Empire, space rockets and raw concrete

Sandcrawler hotel

The dilapidated Hotel du Lac in Tunis looks a bit like the Sandcrawler, a tank-like vehicle featured in the first Star Wars movie. Campaigners hoping to save the hotel from demolition argue that it was, in fact, the inspiration for the vehicle. This story began life as a simple effort to fact-check that claim. It turned into something looser, weaving through sci-fi, architecture, the end of one empire in Africa and the dawn of another. It got more than 800,000 hits on the BBC News website, which makes it my most successful story ever, in so far as hits are a measure of success. Never thought so many people would be into Afro-Brutalism….

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The internationalist ultra-nationalists

ukraine_coda_02In eastern Ukraine, a small band of Russian ultra-nationalists have joined the battle against the Russian-backed rebels. Reporter Leonid Ragozin explores their motives and background, exposing the ironies of a conflict that has largely been reported in binary terms as a showdown between Russia and the West. This long-form story highlights the risk of blowback from both sides’ reliance on ultra-nationalists as shock troops. It provides a nuanced corrective to the daily news, inviting a fresh assessment of Russian and Western objectives in Ukraine, as well as the narratives that accompany those objectives. My edit for Coda Story.

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Egyptian history: The Director’s Cut

Egyptian history in six movies

Egypt’s post-independence history resembles a series of remakes of a classic film, with a fresh cast trying out traditional roles, enacting a familiar script of revolution and repression. Throughout these years, Egyptian cinema has flourished, with many of the best films serving as vehicles for satire, social commentary or national pride.

In this feature for the BBC News website’s Magazine, I used six clips from popular Egyptian movies to explore six decades of Egyptian history.

The clips are among dozens of snippets from Egyptian cinema featured in the three-part documentary, Egypt’s Modern Pharaohs, screened on BBC World. The documentary-maker, Jihan El-Tahri, uses the clips as illustration or counterpoint to her interviews with key players and witnesses. The result is enthralling – a spliced-up history lesson.

Three wars in one

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How did Turkey enter the fight against Islamic State militants while simultaneously fighting a Kurdish rebel group whose allies are fighting Islamic State militants? I unpack the three-way conflict in this explainer for the BBC News website. From July 2015.

Lost at sea II

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Islamic State militants in Libya have threatened to attack Europe, while boatloads of migrants flee the collapsing state for European shores. Could the migrant flows provide a cover for the militants – as Italy and Egypt have claimed? Their warnings evoke a vicious logic, at odds with humanitarian imperatives: refugees bring conflict, as conflict breeds refugees. Analysis for the BBC News website.

Prospect: Activism and apathy in Brixton

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Revolutionary hubris in south London. Prospect reveals the full story behind Unflappable, my documentary with director Will Aspinall, premiered at the Ritzy Cinema in July 2012.

Vanity Fair: Iraq’s Homegrown ‘Hurt Locker’ Team

EOD men in Kirkuk (photo: Kamaran Najm/Metrography)

Top story for Vanity Fair’s homepage: “In 2008 The Hurt Locker introduced the Americans who defuse explosives in Iraq. Now that all US troops will be gone by 2012, meet the Iraqi soldiers left carrying the fuse.”

Photograph by Kamaran Najm/Metrography

Financial Times Weekend magazine: Policing Kirkuk

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Kirkuk’s anti-terrorist police ride around in battered pickup trucks, keeping a nervous lookout for the bombers that have killed scores of their colleagues. With the American military eying an exit from Iraq, the force has become a central player in a seemingly intractable conflict over land and oil.

I accompanied the officers as they carried out overnight raids in pursuit of an insurgent cell linked to al-Qaeda.

Photographs by Kamaran Najm/Metrography

Monocle magazine: Arbil, the Iraqi boomtown

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Arbil, capital of Iraq’s relatively stable Kurdistan region, has developed at a breakneck pace while violence cripples the rest of the country. Wide highways and vast construction projects are transforming a city steeped in history and surrounded by mineral riches. Kurdish leaders believe they can attract foreign investment by promising access to their untapped markets and natural resources.

Photographs by Kamaran Najm/Metrography