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Daily

A Libyan Misadventure

Originally appeared in The Daily.

Last week, two American aviators crashed their F-15E fighter jet outside Benghazi, leaving it a smoking wreck on the ground.  When the airmen parachuted unharmed to safety, they may have wondered about a historic precursor, a lanky 24-year-old Norwegian-Englishman who crashed in eastern Libya more than 60 years earlier and was not so lucky. That pilot nearly died. And if he had, the world would be a poorer place because that pilot was Roald Dahl, among the world’s most beloved children’s authors. Dahl’s books (including “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “James and the Giant Peach”) make children and adults squeal with delight and shudder with horror, in part because his own life had its share of delight and horror both. On the night of Sept. 19, 1940, Dahl nearly burned to death under the stars in the Libyan desert.

Categories
Daily

Gadhafi’s Killer Mercenaries

Originally appeared in The Daily.

Libyan refugees and opposition groups say the most feared presence on the streets of Tripoli are mercenaries from elsewhere in Africa who drive around in tan-colored military jeeps and shoot anything that moves.

The country remains a swirl of rumors, but a constant theme is trigger-happy, non-Arabic-speaking foreigners who try to spread fear and persuade protesters to return to their homes. “We don’t know where they’re coming from,” one man told a Reuters TV crew after fleeing across the Egyptian border. “They’re African mercenaries. They’re shooting people randomly.”

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Daily

Anwar Sadat, goner

Originally appeared in The Daily.

No one can be sure how long Anwar Sadat, president of Egypt from 1970 to 1981, remained conscious after the bullets tore through his body. If he lived a minute or two, he might have heard the triumphant words of his assassin, who, after running out of bullets, screamed: “I am Khaled Islambouli. I have killed the pharaoh, and I do not fear death!”

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National

Ice Kingdom

Originally appeared in  The National.

Desert Kingdom: How Oil and Water Forged Modern Saudi Arabia

Toby Craig Jones

Harvard University Press

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Researchers recently announced that what was thought to be the most arid place known to man might actually be wet enough to support life. Just one small truckload of its soil, they say, can support the drinking, cooking, and showering needs of a person for a day, as long as you are willing to spend the energy needed to wring the water out of the dirt that conceals it.

This surprisingly wet place is, of course, the moon. Residents of the Arabian Peninsula are in some ways in a more precarious situation. There is not a single river or lake in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the factories that clean salt water consume massive amounts of energy, even though they are barely enough to meet the needs of the population. If these desalination plants were to shut down, Saudi Arabia would begin to die of thirst within days.

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Barnes & Noble Review

Encounters in the Changing Middle East

Review of Neil MacFarquhar’s The Media Relations Department of Hizbollah Wishes You a Happy Birthday, in the Barnes & Noble Review.

On October 3, 1997, New York Times correspondent Neil MacFarquhar was bicycling down Fifth Avenue and got hit by a bus. This was a bad day for MacFarquhar but, in a strange way, a lucky one for journalism. After a coma and long recovery, MacFarquhar returned to work with lingering frailty and a permanent medical excuse never to cover another war. His Sarajevo and Kabul days over, he moved to Cairo in 2001 and reported on the parts of the Middle East most underserved by foreign journalists, namely the parts that are not war zones.