Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

Cook examines developments in the Middle East and their resonance in Washington.

Weekend Reading: Fact and Fiction in Libya, a Saudi in Iran, and “Turkishness”

by Steven A. Cook Friday, February 5, 2016
Iranian protesters chant slogans during a rally against the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia, after Friday prayers in Tehran (Raheb Homavandi/Reuters). Iranian protesters chant slogans during a rally against the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia, after Friday prayers in Tehran (Raheb Homavandi/Reuters).

Valentina Viene reviews the struggle to fictionalize the enigmatic persona of Muammar al-Qaddafi, the former leader of Libya, in Yasmina Khadra’s latest novel, The Dictator’s Last Night. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Non-Sectarian Refugees, the Transformation of Egyptians, and Inside the Fight Against the Islamic State

by Steven A. Cook Saturday, January 30, 2016
Egyptians celebrate on Tahrir Square during the fifth anniversary of the uprising that ended 30-year reign of Hosni Mubarak in Cairo, Egypt (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters). Egyptians celebrate on Tahrir Square during the fifth anniversary of the uprising that ended 30-year reign of Hosni Mubarak in Cairo, Egypt (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters).

Laura Dean reflects on the surprising absence of sectarianism among Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

Amro Ali encourages Egyptians to recognize their individual political transformations as the true achievement of the 2011 revolution. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Sunnis Fighting With Shias, Agatha Christie in Arabic Literature, and Who is Ali Abd al-Aal?

by Steven A. Cook Friday, January 15, 2016
A man looks at a book outside of a bookshop that sells Islamic and reference books for Al-Azhar students near the Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo, Egypt, May 18, 2015 (Asmaa Waguih/Reuters). A man looks at a book outside of a bookshop that sells Islamic and reference books for Al-Azhar students near the Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo, Egypt, May 18, 2015 (Asmaa Waguih/Reuters).

Mustafa Saadoun reports on the cautious optimism of Sunni recruitment to Iraq’s Shiite militias, the Popular Mobilization Units. Read more »

Erdogan’s Hitler Problem

by Steven A. Cook Monday, January 4, 2016
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during his meeting with mukhtars at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, November 26, 2015 (Umit Bektas/Reuters). Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during his meeting with mukhtars at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, November 26, 2015 (Umit Bektas/Reuters).

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has a Hitler problem. When he was asked last Friday to comment on his strong desire to establish what Turks call an “executive presidency” and how that might affect the “unitary structure” of the Turkish state, Erdogan replied, “There are already examples in the world. You can see it when you look at Hitler’s Germany.” In the firestorm of criticism that followed, the Turkish presidency sought to clarify Erdogan’s remark. The Guardian quoted an anonymous official stating, “There are good and poor examples of presidential systems and the important thing is to put checks and balances in place…Nazi Germany, lacking proper institutional arrangements, was obviously one of the most disgraceful examples in history.” The same official also accused the president’s opponents of purposefully distorting his remarks. Fair enough, but one has to wonder why Nazi Germany was the first example Erdogan could think of. Read more »

Holiday Reading

by Steven A. Cook Friday, December 25, 2015
Israeli-Arab Issa Kassissieh wears a Santa Claus costume as he rides a camel and poses for the media during an annual Christmas tree distribution by the Jerusalem municipality on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem (Ammar Awad/Reuters). Israeli-Arab Issa Kassissieh wears a Santa Claus costume as he rides a camel and poses for the media during an annual Christmas tree distribution by the Jerusalem municipality on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem (Ammar Awad/Reuters).
Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Apologies for the light blogging lately. I have been focused on a big project that has been occupying all of my brain power and time.

Over the holidays, I am reading Gallipoli by Jenny Macleod.

Weekend Reading: Saudi Arabia’s War, Tunisia’s Sidi Bouzid, and the Middle East’s Public Spaces

by Steven A. Cook Saturday, December 19, 2015
A boy holds up a rifle as he shouts slogans during a demonstration against Saudi-led strikes in Yemen's capital Sanaa November 20, 2015 (Khaled Abdullah/Reuters). A boy holds up a rifle as he shouts slogans during a demonstration against Saudi-led strikes in Yemen's capital Sanaa November 20, 2015 (Khaled Abdullah/Reuters).

Sharif Abdel Kouddous reports on the human toll of the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

Christine Petre looks at Sidi Bouzid five years after Tunisian fruit seller Mohammed Bouazizi’s self-immolation that sparked the Arab uprisings. Read more »

What’s in a Name?

by Steven A. Cook Monday, December 7, 2015
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about counter-terrorism and the United States fight against Islamic State during an address to the nation from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington (Saul Loeb/Reuters). U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about counter-terrorism and the United States fight against Islamic State during an address to the nation from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington (Saul Loeb/Reuters).

On February 25, 1994, Baruch Goldstein entered the Ibrahimi Mosque, also known as the Cave of the Patriarchs, during dawn prayers and murdered twenty-nine Palestinians. He derived justification for this violence in the way he read sacred Jewish texts. Goldstein was a radical Jewish terrorist. So was Yigal Amir, the man who murdered Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 based on a particular interpretation of a concept found in the Babylonian Talmud that allows for the murder of someone who puts Jewish lives in danger. That Goldstein and Amir were violent Jewish extremists seems so obvious that it is hardly worth the eighty-something words that I have spent on it. However, when it comes to Muslims and terrorism, naming names seems enormously complicated. Why? I am not sure. It does not seem as problematic as some Muslims and analysts suggests. That said, it is also unclear what purpose stating an event or an organization as “radical Islamic terrorism” serves. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Egypt’s Jews, Lebanon’s Mukhtars, and Saudi Arabia’s Women

by Steven A. Cook Friday, December 4, 2015
Saudi woman Fawzia al-Harbi, a candidate for local municipal council elections, uses her laptop at a shopping mall in Riyadh (Faisal Al Nasser/Reuters). Saudi woman Fawzia al-Harbi, a candidate for local municipal council elections, uses her laptop at a shopping mall in Riyadh (Faisal Al Nasser/Reuters).

Hanin Ghaddar talks to Magda Haroun, head of Cairo’s Jewish community, about her people’s legacy to Egypt.

Nora Stel explores the role of mukhtars—elected neighborhood- or village-level state representatives—in Lebanon’s consociational political system. Read more »

Is Turkey Really at the Table?

by Steven A. Cook Wednesday, November 25, 2015
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C) delivers opening remarks at in a working session on the global economy with fellow world leaders at the start of the G20 summit at the Regnum Carya Resort in Antalya, Turkey, November 15, 2015 (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters). Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C) delivers opening remarks at in a working session on the global economy with fellow world leaders at the start of the G20 summit at the Regnum Carya Resort in Antalya, Turkey, November 15, 2015 (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters).

This article originally appeared here on Politico.com on Tuesday, November 24, 2015.

To Westerners, it might seem that Vladimir Putin was exaggerating in anger when, after a Turkish F-16 on Tuesday shot down a Russian fighter jet allegedly violating Turkish airspace, he referred to the government in Ankara as “terrorists’ accomplices.” Read more »