Christopher Dickey

Stories by Christopher Dickey

  • Race for the Muddle

    Will she? could she? What is she? As anyone not living under a stone knows by now, Ségolène Royal is the new darling of French politics. With a stratospheric approval rating of 73 percent, she has displaced all comers as the front runner to replace Jacques Chirac in next year's presidential election, and the country is buzzing with speculation: Will her own party, the Socialists, tap her as their candidate? Would she win if they did? But perhaps most telling, amid this frenzy of Ségolisme, is that the candidate herself felt compelled to stand and declare herself. "I am a Socialist," she recently assured her adoring public....
  • Mirages Within Mirages

    Sheik Zaidan al-Awad of the Abu Jaber tribe, dressed in a traditional robe and checkered headdress, put on his reading glasses to check a text message. He comes from Iraq’s war-torn Anbar province, but when the sheik met with me in Jordan last week, he was staying in touch with his people by cell phone. We’d been talking about the death of Al Qaeda’s Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, who murdered four of the sheik’s cousins. (The sheik said his men then killed 11 of Zarqawi’s followers.) And we talked about the U.S. occupation forces. (“Now Zarqawi is gone, what is their excuse?” he demanded.)  The sheik has plenty of room in his heart to hate both the late Abu Mussab and the Americans.But now the sheik paused. “What’s coming toward us—our real problem,” he said, “is Iran.” The dark eyes in his sun-lined face searched to see if he’d been understood. “Zarqawi is one person. The Americans are occupiers: they will come in today and leave tomorrow. But the Iranian project for Iraq is annexation.”...
  • Face of the Enemy

    When Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi did time in a Jordanian prison during the 1990s, he spent a lot of long days reading the Qur'an, but no one much respected him for his faith. He was a fighter, and that’s what made him a leader in the cellblock. “He became very popular by being aggressive with the police and defending his people,” says Abdullah Aburumman, a dissident journalist who was in prison with him. Zarqawi was a hoodlum who liked confrontation, combat—and killing. Over the last few years, he consciously built his fame as a terrorist leader in Iraq by cutting off the heads of his hostages in videotaped executions.Yesterday, this monster who lived by the sword died by an airstrike north of Baghdad. The Iraqi and American governments are, clearly, gleeful, and there’s no question this is a milestone in the war. But, as U.S. and Iraqi officials were quick to say, it won’t end the insurgency, and a look at Zarqawi’s many roles in the Iraqi tragedy suggest his demise may have side effects...
  • K Is for Vendetta

    When the not-altogether-unexpected announcement came this week that the Bush administration was taking Libya off the list of states supporting terrorism and the United States would renew full diplomatic ties for the first time in 34 years, I asked a Saudi friend what he thought.I figured he’d be interested because, well, the Saudis accused Libyan agents of plotting to murder Crown Prince (now King) Abdullah bin Abdelaziz in Mecca with a rocket-propelled grenade in November 2003. That was just months after Libya swore to the United Nations it had given up terrorism. The Libyans have denied any part in the plot, of course.Tripoli’s motive appears to have been, in the twisted vision of “Brotherly Leader” Muammar Kaddafi, a matter of honor. At an Arab summit in March 2003, he had accused Crown Prince Abdullah of supporting the Americans who were about to lead the invasion of Iraq. Abdullah was “making a pact with the devil,” Kaddafi said. To which Abdullah responded with courtly...
  • Depth in Venice

    Beneath a storm of enormous orange raindrops (or are they blood drops?) on the landing of a marble staircase, hangs a portrait of French magnate François Pinault, or rather, of his skull and crossed bones, like some CAT-scanned symbol for poison. Above, almost hidden from view by the Day-Glo tempest, Venetian courtesans and Casanovas in opulent satins peer down from the trompe l’oeil balconies where they’ve dwelled for centuries. They seem more amused than amazed at the spectacle unfolding in their magnificent mansion on the Grand Canal.Officially opened to the public last Sunday, the Palazzo Grassi has been transformed by Pinault’s money, his vision and his collection . Pinault, 70, made his fortune selling wood in France, and his international fame as the money man behind Gucci. But his pride rests with more than 2,000 works of contemporary art he’s bought over the years, from the fanciful satires of Jeff Koons to the elegant minimalism of Donald Judd and the mordant medical...
  • The Global War on Tourists

