James Denselow

James Denselow is a writer on Middle East politics and security issues.


James writes regularly for The Guardian and has written articles for Middle East International, The Huffington Post The New Statesman, Syria Today, The World Today, The Daily Telegraph and The Yorkshire Post. He has been cited in many international publications including The Boston Globe, Voice of America, The Sunday Telegraph, Reuters and AFP

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James writes book, television and film reviews for International Affairs, Middle East International, The Arab and The Guardian

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See James's published work

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In The Media

James in the media - Watch James discussing Middle East issues on a variety of media platforms including the BBC, Al Jazeera and Russia Today
Insight into the Middle East's Freedom Deficit PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Wednesday, 07 August 2013 08:00

Of Empires and Citizens: Pro-American Democracy or No Democracy at All?

Amaney Jamal, Princeton University Press, United Kingdom, 2012

(Huffington Post / International Affairs) The health of Arab democracy has been sorely tested after the initial hope and optimism that came at the start of the Arab Spring. The grinding, near apocalyptic, conflict in Syria means that images of protestors filling the streets of Homs in 2011 have been replaced by those of a city in virtual complete ruin. In Egypt the squares that filled with those demanding the ousting of a dictator now compete with each other over the legitimacy of the supposedly post-revolutionary era. Progress in Tunisia and Libya remains pockmarked by violence. In 'liberated' Iraq, July of this year saw the worst violence in over five years. Talking to AFP one Iraqi bemoaned recently how under Saddam "I was not allowed to talk; now I can talk but nobody will listen".

Against such a backdrop Amaney Jamal, an associate professor at Princeton University who has written extensively on democracy, looks to better explain what she terms the 'persistence of authoritarianism' across the region. The book reflects a huge academic effort, a "massive data collection effort in three countries" of Jordan, Morocco and Kuwait. The effort is reflected by the thorough presentation of evidence -- the work includes detailed foot and endnotes, chapter appendices complete with snippets of the author's methodology, questionnaires and further hypotheses.

Dozens Killed in Iraq Violence PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Tuesday, 30 July 2013 10:18

(VOA) CAIRO, EGYPT — More than a dozen car bombs exploded in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, and other cities on Monday, killing over 50 people and wounding more than 200 others. The bombers appeared to have targeted mostly Shi'ite areas. This year has been one of the deadliest since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Ambulances ferried victims of a bomb blast in Baghdad's mostly Shi'ite district of Sadr City. Witnesses say a blast inside a minivan transporting Shi'ite workers killed more than half a dozen people.

A bystander gave his version of what happened. He said the force of the blast inside the vehicle killed and wounded people in the area and damaged surrounding shops.

Car-bomb blasts also rocked at least six other Baghdad neighborhoods. In addition, bloody explosions struck the towns of Mahmoudiya, Kut, Basra and Samawa.

A witness in Samawa said fire and rescue workers were slow to arrive at the scene of the blast. He said it took the fire department four hours to respond after the car bomb exploded, frightening people and setting fire to his and other cars.

Parliament Speaker Osama Nujeif, a Sunni, condemned the explosions, as did many other Sunni and Shi'ite political leaders. Baghdad's Alsharqiya TV reported that Shi'ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki dismissed his military intelligence chief after the blasts.

Security reportedly was strengthened in several Shi'ite regions of the country in the lead-up to a major Shi'ite festival. The deputy head of the Najaf Provincial Council, Louai Yassiri, explained what is being done. He said his council is trying to revamp its security practices, bringing government officials out of their offices and into the street to coordinate efforts and better protect the people.

James Denselow of the London-based Foreign Policy Centre said that security inside Iraq is deteriorating because of both local and regional issues.

From Mountain People to Partner? PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Monday, 17 June 2013 10:45

(Foreign Policy Centre) Speaking at a recent Chatham House event former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright was asked her predictions for the Middle East. Ignoring the continued flux of both the Arab Spring the bloody civil war in Syria Albright responded that the modern relationship between Turkey and the Kurds is evidence of how “things you think will never change – change”.

