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
Theatre Review: The Fear of Breathing PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Wednesday, 25 July 2012 09:55

Over 16-months into the unrest in Syria and still a true picture of events on the ground is hard to ascertain.  Partly this is due to events moving so fast. The conflict, inspired by the regional ‘Arab Spring’, was sparked by children writing graffiti on the walls in the southern town of Deraa. Today it has morphed into a complex civil conflict with both ethnic and sectarian dimensions. The ‘Free Syria Army’ (FSA) largely made up of army deserters, launched an attack on the capital city Damascus in July and observers have started estimating the survival of the Assad regime in months rather than years.

The limited access of independent media has meant that much of the conflict has been communicated through social media; panicked YouTube clips and horror stories from Facebook. The lack of information from the country has resulted in several innovative attempts to communicate events here in the UK with “66 Minutes in Damascus” giving Londoners a vision of being under Syrian detention based on a series of first-hand accounts. Likewise ‘The Fear of Breathing’ takes the increasingly popular verbatim format to the stage at the intimate Finborough Theatre in Chelsea.

Bashar al-Assad's Syria is now in a death spiral PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Tuesday, 24 July 2012 08:01

Sunday Telegraph - The combination of increasing defections, battles in the capital city and the assassination of senior regime figures have seemingly put Assad's rule into a death spiral


Damascus had been largely kept apart from the 16-month conflict in Syria that has claimed an estimated 18,000 lives, with an air of normality pervading the streets while Homs, Syria's third largest city, was reduced to rubble and towns across the country burned. Now, the oldest continually inhabited city on the planet is witnessing humanity at its worst: armed gangs marauding with knives, artillery strikes in built-up areas, and fears of chemical weapons being used.

The killing of four senior regime figures on Tuesday, just three miles from the presidential palace, is a particular blow, putting the Syrian president among those who have now lost relatives in this bloody conflict.

Assad is no Saddam Hussein; while the Iraqi dictator was a one man show, the Syrian president has relied far more on an inner cabal, including his brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, who was among those killed.

Shawkat was a colossus-like figure within the security establishment and sometimes referred to as the "second president". The US imposed sanctions on him in 2006 after he was linked to the car bomb assassination of former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri. Live by the bomb, die by the bomb, it would seem.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 July 2012 08:04
Denselow on BBC World Service PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Thursday, 19 July 2012 08:58

Listen Here - Discussing the bombings in Syria with a range of voices from Damascus, the Syria-Lebanon border and beyond

Arab Spring 2.0 PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Sunday, 15 July 2012 11:19

The Battle for the Arab Spring – Revolution, Counter-Revolution and the making of a new era

(Lin Noueihed and Alex Warren, Yale University Press, 2012)

Reuters correspondent Lin Noueihed and Middle East analyst Alex Warren have written an comprehensive account of the revolution and counter-revolution underpinning the Arab Spring over a year after its inception.

The book attempts the ambitious feat of investigating the origins of the Arab Spring, the particular dynamics of the 'battleground' states as well as the more subtle geopolitics and identity politics that provide the arena in which events have taken place.

The authors trace the origins of the Arab Spring to before the 2011 'explosion', chronicling the wave of protests that swept the region in 2008 in response to rocketing food prices. The roots of the feelings of injustice felt by millions is covered widely and surmised effectively in a chapter entitled “Bread, Oil and Jobs”, where words like 'malaise', 'frustrations' and 'corruption' dominate. A particularly well-made argument explores why other economically disadvantaged areas have not reacted in the same manner as the Middle East and North Africa region, making the persuasive point that “perhaps the key difference in the Arab world was the combination of economic hopelessness with political powerlessness” (p.42).

Syria through a Sectarian Lens PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Wednesday, 11 July 2012 14:15


The Syrian Rebellion

Fouad Ajami, Hoover Institution Press, Stanford University, 2012

(Huffington Post) Ajami, author of ‘The Arab Predicament’ a bombastic argument about the stalemate of political ideas in the Arab world, has written a timely and passionate account of the bloody events in Syria. The author is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution whose mandate states that “the war of ideas with radical Islamism is inescapably central to this Hoover endeavour” (XII), and the focus on religion and politics certainly underpins the central narrative of “The Syrian Rebellion”.  Ajami’s main argument is that the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad is a “monstrous state” (p.70) that has manipulated the sectarian makeup of the country to ensure control, a control that would now appear to be fatally challenged. Indeed the current rebellion is described as “an irresistible force has clashed with an immovable object. The regime could not frighten the population, and the people could not dispatch the highly entrenched regime that Assad Senior had built” (p.9).

The work puts today’s events into context with an abridged history of the Assad dynasty’s rule over Syria. The history focuses on how the Assad family and their Alawi community would sow the seeds for a future sectarian conflict. Ajami describes them as “mountain people” without the “Diaspora that knit them into a bigger world. There was the military and, in time, the Baath Party that brought them out of their solitude” (p.14). The book quotes Martin Kramer who tellingly wrote that “the Alawis, having been denied their own state by the Sunni nationalists, had taken all of Syria instead. Arabism, once a convenient device to reconcile minorities to Sunni rule, was now used to reconcile Sunnis to the rule of minorities” (p.25).

Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 July 2012 14:25
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