After the news came last night that New York Times reporter Anthony Shadid had died of an asthma attack in Syriat, I started reading through the archives of his work at the New York Times and Washington Post. Shadid, who ranged widely across the Middle East in his work for several papers, was absolutely wonderful at clearly explaining the dynamics of a given conflict, and what an election, a suicide bombing, or a troop pullout meant.
But what made Shadid’s work most powerful for me was the stories he wrote about about people going on with their lives even under pressure that would be unfathomable, and shattering, to Americans forced to endure it. There was as much moral force to his stories about checkpoints, and shawarma sellers as there was to his portraits and analysis of intractable dictators. And taken together, those pieces demanded that readers recognize that the places Americans only saw as strategic considerations were in fact worlds as full, and rich as their own. Here are 20 great stories from Shadid that captured the changing dynamics of the Middle East, from Iraq’s leaders in self-reflection to the cheery persistance of a Jordanian coffee-seller:
Civil Society: In 2010, Shadid chronicled Iraqi leaders’ profound self-doubt and their reflections about the failure to build a stable regime there. In 2011, he visited a hospital in Libya staffed by volunteers, more than 100 of whom came from overseas to participate in the changes underway in the country. And in 2008, Shadid examined the alternative societies of Jordan’s long-term refugee camps and the hopelessness of the residents’ attitudes towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Commerce: During the Egyptian Revolution, Shadid used the death of a prominent member to reflect on the limitations of Egypt’s patronage economy. In 2009, Shadid spent two hours at a shawarma stand in Baghdad run by Bahloul Younes. He analyzed the scene at the Bab al-Yemen market in Sanaa, a city that’s grown from tends of thousands to two million.
Transportation: Shadid bridged the Middle East’s colonial past and its future on the train from Baghdad to Basra. He parsed the desires of Iraqis in the graffiti they left at Baghdad checkpoints. Shadid spent the day with a coffee- and tea-seller who sets up shop on a critical stretch of highway in Jordan. In 2008, he examined the roles that Baghdad’s walls play in the city’s transportation routes and emotional geography. And when the Syrian government denied Shadid a visa after a 2005 story that angered them, Shadid ended up going over water to Lebanon and experiencing the tricky world of Middle Eastern sea transport for himself.
Culture: A month before his death, Shadid checked in on the United Arab Emirates’ commitment to a plan to build three enormous museums. He parsed the cultural artifacts that the U.S. occupation of Iraq would leave behind, from fairytales of American soldiers to the rise of tattoos as a positive cultural marker. Shadid broke down how the controversy over the Dutch newspaper that published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad grew out of control. He visited librarians in Beirut who were committed to making banned and so-called offensive volumes available to their readers, and profiled the editor of Dubai’s al-Arabiya news channel.
Faith: In 2011, Shadid traced the changes in a crowded Egyptian neighborhood once known as the Islamic Republic of Imbaba to explain the role of faith in the Egyptian Revolution — and later looked at how the Muslim Brotherhood was building a base of political support by providing city services. He analyzed how Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi had used threats of an Islamist rising in a Libyan port town to gain Western support, and then explored the town’s balance between the secular and the religious. And he reflected on the role of Arab Christians in a Middle East in the process of dramatically reshaping itself.