I travel on an Iraqi passport, which is very difficult. I can only go to failed states, like Afghanistan and Iraq and Somalia. I’ve been trying to get into Egypt for three years, but they keep rejecting my visa requests. The Arab world has shut the door on Iraqis, especially in the past three years. It has always been very difficult for Iraqis to go to Egypt, Yemen, or the Gulf region. You need a special security clearance even before you can get a visa. But now, because of the war, there are so many Iraqi refugees. It’s the worst possible passport if you want to be a journalist. I see this amazing revolution in Cairo and I have to watch it on Al Jazeera. (Actually, I prefer Al Jazeera English; it’s far more objective and professional. The standards are much higher in terms of reporting and objectivity. It can’t get away with the things that the Arabic stations can because it competes with the BBC.)

In Beirut, you’re away from the front lines, and the politics can actually seem petty. If you read the Lebanese press, you think you’re in some little mountain village, with these families who have been feuding for about five-thousand years.

But Beirut is the only city in the Middle East where I can say in a taxi that I’m a journalist and not be scared. Elsewhere, you never know who’s working for state security—who’s monitoring you and who’s following you. In other countries, I say I’m an architect. 

 

Michael Massing is a contributing editor to CJR and the author of Now They Tell Us: The American Press and Iraq.