LAST August, in the aftermath of the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa, many Americans first heard the name of Osama bin Laden -- the Saudi-born multi-millionaire who has been charged with planning and financing those acts of terrorism. But Atlantic readers had already encountered Osama bin Laden in a prescient article by Mary Anne Weaver, titled "Blowback" (May, 1996), which pointed out that Bin Laden was emblematic of the cadre of present-day Islamic terrorists who were trained and armed by the CIA in order to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. Portions of that Atlantic article appear in Weaver's new book, to be published next month by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Is Egypt the next Algeria -- or the next Iran? Is this country of 62 million approaching a religiously fired civil war? This issue troubles Weaver, who began reporting on Egypt more than twenty years ago. Her new book is a warning to the Clinton State Department, which is fixated on the Egypt-Israel relationship, to be mindful of the parallel between Egypt's internal problems -- among them political repression and religious disaffection -- and those of Iran in the last days of the Shah. Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was an authoritarian secular ruler backed by the United States, like Egypt's President, Hosni Mubarak, today. Weaver views 1979, when the Shah was driven from his throne by Islamic revolutionaries, as a turning point in the modern history of the Middle East. That year also saw the conclusion of Egypt's historic peace with Israel and the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. At the time, few could have imagined it, but the ensuing war in Afghanistan has proved to be one of the great Cold War boomerangs. As Weaver showed, Islamic veterans of the Afghan war are now applying their American-taxpayer-subsidized talents to attacking U.S. targets.
Weaver was a student at the American University of Cairo in 1977-1979, and some of her former classmates and professors are now leaders of the Islamic rebellion against the Egyptian government. In A Portrait of Egypt, Weaver lets her Islamic contacts -- along with Hosni Mubarak -- talk. Her journalistic forte is politically objective yet humanly sympathetic reportage on people often depicted in the West as inhuman antagonists.
An interview with Weaver will appear on Atlantic Unbound in February.
-- THE EDITORS
Photograph by Virginia Sherry
The Atlantic Monthly; February 1999; 77 North Washington Street; Volume 283, No. 2; page 6.