Micheline R. Ishay


On her book The Levant Express: The Arab Uprisings, Human Rights, and the Future of the Middle East

Cover Interview of February 19, 2020

A close-up

An accomplished artist, Brooke VanDevelder, worked with me to create customized illustrations that serve as frontispieces for each of the book’s three sections. If a potential reader is just browsing, those images will provide a fitting introduction to the spirit and content of each section. Those who have a little more time will appreciate the brief introductions to each of the book’s three parts, along with the overall introduction to the book. That’s where I tell some of my own story, even including a personal poem called, “Farewell to Abu Dhabi,” and where I outline the main themes of the book.

rorotoko.comDrawing by Brooke VanDevelder.

I suspect that some readers will jump to particular chapters to see what I have to say about issues in which they are most engaged. For example, the chapters “Frost in Jerusalem” and “Remembering the Future” address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in significant detail, with nostalgic hope for what may yet be accomplished in that tortured part of the world.

Many readers have been particularly struck by the chapter on women’s rights, and I agree that it is especially important. It has been said that the degree of women’s emancipation provides a measure of human emancipation in general. This chapter looks at the struggle for women’s rights in the Middle East and North Africa, searching for signs of progress in some of the world’s most repressive regimes. As elsewhere in the book, I focus on FDR’s Four Freedoms, and I argue that women’s frustration with inequality is building as in a pressure cooker. That’s why I call the chapter “The Female Time Bomb.” I close the chapter with these words: “As long as a patriarchal social and religious system keeps women silent in the public sphere, sexually dissatisfied and disempowered in the family, impoverished despite their increased level of education, and living in fear despite their growing skills of resilience, pressures will build toward a new women’s rights contagion, and a new sexual revolution, occurring in the Arab world—one that would reorder families and destabilize autocratic regimes. It may well be women who reroute the temporarily derailed Levant Express toward new democratic pastures.” As I predicted, women are at the forefront once again in the protests that have rocked Algeria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran during the past year.