Against the backdrop of the current round of bloodletting that is wracking the region, the Kurdish success story continues to establish itself. In Turkey before the headlines became dominated by the street protests one of the biggest story’s of the year was the deal made in the decades old conflict between Ankara and the PKK. The negotiated agreement that saw hundreds of PKK fighters moving into the borderland of Iraqi Kurdistan followed a sustained improvement in relations between Turkey and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) of Iraqi Kurdistan. The landlocked KRG have steadily looked to connect their two greatest assets, energy supplies and stability, through to Turkey. Albright would never have predicted that Turkey, previously so opposed to Kurdish autonomy, would develop such close economic relations with the nearest thing to a state-like entity that the World’s largest stateless people have ever had.  As Iraq endures its most violent period in five years, with over 1,000 people killed in May according to the UN, those media that visit the north of the country run out of superlatives to describe the contrast. The standard headlines involves variant around the word ‘boom’ or ‘booming’.

Last Updated on Monday, 17 June 2013 10:52
Memories of Spring PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Friday, 14 June 2013 09:23
The Arab uprisings are voiced by the Arab people in this rare ensemble of short stories.


Writing Revolution: The Voices from Tunis to Damascus
Matthew Cassel and Layla Al-Zubaidi, eds.
I. B. Tauris
May 2013


In assembling Writing Revolution, journalist Matthew Cassel and the Heinrich Boll Foundation’s Layla Al-Zubaidi embarked on the ambitious task of compressing the huge transformations that have swept the Arab world into short stories from eight authentic voices from the region. (Most have been translated from Arabic into English, and the book won a PEN prize for writing in translation.) Zubaidi explains that the book was designed as an antidote to the over-analysis by so-called experts outside the region about what led to the events that spread like wildfire across the region towards the end of 2011. “A barrier of fear had been burst. The aim of the book was to chronicle personal histories from people who had been fully involved in these historic events. We wanted to put across an alternative, ‘insider’ perspective,” she told The Majalla.writrev

It would be fascinating to see a word cloud of the book’s eight stories: it would likely show that, despite the unique circumstance and history of each modern Middle Eastern and North African state, many feelings are shared by people across the region. Words like “hope,” “dignity,” “anger” and “frustration” give us a snapshot of the uprisings, each word fuelling the next. These ideas are described by several authors in a way that makes them seem like the last drop that caused the cup to overflow.

The stifling vacuum of authoritarian politics, combined with the rawness of their own youth makes, it understandably difficult for some authors to express in words the cacophony of emotion that they felt during these revolutionary moments. Sometimes, you get the feeling that they are filtering their unique perspectives through a medley of Obama-esque rhetoric, dramatic film scripts, and nostalgic Arabic ballads. Several of the authors saw themselves as the vanguard of the revolution, and are clearly disappointed with their lack of agency in the often-dysfunctional political spaces that emerged afterward. Malek Sghiri, a student, activist and blogger from Tunisia, exemplifies this disappointment when he notes that “the youths and district activists who were [the Tunisian uprising’s] original activists are almost entirely absent from public life, when they should be the strongest political force in the land.”

In the Air with Hillary Clinton PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Thursday, 30 May 2013 11:09

The Secretary: A Journey with Hillary Clinton from Beirut to the Heart of American Power

(Kim Ghattas, Times Books; 2013)

In this absorbing and highly readable work Kim Ghattas, the BBC’s State Department Correspondent, has attempted the ambitious task of combining personal memoir, an on the road record of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s term and an appraisal of the modern reality of US power. Speaking at a Chatham House event this January John Bolton was asked what he thought incoming Secretary of State John Kerry would bring to the job, his reply; nothing apart from racking up more air miles. During her four years Clinton, codename “Evergreen”, would travel a million miles criss-crossing the globe in a threadbare Special Air Mission (SAM) plane that could only fly 10 hours at a time. Ghattas would be there for 300,000 of those air miles, a professional witness to US power as it lived through the Arab Spring, the Wikileaks scandal and the hundreds of other moments of history.

“The Secretary” shows the human story, through Clinton and Ghattas’ own perspectives, of the reality and exercise of power. It also shows the sacrifices that power entails, Clinton is forever on the move and the book’s photographs visibly demonstrate how the exhaustion aged her. Only 9-months into the job and she’d flown 140,000 miles. Ghattas describes the exhaustion of living in “the bubble” with colourful anecdotes punctuating the endless air travel. The State Department press corp. draws straws for the best seats at the back of the plane, Clinton loves Pakistani mangoes and the King of Saudi Arabia wears trainers under his robe.  However as Ghattas is still in post in Washington you still feel that there is a lot more being held back for when she departs the BBC.

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