    The Sinai, since Moses led the exodus from Egypt, has been a wilderness where people are few and laws are handed down by God. For millennia, only a handful of monks and mystics and Bedouin tribesmen lived among bone-dry mountains or along the edges of the seas. In the 20th century, the Sinai became the great desert battleground between Israel and Egypt, which left it emptier than ever, except for the twisted hulks of trucks and tanks, unexploded shells, and unrecovered land mines.The tourists did not start to come in large numbers until about 20 years ago, after Egypt had regained control of the peninsula and peace took hold. The land was still awesomely empty, but the Red Sea was radiant, transparent, wildly alive with creatures of the reef and the deep. First the divers arrived. Then the big hotels. And the casinos. And the thousands of workers imported from elsewhere in Egypt. And, starting in 2004, the terror. Last night, three near-simultaneous explosions ripped through the...
  • The West is Red Again

    The hammer and sickle quivered on wind-blown red flags as young men and women, shouting old slogans of revolution, marched through Paris to defeat the modest economic-reform program of Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin. That same flag was emblazoned on posters all over Rome last week as communists joined in an extremely slim--and still contested--victory by left-wing candidate Romano Prodi over right-wing incumbent Silvio Berlusconi....
  • The Demise of the Don

    Since the days of Al Capone and the Chicago mob, government investigators have "followed the money" to nail the bosses of La Cosa Nostra. But in Sicily last week, near the legendary town of Corleone, Italian cops captured 73-year-old Bernardo (The Tractor) Provenzano, the boss of bosses, by tracking a parcel of freshly laundered socks and underwear.The arrest, announced the day after hard-fought Italian elections that ended the prime ministry of billionaire Silvio Berlusconi, was hailed as a triumph of law and order. But fears were raised immediately that succession battles would bring on a new era of gangland warfare, and scandals that could plague Italy's political elite for years to come.Provenzano had avoided capture for 43 years, hiding with the protection of local residents--and some local powers--in a region that makes no secret of its heritage as a mafia stronghold. Bars and hotels hang pictures of Marlon Brando as Don Corleone from the "Godfather" films of the 1970s. There...
  • Pumping Irony

    When your heart starts racing faster than the digital numbers on the gas pump, you know there’s a problem with the price. And if you haven’t had that shock already, you will soon. Last week, the U.S. Energy Department estimated regular gasoline would cost an average of $2.62 a gallon this summer, up 10.5 percent from last year. Already that sounds optimistic. By the beginning of this week, the average price of regular was $2.79. On Wednesday, the DOE suggested prices might actually get up to around $3 this summer, but wouldn’t remain “that high, on average, over a whole month.” Meanwhile, the price of crude oil—which determines the base price of gasoline—has jumped to record highs, and looks set to climb some more.Yep, there is a problem. And while oil industry analysts and the Bush administration will make the reasons sound very complicated, throwing in every market variable from refinery capacities to inventories to Nigerian guerrillas, I’ll sum it up for you in one word: “Iran.”...
  • The Mechanics of Democracy

    Every time there’s a messy election somewhere, pundits drag Winston Churchill out of his grave to tell us, “Democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." But is that any excuse for the disappointments and debacles we’ve seen so far this 21st century? The list is long and depressing, starting with the electoral farce in the United States that first brought George W. Bush to power by way of a Supreme Court decision in 2000. And the cause of freedom is hardly helped by the way the Bush administration now passes judgment on the democratic experience and experiments of everyone else in the world.In the Middle East last year, Washington waxed ecstatic about electoral exercises in Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt and the Palestinian Territories—until the results came in. It’s still trying to dictate the shape of the new government in Baghdad. It’s upset with the popular support for Hizbullah in Lebanon. It was appalled at the gains of...
  • Militants of the Status Quo

