Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

HRC in CAI: Why?

by Steven A. Cook Monday, July 30, 2012
Egypt's President Morsy meets with U.S. Secretary of State Clinton and Egypt's Foreign Minister Kamel Amr at the presidential palace in Cairo (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

Longtime observers of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—both friendly and unfriendly—will attest to her intelligence, sense of humor, and unfailing grace. So it was a few weeks ago upon her arrival in Israel that she said she was not offended by the way she was received during her visit to Egypt on July 14 and 15, saying that she only regretted “the wasted tomatoes.” The secretary of state was, of course, referring to the tomatoes that some Egyptians used to rain down on her motorcade when she arrived in Alexandria to open the new consulate in Egypt’s second city. Clinton’s quip deflected what was decidedly not an exemplar of Egyptians’ famous hospitality and downplayed the secretary’s curious visit to Egypt. Read more »

Guest Post: The Trappings of Power: Turkey and the Future Middle East

by Guest Blogger for Steven A. Cook Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi attends a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Davotoglu at the presidential palace in Cairo (Amr Dalsh/Reuters)

Aaron Stein is an Istanbul-based PhD Candidate at King’s College London. You can follow him on Twitter @aaronstein1.

The Arab uprisings have complicated Turkey’s approach to the Middle East. Both long before and after the dynamic events of the last 18 months began, many in the Middle East and outside the Arab world regarded Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s AKP as a model for emerging democracies. Buoyed by strong support in the polls, a growing economy, and a record of democratic reform, there was a consensus that Erdogan himself would be the face of a new democratic Middle East. For now, the prime minister seems to enjoy playing the role of regional demagogue, making strong promises and standing up to Israel. But can it last? Or will fundamental antagonisms lead to tension between Turkey and the region in the future? Read more »

Tales of Omar Suleiman

by Steven A. Cook Thursday, July 19, 2012
Former spy chief and presidential candidate Omar Suleiman talks during an interview with Reuters at his office in Cairo (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on on Thursday, July 19. 

“I am responsible for the stability of Egypt,” Lt. Gen. Omar Suleiman said, his voice rising as his large fist slammed on the table to accentuate the point. That was my first experience with Suleiman, then President Hosni Mubarak’s spy chief and all-seeing eye of Horus. It was the spring of 2005, and I was seated around a conference table in downtown Washington with a group of people far more senior than I. The conversation over stale bagels and bad coffee that morning  dealt mostly with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The fist-on-table incident came at the end of the hour, when someone brought up the possibility of democratic change in Egypt — almost as an afterthought. On July 19, Suleiman died of a heart attack while undergoing medical tests in a Cleveland hospital. He had been suffering from amyloidosis, a chronic disease related to abnormal protein deposits in tissue that affects the heart and liver, and his sudden passing came as a shock to his enemies and admirers alike. Suleiman’s dismissal of reform was just as startling. It wasn’t just the sound of his ample fist hitting the faux oak, but because his rejection of the idea was so straightforward. Even early in the days of President George W. Bush’s “Freedom Agenda,” Egyptian officials had become adept at bobbing and weaving their way through conversations about political change. It was a game in which they refused to say yes or no. But Suleiman — the man closest to the apex of power in Egypt save members of the Mubarak family itself — was having none of it. Read more »

Turkey: Phantom Shoot-Down?

by Steven A. Cook Thursday, July 12, 2012

Istanbul, Turkey

What really happened to the Turkish RF-4 Phantom jet that went missing over or near Syrian airspace on June 22? That’s what some Turkish journalists and editors are asking today after analysis revealed no trace of explosives on the aircraft’s wreckage and the Turkish General Staff (TGS) released a statement indicating a change in the military’s version of events. Previously, Turkey’s top brass and civilian leadership made it clear that Syrian air defenses were to blame for the loss of the plane and the crew of two. In a subtle shift, however, the officers are now saying, “Official Syrian bodies claimed [emphasis mine] the jet was downed by themselves.” Forget the awkward wording, this is an important shift suggesting there is more to the story than just Syrian perfidy. Indeed, the RF-4 incident raises questions about civil-military relations, Turkey’s relations with NATO, and importantly, official transparency, and accountability in Ankara. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Egyptians Getting Down to Business, Freedom of the Press in Morsy’s Egypt, and Libya’s Stalled Revolution

by Steven A. Cook Friday, July 6, 2012
A bookseller sleeps in his store in Marrakesh (Lucy Nicholson/Courtesy Reuters).

Issandr al-Amrani says Egypt’s new government can waste no more time getting down to business in solving the country’s exigent problems, after its lengthy transitional period. Read more »