The Economist's 1843 Magazine
Pelham’s riveting profile of Asma Assad traces how she went from being a London schoolgirl to the wife of the dictator Bashar al-Assad, president of Syria. Pelham’s brilliantly written and researched piece presents a nuanced view of the woman behind the throne, a compelling portrait that also tells the larger story of Syria and the Arab Spring. Pelham travelled from doorstep to doorstep, from London to Syria, speaking to everyone he could who had spent time with Asma. The story has had over 300,000 page views. The piece was also successful in signing up new subscribers to The Economist. It was picked up in other journalistic outlets, including Politico and Fortune, and Pelham spoke about the piece on NPR Radio. On July 28th 2022, when Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammad bin Salman (known as MBS) was visiting Macron in Paris, The Economist's 1843 magazine published an extraordinary profile of him by Pelham, “Despot in the desert”. This told the back story of MBS, how he rose to power and what he plans to do with it. Pelham spent months interviewing MBS’s former classmates, family friends, diplomats, business folk and court insiders. Pelham has been covering the region for over 30 years, and has previously interviewed MBS in person. As a result, the piece is an extraordinarily meticulous and authoritative account of the MBS’s transformation from a lonely child to the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia. The piece makes it clear that MBS has been a reformer: women have more of a presence in society; young Saudis attend raves; he has brought new sports into the kingdom. But he also explores the volatility of MBS’s character: childhood friends remember the crown prince’s nickname as “little Saddam”; court insiders whisper of MBS beating his wife and locking a minister in the toilet for ten hours. Pelham also visited Neom, the prince’s $500bn”‘smart city”, which Pelham found to be bare, desolate desert. The piece was very widely read. Within two weeks it got over 300,000 page views and generated a significant number of new subscribers to The Economist. It was discussed on media outlets such as Pod Save the World. More recently, Pelham has been covering the protests in Iran – it’s a country he knows well, after being detained there for seven weeks in 2019 and held by the Revolutionary Guards. For The Economist's 1843 magazine, he interviewed people inside the country to gather first-person accounts of events. This coverage is incredibly important, particularly because information coming out of Iran is so limited. Thousands of people read this piece online.