As six years of turmoil in Iraq have clearly demonstrated, the transition to democracy in the Persian Gulf can be painfully slow. The

United Arab Emirates

, home to the Gulf’s financial capital, Dubai, limits women’s suffrage to a few hundred state-nominated electors, while US ally

Saudi Arabia

still denies women the right to vote. Until four years ago the same was true of Kuwait, where men have had the right to vote since shortly after the nation was granted independence from Britain nearly half a century ago.

Universal suffrage came to Kuwait in 2005, and after three contests in which no women were elected, four were voted into the Gulf’s oldest elected parliament on May 17.

Massouma al-Mubarak

, who had previously been appointed Kuwait’s first female cabinet member, and

Salwa al-Jassar


Aseel al-Awadhi

, both university lecturers, join women’s rights activist

Rola Dashti

in the fifty-member National Assembly. All four hold doctorates from US universities, and two, Awadhi and Dashti, do not wear Islamic headscarves.

The election results included a further bit of good news for the million women who live in Kuwait: the Islamic fundamentalist bloc, which opposes women’s suffrage and right to run for office, saw its share of seats in parliament decrease. Indeed, the day after the voting Secretary of State

Hillary Clinton

, in her commencement address at Barnard College, described the historic elections as “a major step forward for Kuwait, the region and, I would argue, the world.”   CORBIN HIAR


The world of letters lost an inimitable voice on May 25, when journalist and historian

Amos Elon

died in Italy, at 82. For decades, Elon’s stylish essays graced the pages of The New York Review of Books, where he wrote about a wide range of subjects, most notably Israel/Palestine, to which his Viennese parents fled in 1933, when he was a child. Elon went on to become the leading journalist of his generation, the Washington correspondent for Ha’aretz and the author of numerous acclaimed books, including the superb The Israelis: Founders and Sons. Yet he grew increasingly estranged from Israel in the decades after the 1967 Six-Day War, bitterly disappointed by his country’s rightward turn toward religiosity, militarism and jingoistic nationalism.

Elon eventually packed up his belongings and moved to Tuscany in 2004. He expressed some of this bitterness (along with a sense of battle fatigue) in an interview that year with Ha’aretz‘s columnist

Ari Shavit

. “Nothing has changed here in the last 40 years,” he complained. “The problems are exactly the same as they always were. The solutions were already known back then. But no one paid attention to them.”

And yet, into his 80s, Elon continued to write about those problems with a depth and seriousness that was rarely matched by less critical (and less informed) observers. His voice will be missed. His work and the high standard he set remain to be appreciated and emulated.   EYAL PRESS



Steve Earle

decided to put together an album of songs by his late friend and mentor, Texas singer-songwriter

Townes Van Zandt

, he grabbed the legacy by the horns and did the hard stuff at the beginning. The first song he recorded was “Pancho and Lefty,” the elegiac masterpiece that Van Zandt had handed to

Willie Nelson


Merle Haggard

in 1983. They sang the thing like the last two seraphs left standing in the roadhouse and rode it all the way to No. 1 on country charts.

“I recorded ‘Pancho and Lefty’ first,” Earle says, “which was sort of like that first day in jail and you go out in the yard and you find the biggest motherfucker out there and knock him out. And then you get to keep your radio.”

In his case, Earle is entitled to both the metaphor and the material. He burst onto the scene with Guitar Town, his precocious 1986 debut, which propelled him to the front rank of young country artists. But country couldn’t hold him entirely. Copperhead Road

was an explosive piece of rock that also featured some traditional Irish instruments in surprising places. At the same time, Earle spiraled into addiction. There were very few drugs he didn’t do in excess. He was busted repeatedly and wound up in prison in 1994.

Since then, Earle has cleaned himself up and made a new career out of gloriously eclectic music, including some of the most exciting political music of his time. He’s written tough, knowing songs against the death penalty and the war in Iraq. He wrote “John Walker’s Blues,” about

John Walker Lindh

(the “American Taliban”), and caught all kinds of hell from the right because of it. Washington Square Serenade, for which he won a Grammy last year, was a celebration of New York’s immigrant cultures, released just as the anti-immigrant wave hit high tide.

Earle’s best work is in the kind of narrative songwriting he learned from hanging around a circle of young songwriters, the leader of whom was Townes Van Zandt, a sad, sweet-voiced genius with a self-destructive streak that made Earle’s look tame. It was with Van Zandt that Earle honed his gift for dealing with big issues through the small stories–a civilian truck driver in Baghdad (“Home to Houston”), a prison guard on death row (“Ellis Unit One”) or a grunt in a backwater Confederate Army patrol (“Ben McCulloch”). In his life Earle managed to pull out of the morass into which his mentor would disappear; Van Zandt died of similarly accumulated excesses on January 1, 1997.

The music on Townes is simple and literally homespun: Earle recorded most of it in his New York apartment. He does a fine job on “Pancho and Lefty,” but his best work is on the lesser-known pieces from Van Zandt’s vast catalog. It’s in the cold honesty of “Rake” that Earle comes closest to telling Van Zandt’s story in the writer’s own voice, as though Van Zandt were a character in the song. There is sinew to the music and blood in the words when Earle sings:

“I covered my lovers with flowers and wounds/My laughter the devil would frighten/The sun she would come and beat me back down/But every cruel day had its nightfall/I’d welcome the stars with wine and guitars/Full of fire and forgetful.”

“I don’t know why Townes did what he did,” Earle muses. “I don’t know why he didn’t think enough of himself to overcome it. I did…. There’s some survivor guilt involved in every second of this record.” And there is love there, too, pure and unlabored.   CHARLES P. PIERCE

A longer version of this piece can be found at