate vision that remained constant in face of criticism and adulation alike. Tarek Osman pays tribute to Youssef Chahine

Egypt’s football triumph

The national team's victory in the African championship is significant for far more than football, says Tarek Osman.

Nasser's complex legacy

Gamal Abdel Nasser, an Egyptian and Arab hero in the middle years of the 20th century, was born on 15 January 1918. Tarek Osman examines a protean figure who resists the easy interpretation of celebrants and enemies alike.

Risk in the Arab world: enterprise vs politics

A distorted balance between risk and reward inhibits the Arab world's economic and social development, says Tarek Osman.

Arab Christians: a lost modernity

Arab Christians for centuries played a pivotal role at the heart of Arab societies. The last generation has seen the beginning of a great retreat. Tarek Osman maps the forces that have shaped an epic story.

Egypt: a diagnosis

Egypt is stuck: its institutions, ideas and young population covered by a pall of stagnation that to many offers only emigration or radicalism as available options. What is the nature of the paralysis, and what can be done? Tarek Osman reports.

Losing your only friend: a liberal Muslim's letter to the west

A mixture of violence, hypocrisy and degradation is corroding the west's standing in the Arab and Muslim worlds. A fresh reconciliation of values is needed, says Tarek Osman.

Mahfouz's grave, Arab liberalism's deathbed

The Arab world's passage from progressive secularism to conservative religiosity in the last fifty years is illuminated by the work of Egypt’s greatest writer, says Tarek Osman.

Egypt's phantom messiah

There is seething political frustration in Egypt, but where is the vehicle that might enable it to mount a challenge to Hosni Mubarak's rule? Tarek Osman reports.

Can the Arabs love their land?

The deep social problems of the Arab world drain the optimism and crush the lives of its young people, says Tarek Osman.

Hosni Mubarak: what the pharaoh is like

After twenty-five years in power Egypt’s president remains a sphinx to his people, says Tarek Osman.

Egypt's crawl from autocracy

There is a dynamic of change in Egypt, but democracy will take longer than reformists hope or authorities fear, says Tarek Osman.

Egypt: who's on top?

The Arab world is filled with talk of “reform” and “democracy”, but how real can it be when the leading voices are the sons of long-standing political leaders, asks Tarek Osman.
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