Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

January 25th and the Egypt the Revolution Has Made

by Steven A. Cook Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Demonstrators take part in a protest marking the first anniversary of Egypt's uprising at Tahrir square in Cairo (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters)

This article was originally posted on on January 25th, 2012.

Ain Sukhna is stunningly beautiful. After a two-hour drive east from Cairo through the featureless desert, the road rolls toward the steel blue waters of the Gulf of Suez. Nestled beneath ocher-colored hills, the town is a string of industrial buildings, ramshackle half-built structures, and the weekend villas of Cairo’s well-heeled. This is where the falool — the former officials, businessmen, and intellectuals who, for almost three decades, rationalized for the Mubarak regime — fled when their leader fell. With its manicured lawns, pristine infinity pools, and towpaths to the beach, Ain Sukhna couldn’t be more different from the threadbare and creaking Egypt that former President Hosni Mubarak bequeathed to his people. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Economic Challenges, Constitutional Lessons, and an Iranian Scenario

by Steven A. Cook Friday, January 20, 2012
Jordanian Muslim reads the Koran at al-Husainy mosque in Amman during the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan (Muhammad Hamed/Courtesy Reuters)

Adeel Malik and Bassem Awadallah comment on the economic challenges in a ‘post-Arab Spring’ Middle East.

Abdel Moneim Said argues that the American ruling on sharia in Oklahoma may hold a lesson for Egypt in drafting its constitution. Read more »

It’s Time to Think Seriously About Intervening in Syria

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Protesters cover their faces from tear gas being fired in Adlb (Handout/Courtesy Reuters)


This article was originally published on The Atlantic on Tuesday, January 17, 2012.

The most stunning thing about how American foreign policy experts and elites talk about Syria today is the one aspect of the country’s crisis that they won’t discuss. There is little to no actual debate about direct international intervention into an uprising and crackdown that has cost more than 5,000 Syrian lives. In response to the Bashar al-Assad regime’s violence against largely peaceful protesters, which leaves dozens of people dead every day, the international community has denounced Damascus “in the strongest possible terms,” as diplomats like to say, placed the country and its leadership under sanction, and searched for additional punitive measures short of the use of force. Oddly, at the same time that the United States, Europe, and the Arab League have apparently rejected meeting Bashar al-Assad’s violence with violence, there is an assumption in Washington that it is only a matter of time before the Syrian regime falls. It is largely a self-serving hunch that does not necessarily conform to what is actually happening in Syria, but nevertheless provides cover for doing nothing to protect people who are at the mercy of a government intent on using brutality to re-establish its authority. After all, if the many Syrians who have been in open revolt since March of last year are on the verge of bringing down Assad, then, as the conventional wisdom has it, there is no need for a international response and thus no need for an agonizing debate about whether to use force in Syria. But this logic seems less convincing every day, and it might be time to reconsider our assumptions about intervention. Read more »

Weekend Reading: A Critique of Comrades, Islamic Feminism, and On Syria From Cairo

by Steven A. Cook Friday, January 13, 2012
A Palestinian man reads the Koran in al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem's Old City (Ammar Awad/Courtesy Reuters)

Samer Soliman writes a critique of revolutionary comrades on Al-Masry al-Youm.

Fatemeh Fakhraie writes on Today’s Zaman that being a Muslim and a feminist is not a non-sequitur. Read more »

Egypt: When Good Is Better Than Perfect

by Steven A. Cook Thursday, January 12, 2012
Head of the Freedom and Justice Party Mursi and the party's Secretary General Katatni shake hands with General Anan (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters)


Leila Fadel of the Washington Post has a very interesting article yesterday about a possible Muslim Brotherhood-Supreme Council of the Armed Forces deal that would give the Officers immunity against prosecution for crimes committed during the transition.  There are, no doubt, many Egyptians especially the families of people who were killed in confrontations with the military over the last year that will be opposed to such a deal.  It will also fuel concern that the Brothers and the military are collaborating to undermine the democratic promise of the January 25th uprising.  These are valid concerns, but exempting the officers from prosecution is not only a fine idea, but also perhaps the best route to a more democratic Egypt. Read more »

Hating Democracy in the Middle East?

by Steven A. Cook Monday, January 9, 2012
U.S. Secretary of State Clinton waves as she walks through Tahrir Square during her visit in Cairo (POOL New/Courtesy Reuters)

Has the Washington foreign policy establishment disavowed democracy in the Middle East?  According to’s Glenn Greenwald the answer is a resounding yes.  Greenwald, a lawyer by training and blogger/author by trade, has long been a trenchant critic of various “establishments.”  In addition to “America’s national security priesthood,” he has often skewered the mainstream media for various transgressions such as giving the George W. Bush administration a pass on the invasion of Iraq and more recently for giving Luke Russert and Chelsea Clinton high-profile jobs.  Greenwald’s work on post-9/11 domestic policies, especially the way the Bush administration and a complicit Congress compromised civil liberties through dubious laws like the USA Patriot Act is among the best there is out there.  Yet on those occasions when he has wandered into foreign policy, Greenwald’s commentary is considerably less original. Read more »

Weekend Reading: SCAF-Salafi Alliance?, L’affaire Basbug, and Bahrain’s Opposition

by Steven A. Cook Saturday, January 7, 2012
A man reads the Koran at Al Azhar mosque in the old city of Cairo (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters)

Mona Anis says that perhaps Egypt’s Salafists are better suited than the Brotherhood for an alliance with the military.

Merve Busra Ozturk provides reflections on the recent arrest of Turkish former Chief of General Staff on Today’s Zaman. Read more »

Turkey: Bringing the Officers to Heel

by Steven A. Cook Friday, January 6, 2012
Turkish Chief of Staff General Ilker Basbug salutes (Osman Orsal/Courtesy Reuters)


Is it hackneyed yet for Middle East analysts to declare that “I thought I had seen everything, but now I have really seen everything”?  If not, then the sight of former Turkish Chief of Staff, General Ilker Basbug, being arrested and remanded to prison pending investigation into being part of the Ergenekon conspiracy is surely the latest in holy moly moments that I have had since December 2010.  Even in an environment where the military has shed a significant chunk of its prestige among the Turkish public, that’s not supposed to happen.  The fact that it has is a sign that the development of civil-military relations in Turkey are continuing to move in a direction that makes the emergence of a democratic Turkey more possible. Read more »