    Paris wasn't burning, but as I stood in a shifting no man's land between riot police and rioters in the south of the city Tuesday, I was also on the phone with an American television network. If you heard the commentators in New York, you'd have thought all France was in flames, or on the verge. The Americans in their studio were watching live pictures:  young men in hoodies throwing rocks at cops, plainclothes police diving into the crowd to grab ringleaders, thugs beating the hell out of at least one photographer and line upon line of helmeted riot squads, shields raised, advancing on the crowd. My own voice on the phone, when I was given a chance to describe what was happening, grew hoarse from the sting of tear gas in my throat.The scene was dramatic. Yes, indeed. But it was just one scene, and at that moment I thought the hard-edged reticles of the television lenses were missing the real story. Earlier in the day, protestors had marched peacefully by the hundreds of thousands...
  • The Rise and Fall of Berlusconi

    ItalyThe Rise and Fall of BerlusconiIs Italy's flamboyant leader going down in flames?The lights were set up, the camera was ready. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi stood in front of the Italian and European Union flags, ready for a portrait, but he stopped for a second to chat with an American reporter. "You know," he said, practicing a line he would use before a joint session of the U.S. Congress a few days later. "When I see the American flag, I don't see just a symbol of a country, I see a symbol of freedom and democracy." He smiled, satisfied. "And that European flag?" the reporter asked. Berlusconi seemed a little taken aback. He paused and thought. "Under construction," he said.Listening to the 69-year-old billionaire turned politician's increasingly frenzied politicking against the euro and Brussels, one might think "under destruction" would be more accurate--especially if Berlusconi manages to win his uphill bid for re-election on April 9 against former European...
  • Rising Barriers

    Like his hero Charles de Gaulle, Dominique de Villepin sees himself as a man of action. When France's prime minister mulls tough decisions in Matignon, his official palace on the Left Bank, he casts an aristocratic eye on the general's famous fighting words, ceremoniously framed: France has lost a battle. but France has not lost the war! De Gaulle called on his countrymen to resist German occupation in 1940. Villepin today calls on France to protect Frenchjobs. "The true evil," he said upon taking office in June, is unemployment. "All of the forces of my government will be engaged in this battle." He vowed to "mobilize every asset of our economic and industrial policy"-- and staked his political future on the fight.Beware what you ask for. France's unemployment remains stubbornly high despite Villepin's promises--highlighted just last week by protests that brought half a million demonstrators into the streets of France. His approval ratings have slipped to an anemic, Bush-like 36...
  • Sex, Religion & Politics

    Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, 69, is one of President George W. Bush's most faithful--and flamboyant--friends in Europe. And Berlusconi's not the only one to say that. Last time the Italian leader came to Washington, in October, Bush made a point of calling him "my friend" at a photo op, "because it seems like we see each other a lot." Bush appreciated Berlusconi's "advice and counsel," he said, thanking "Silvio" for his "strong commitment to the freedom of people in Afghanistan and in Iraq." When Europe split over the 2003 invasion, Berlusconi sided with the United States, and he was one of the most willing members of the coalition sending in troops after the fall of Baghdad.But as Berlusconi returns to Washington this week, his advice--given in an interview with NEWSWEEK--might not be so welcome: let Russian President Vladimir Putin take the lead negotiating with Hamas in the Palestinian territories, and set a timetable to get out of Iraq. Berlusconi, a self-made...
  • Italy's 'Povero Cristo'

    Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, 69, is one of the Bush administration's most faithful--and flamboyant--friends in Europe. The self-made billionaire and media magnate supports a close transatlantic alliance and sent thousands of Italian troops to Iraq as part of the post-invasion Coalition in 2003. But as he visits Washington this week, Berlusconi is under pressure. Running for re-election on April 9, he's trailing in the polls. A member of his cabinet was just forced to resign after taunting Muslims with a Muhammad-cartoon T shirt, provoking anti-Italian riots that cost at least 14 lives in Libya. Last week Berlusconi spoke with NEWSWEEK's Christopher Dickey, Jacopo Barigazzi and Barbie Nadeau. Excerpts:It's not true. I attended a fund-raising dinner where there were more than 400 people. I greeted everybody, shaking hands, taking pictures. I didn't manage to eat anything. I signed autographs. And then they wanted me to give a speech. So I went like this [ he slumps in his...
  • Age of Anxiety

    The shrill electronic scream at the end of  "Fail-Safe" is the sound of the phone lines burning up as Moscow is hit with a nuclear weapon. Both New York and the Russian capital have just been sacrificed in a grim pact between the United States and the Soviets to avoid an all-out nuclear holocaust. It's quite a scene, quite a movie, and when the original film, directed by Sidney Lumet, came out in 1964 it seemed all too plausible.Flash forward (as it were) to the year 2000. Television and screen idol George Clooney uses his clout with CBS to re-create "Fail-Safe," not only employing the setting and dialogue from the 1960s, but putting it on as a live television production in black and white.When I saw Clooney's version, it brought back the grim angst of the early 1960s, when the threat of global obliteration seemed imminent and almost inevitable. But I wondered, in 2000, why he'd made it. Then, last year we had two more films from Clooney's company: "Good Night, and Good Luck," about...
  • What Price Xenophobia?

    Back in the 1980s, everybody's favorite Dubai bar was a Tex-Mex joint called Pancho Villa's. A little guy from the Indian province of Kerala greeted you at the door decked out like a diminutive mariachi. The margaritas came in copious pitchers, the nachos were as good as you can get most places east of the Mississippi, and the British part-owner was an aging rock and roller who liked to regale the clientele on ladies' night with his favorite hits from Dire Straits to the Eagles' "Hotel California."Ah, Dubai. It's a glitzy tourist Mecca and boom-town extraordinaire now, with spectacular hotels, water parks, indoor snow skiing, the world's tallest building under construction and vast networks of man-made islands visible from outer space as a palm tree and a map of the world. Built from the sand up purely to facilitate business and pleasure, there really is not and never has been any place quite like it. That's something to keep in mind as you look at the debate about whether a Dubai...
  • Pointing the Finger

    When Hamas called for the Muslim world to calm down last week, European officials hoped they'd turned a corner. They'd been looking frantically for a way out of the clash of civilizations sparked by the publication of cartoons caricaturing the Prophet Muhammad. Danish Embassies were burned in Damascus and Beirut. Afghan riots led to at least 11 deaths. Another protester was shot in Kenya. Any voice of moderation was welcome. But there was not, in fact, much optimism in Brussels. "The situation is very, very complicated," says an EU official close to the negotiations with Muslim leaders, who asked not to be named because of the talks' sensitivity. "The cosmological problem will have to be solved bit by bit."Cosmological indeed. The cartoon crisis has shown just how hard it is going to be for European and American leaders to straddle what Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi last week called the "huge chasm between the West and Islam." The strategy taking shape in Washington and...
  • Dead Man Waiting?

    “Valentine” is not a word that comes readily to mind in connection with Walid Jumblatt. “Warlord” has been a more common description since the 1970s, and more recently one hears the phrase “dead man walking” uttered in the streets of Beirut. But as Jumblatt stood behind a bullet-proof barrier before the hundreds of thousands of people who filled Martyrs’ Square in the Lebanese capital today, it struck me as I watched on television that this wild-looking, straight-talking, passionate, calculating, eccentric hereditary leader of the small Druze religious sect deserves not only our attention but our hearts.At a time when the Bush administration’s commitment to democracy in the Arab world looks ever more situational and cynical, Jumblatt has taken a stand so far out in front of other Lebanese politicians, and so far beyond anything Washington is willing to commit to publicly, that it’s not surprising his admirers think he’ll be killed in the next few days or weeks or months. Jumblatt is...
  • Devoted and Defiant

    Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says he doesn't want nuclear weapons. The world is suspicious. How dangerous is he?
  • Battleground of Ideas

    Prime time in the United States falls in the darkest hours before dawn in the Middle East--prayer time, in fact, for the Muslim faithful, the moment when the muezzin calls out (most often on a cassette tape over loudspeakers) that prayers are better than sleep. So only a few people in the region listened to President George W. Bush deliver his State of the Union address last night. But they know the message, now, almost as well as they know the call of the muezzin; it has been repeated so often, so relentlessly, and so mechanically. The difference is that many believe the muezzin, and few believe Bush. We shouldn't be surprised. The State of the Union, perhaps more than any other speech the president makes, defines the way the administration wants to see its world. But its narrative is so foreign to the thinking of most people in the Arab world that they've come to hear Bush's language as a kind of code: "liberation" means occupation, "freedom" means war, "victory" means victims, ...
  • 'We Have Taken...Bold Steps'

    The victory of Hamas in Wednesday's Palestinian legislative elections sent a shock through the region, and not only because of its implications for the peace process with Israel. Hamas, branded a terrorist organization by the United States, is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. This militant Islamist organization has been struggling to gain power in many Arab states--including Egypt, where it was founded--since the early part of the 20th century. In an exclusive interview with NEWSWEEK's Christopher Dickey at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif talked about the implications of the Hamas victory and the parallels with recent elections in Egypt. Acknowledging the lack of effective secular opposition forces in the Arab world after so many generations of dictatorship, Nazif also addressed the case of Egyptian presidential challenger Ayman Nour, now serving a five-year prison term for allegedly forging signatures on the petitions to...
  • Countdown to a Showdown: Part II

    Congressman Robert Andrews, a Democrat from New Jersey, and Mark Steven Kirk, a Republican from Illinois, made a proposal on the floor of the House last June that, as far as I can tell, sank without a trace. We've heard nothing about it from the administration since, and when I've raised it with several experts on Iran they say it's potentially counterproductive, possibly very dangerous. But with tensions between the mullahs and the rest of the world continuing to grow because of Iran's nuclear research, maybe it's time to take another look at what these congressmen described as a "surgical sanction.""I find the current U.S. policy debate on Iran is too simplistic," Kirk, who still serves in the U.S. Navy Reserves, told the House. "It is just two-dimensional: either let Iran have the bomb, putting the Middle East under a nuclear hair trigger, or let Israel do it"--that is, try to blow the hell out of Iran's installations--"and have another war." (For the record, Iran says its...
  • Countdown to a Showdown

    If Armageddon happens, those who survive will look back and see the warnings--so many of them--that were somehow lost from view in the numbing rush of 24/7 news. They will remember that Iran pushed ahead with a nuclear program it claimed was peaceful, although no one (not even some of those who defended its right to do so) really believed that was the case. People will recall the growing sense of urgency as threats were leveled against the mullahs, sometimes from unexpected quarters. Who had thought the French would be the first to say publicly they'd use limited nuclear strikes to retaliate against terror attacks and protect access to vital natural resources? Who could have mistaken Israel's seriousness when Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told a conference in Herzliya that his country "must have the capability to defend itself, with all that that implies, and this we are preparing"?The Iranian leadership, certainly, will be seen as having misread the signs. Great hostage-takers that...
  • Target Practice

    Murdering someone with a missile or a bomb is a little like surgery with a chain-saw. You can target the operation very precisely, but once you let it rip the thing's going to make a mess, it'll take a while to figure out if the procedure was a success, and almost always it isn't.The American record on killing ostensible enemies with precision-guided munitions, whether JDAMs dropped from planes or Hellfire missiles from Predator drones, is absolutely dismal. During the Iraq invasion in 2003, the campaign to blow up Saddam Hussein and his cronies resulted in nothing but collateral damage. "All of the 50 acknowledged attacks targeting Iraqi leadership failed," Human Rights Watch concluded in a study reported immediately after the fall of Baghdad. But what the bombs did do was kill dozens of innocent bystanders. In one particularly disastrous incident, the United States slaughtered its most important tribal ally in Anbar province, Malik al-Kharbit, along with 21 members of his family....
  • Confidence Game

