UW alumnus Fouad Ajami became a familiar face to millions as the CBS News Middle Eastern expert during the Persian Gulf crisis. As it turned out, Ajami was correct in his predictions and interpretations often enough for Newsweek to credit him with possessing “a clear crystal ball”
Born in Southern Lebanon in 1945 and raised in Beirut, Ajami received his master’s degree in political science from the UW in 1969 and his Ph.D. in 1973. He is director of Middle East studies at Johns Hopkins University and has served a paid consultant for CBS News for six years.
All his expertise and experience notwithstanding, Iraq’s Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait caught Ajami by surprise. “I was as prepared for this war as the emir of Kuwait,” he told the Chronicle of Higher Education. As it happened, the mid-summer invasion interrupted Ajami’s California vacation and sent him hurrying back to New York to help CBS cover the fast-unfolding events.
“I felt it was a moment of truth for the Arab world,” he told the Chronicle. “I had written about the myths of Arab nationalism, and they were now being punctured in front of our eyes. I felt I knew the story.” Ajami was convinced that Saddam Hussein would not rally his neighbors to his cause and become a “Pied Piper” of the Arab world.
Ajami lives in New York City and commutes to Washington, D.C. every week to teach. His particular specialty is Lebanon but he also focuses on contemporary Arab politics and history.
The Gulf crisis and his related television work enhanced and energized his classroom role, Ajami has said. In September and October of 1990, for example, CBS sent him to Saudi Arabia for several weeks to observe the situation first hand. Back in New York, he had an insider’s advantage of seeing the television “feeds” from the region before editing.
The recipient of a MacArthur Prize Fellowship in 1982, Ajami has written several books including The Arab Predicament, Beirut: City of Regrets, and The Vanished Imam: Musa Al-Sadr and the Shia of Lebanon. He’s a contributing editor of U.S. News and World Report and his essays have appeared in such publications as Foreign Affairs, The New Republic, Harper’s, The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post Book World and other publications.