Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

Shafiq, Morsi, and the Beltway Blues

by Steven A. Cook Thursday, May 31, 2012
Combination of file photos of presidential candidates Shafiq and Mursi (Reuters Staff/Courtesy Reuters).

Over the weekend when it became clear that Egypt’s presidential elections would go to a run-off between the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi and former prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, some observers were quick to claim that the latter’s victory would bring a collective sigh of relief inside the Beltway.  This was obviously pure speculation, which means something on Twitter, but it raises an interesting question: Who is better for the United States, Morsi or Shafiq?  Let me caveat by stipulating that the United States is essentially a sideshow here; the most important issue is who will be better for Egypt.  That is something for Egyptians to decide on June 16th and 17th.  Nevertheless, given Washington’s long-term ties to Cairo, American officials and Egypt observers are trying to understand what is in store for U.S.-Egypt relations under either President Morsi or President Shafiq.  Readers of this blog can pretty much guess that I don’t think either candidate is “good” for the United States, which means Washington will have to adjust to new Egyptian realities.  No one is Hosni Mubarak and while the notion that he did everything the United States wanted is not entirely accurate, he did “understand that Egypt’s interests lie with the United States,” according to an official who served in George W. Bush’s administration. Read more »

Morsi Not Moussa?!?!?!?!

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa attends a news conference in Cairo (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters)

I blew it.  There is no other way of putting it.  The following two sentences from a CFR “Expert Brief” that I posted on May 21st are, without a doubt, my Scott Norwood moment:

The declining fortunes of the Brothers’ presidential candidate, Mohamed Morsi, who is trailing badly in the polls, signals the group is paying the price for the decision to run a candidate despite earlier commitments not to do so. Although Egyptians supported the Brotherhood in parliamentary elections, the Brothers’ about face on the presidential elections clearly evokes the hypocrisy of the Mubarak era. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Egypt’s Presidential Election

by Steven A. Cook Friday, May 25, 2012
An official counts ballots for the presidential election after the polls were closed in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters).

Mahmoud Salem, also known as The Sandmonkey, rejects the prevailing narrative about Egypt’s top presidential candidates, days before the results appear. Read more »

A New Presidential Authority in Egypt

by Steven A. Cook Monday, May 21, 2012
An Egyptian man walks past a defaced giant statue of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on the outskirts of Cairo (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters)

Below is my take on Egypt’s presidential elections, scheduled for May 23, originally published here on I hope you find it interesting. 

Over the last sixteen months, Egypt has experienced wrenching economic problems, continuing street protests, spasms of violence, and a noticeable deterioration of state authority. Yet these challenges have not, as some have warned, undermined the promise of Tahrir Square in the eyes of many Egyptians. To be sure, the revolutionary activists have lost their luster, the liberals have proven themselves too fragmented to be an effective political force, and the labor movement–a potentially potent bloc–has yet to make a full impact on the political arena. Read more »

Egypt’s Real Crisis: The Dual Epidemics Quietly Ravaging Public Health

by Steven A. Cook Monday, May 14, 2012
Children walk past livestock that died from foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) placed by farmers outside a veterinary centre during a protest in Ibsheway el-Malaq (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

My colleague Laurie Garrett and I wrote this piece on the threat of foot and mouth disease in Egypt, which can be read in full here on The Atlantic. I hope you find it interesting. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Partnering With Turkey, Subordinating the Turkish Military, and Lamenting Abbasiya

by Steven A. Cook Friday, May 11, 2012
A man reads a newspaper with a story about the new ministers that have been put in the Tunisian government, at a street kiosk in downtown Tunis (Louafi Larbi/Courtesy Reuters).

CFR’s recently released Independent Task Force on Turkey, co-chaired by Madeleine K. Albright and Stephen J. Hadley, and directed by Steven A. Cook. Read more »

Schmoozing Egypt

by Steven A. Cook Monday, May 7, 2012
A protester flashes victory signs with his fingers in front of a giant Egyptian national flag at Tahrir Square in Cairo (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

Over the course of the last month, I have had a fascinating conversation with Adam Garfinkle, the editor of The American Interest, about Egyptian politics and society.  Below please find an excerpt.  You can read a transcript of the entire conversation here.   Read more »

Weekend Reading: Action, but No Reaction in Syria, Morocco’s “Miracle,” and Cairo-Riyadh Blues

by Steven A. Cook Friday, May 4, 2012
An Egyptian youth reads a newspaper in a cafe in Cairo (Suhaib Salem/Courtesy Reuters).

Itamar Rabinovich says the United States is substituting symbolic action for real action in Syria–at the detriment of the Syrian people.

Aboubakr Jamai explains the Moroccan “miracle” of mild authoritarianism. Read more »

The Wages of the Sinai

by Steven A. Cook Thursday, May 3, 2012
An Israeli Cobra helicopter fires missiles at targets (Amir Cohen/Courtesy Reuters)

I remember in 2008 sitting in the office of Abdel Monem Said Aly who at the time was the director of the Al Ahram Center for Strategic Studies when the subject of the Sinai came up. It was a few months’ time after Hamas had blown a hole in the wall that separates Gaza from the Egyptian frontier, resulting in thousands of Palestinians rushing into the Sinai to buy supplies and seek medical care.  Abdel Monem was not unmoved by the plight of the Palestinians, but he was clearly worried about Egyptian security.  He asked me what I thought would happen if a Palestinian extremist group were able to infiltrate Israel from the Sinai and carry out some sort of deadly attack.  “How would Israel respond?” Abdel Monem asked rhetorically.  He knew that the Israelis would respond, but how, where, and to what extent were unknowns that clearly unsettled him.  At one end of the escalation ladder, the Israelis military might try to push into the Sinai much like the Israel Defense Force’s periodic advances in Lebanon or the Turkish military’s incursions into northern Iraq.  This would no doubt put the Egypt-Israel peace treaty and thus Egyptian security in jeopardy. Perhaps the Israelis would use some other tactic, but either way this would create a terrible security dilemma for Egypt’s leaders.  The Egyptians could absorb the blow and be forced to confront additional opprobrium of their people or they could respond and risk a conflict with Israel that they would likely lose. Read more »