    Lest we forget amid all the second-guessed accusations and explanations in the air these days, the Bush administration did not launch its invasion of Iraq some 2,200 dead Americans ago because it knew Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. It invaded because it did not know. We went to war--and remain mired in that war--because of a hunch.Remember Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's famous little discourse on "unknown unknowns" in the summer of 2002, just as Washington and London were secretly committing themselves to invasion? He'd been asked about claims that Saddam's WMD arsenal and links to terrorists were worse than many analysts thought. Undeterred, Rumsfeld explained that lots of intelligence only comes to light years after the fact, and that proves you just can't know everything. "There are no knowns," he said. "There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown...
  • 'Mafia State'

    The cold blue eyes of Abdel Halim Khaddam shed no tears for Ariel Sharon this afternoon. For more three decades, Khaddam was the right-hand man of Syrian dictator Hafez Assad in open wars and diplomatic showdowns with Israel, often turning Lebanon into the main battleground. Sharon's drive on Beirut in 1982 handed the Syrians a stunning defeat. But Syria slowly won its vengeance, supporting Hizbullah's relentless campaign of terror and attrition--a war that has never really ended. "As far as Sharon is concerned, his death or disappearance will not change anything," Khaddam told NEWSWEEK after the Israeli prime minister suffered a major stroke. "The difference between the Israeli factions is less one of substance than of degree. There will [at most] be a change in the map of Israeli political alliances." He sees no chance of negotiations or peace agreements any time soon.Yet this same Abdel Halim Khaddam, who continued to serve as Syria's vice president after Bashar Assad inherited...
  • Terror vs. Justice

    We ended 2005 in a time of trials--show trials, in fact. Saddam Hussein was in the dock for allegedly ordering massacres in an Iraqi Shiite village. Libya (our new friend) expediently ordered the "retrial" of six foreign medical workers sentenced to death by firing squad for plotting to infect patients with AIDS from bad blood; this in a country where bad hygiene is pervasive and so is paranoia. Turkey (the great example of a pro-U.S. Muslim democracy) hauled a novelist into court for talking about the Armenian genocide of a century ago. An Egyptian judge sentenced my old friend Ayman Nour to five years of hard labor, ostensibly for forgery but in fact for offering a liberal alternative to the country's U.S.-funded one-party, one-family political machine. And in Washington, speculation about the impeachment of President George W. Bush hung in the air like mist over the Potomac.Show trials are about raw power, of course, not blind justice. They're spectacles put on by winners to...
  • Fiddling After Paris Burned

    Kids in football uniforms run laps around a lit field in the early December twilight. They are specks in a vast cityscape of massive gray housing projects on the far fringe of the Paris sprawl. "Don't cut corners!" their coach calls out, breath steaming in the frost and his voice harsh amid the neighborhood's silence. Parents peek out from the high-rise windows as the kids start their game. The largely immigrant ghetto of Montfermeil is anything but heaven, but it doesn't feel like hell, either.Hell was last month, when riots convulsed this and so many other outer-city ghettos across France. Beginning in nearby Clichy-sous-Bois, the violence raged for three full weeks: 10,000 cars and more than 200 buildings were burned, including schools, day-care centers, gymnasiums and small businesses. Thousands of people were detained, more than 400 were jailed, hundreds of others were injured--among them 234 cops and firefighters. The fate of some of France's leading politicians seemed to be...
  • Women of Al Qaeda

    Jihad used to have a gender: male. The men who dominated the movement exploited traditional attitudes about sex and the sexes to build their ranks. They still do that, but with a difference: even Al Qaeda is using female killers now, and goading the men.