Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

Weekend Reading: Egyptian Labor, Syrian Brutality, and Gulf Stereotypes

by Steven A. Cook Friday, August 31, 2012
Elderly man reads a newspaper as he sits on a pavement in the southern Yemeni city of Taiz (Khaled Abdullah Ali Al Mahdi/Courtesy Reuters). Elderly man reads a newspaper as he sits on a pavement in the southern Yemeni city of Taiz (Khaled Abdullah Ali Al Mahdi/Courtesy Reuters).

Eric Lee at In These Times discusses Egypt’s unfinished labor revolution.

Robin Yassin-Kassab, on his blog Qunfuz, writes about the Assad regime’s brutality, highlighting the recent massacre in Darayya. Read more »

Morsi Gets a Pass

by Steven A. Cook Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Islam Afifi, editor-in-chief of the Al-Dostour opposition newspaper, is seen in his office in Cairo (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters). Islam Afifi, editor-in-chief of the Al-Dostour opposition newspaper, is seen in his office in Cairo (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters).

It has certainly been an interesting few weeks in Egypt.  Just as I was taking off for vacation, President Mohammed Morsi had consolidated his power by ousting the military’s senior command, firing the chief of General Intelligence, and canceling the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ June 17 constitutional decree that gutted the powers of the presidency in defense and national security policy.  It is important to note that bringing the military to heel is a positive development because it helps create an environment more conducive to the emergence of democratic politics.  At the same time, however, Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood—or more precisely, the Freedom and Justice Party—have made a number of questionable moves that raise concerns about the Brothers’ commitment to democratic change. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Syria’s Revolution, Egypt’s Crossroads, and Turkey’s EU Bid

by Steven A. Cook Friday, August 17, 2012
A view of mosques in Old Cairo is pictured before sunset during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). A view of mosques in Old Cairo is pictured before sunset during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

Husam Dughman writes for Informed Comment on why Syria’s revolution is different than Libya’s.

Shahira Amin says that in light of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s recent military purge, it is up to him to show that authoritarianism is a thing of the past in the country. Read more »

Morsi Makes His Move

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood's presidential candidate Mohamed Morsi carry a banner of him as they celebrate his victory in the presidential elections in Cairo (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters). Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood's presidential candidate Mohamed Morsi carry a banner of him as they celebrate his victory in the presidential elections in Cairo (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on ForeignAffairs.com on Monday, August 13, 2012. 

Over the weekend, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi sacked Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the minister of defense, and Lieutenant-General Sami Hafez Enan, the chief of staff of the armed forces. He also cancelled the military’s June 17 constitutional decree, which stripped important national security and defense prerogatives from the presidency. His move came as a shock. Yet Morsi is doing what any prudent national leader does upon assuming office — consolidating power. Read more »

Morsi’s Corrective Revolution

by Steven A. Cook Monday, August 13, 2012
Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi, Egypt's Defence Minister Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Sami Anan attend a meeting with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces at the presidential palace in Cairo (Handout/Courtesy Reuters). Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi, Egypt's Defence Minister Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Sami Anan attend a meeting with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces at the presidential palace in Cairo (Handout/Courtesy Reuters).

It is fair to say that Egypt continues to be interesting.  Yesterday, President Mohammed Morsi announced the retirements of Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and Lieutenant General Sami Anan, which come just a few days after he sacked Egypt’s intelligence chief, the governor of North Sinai, and the head of the Military Police.  What is happening here?  Speculation is rampant.  Was Morsi’s shake-up the result of plotting within the military’s own ranks, revealing a much-rumored split within the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces?  Does kicking Tantawi and Anan upstairs—they will both serve as advisors to the president—constitute a Muslim Brotherhood coup?  Both scenarios are possible, but it is more likely that Morsi is doing precisely what he seems to be doing:  consolidating his power. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Egypt’s Past is Present, Libyan Islamists, and Jordanian Challenges

by Steven A. Cook Saturday, August 11, 2012
Kuwaiti citizen Abu Ail Walima reads a newspaper in downtown Kuwait City (Stephanie McGehee/Courtesy Reuters). Kuwaiti citizen Abu Ail Walima reads a newspaper in downtown Kuwait City (Stephanie McGehee/Courtesy Reuters).

Amin Shalabi wonders if history will repeat itself in the U.S.-Egypt relationship.

Alison Pargeter offers the deeper story on Islamism in Libya on Open Democracy. Read more »

Brother Knows Best

by Steven A. Cook Friday, August 10, 2012
Egyptian soldiers stand guard at Rafah border crossing between Egypt and southern Gaza Strip (Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Courtesy Reuters). Egyptian soldiers stand guard at Rafah border crossing between Egypt and southern Gaza Strip (Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on ForeignPolicy.com on Thursday, August 9. 

Shortly after the Aug. 5 killing of 16 paramilitary policemen near Egypt’s border with the Gaza Strip, Egyptian, Israeli, and U.S. officials determined that the perpetrators were part of an “extremist group” — one they have yet to identify. According to official accounts, assailants firing AK-47s attacked the conscripts and officers as they prepared for iftar, the traditional breaking of the Ramadan fast. Eight of the terrorists were killed in the ensuing firefight, but not before the perpetrators hijacked an armored personnel carrier and tried unsuccessfully to cross the Egypt-Israel frontier. Read more »

Who Are the Muslim Brothers?

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, August 7, 2012
A street vendor sells merchandise of the Muslim Brotherhood during a celebration for victory in the election at Tahrir square in Cairo (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). A street vendor sells merchandise of the Muslim Brotherhood during a celebration for victory in the election at Tahrir square in Cairo (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

Who are Egypt’s Muslim Brothers?  Over the last eighteen months much has been written about the Muslim Brotherhood.  Once limited to the realm of academic specialists and Middle East policy analysts, the Brothers have become part of the broader foreign and, at times, domestic policy conversation in the United States.  The election of Mohamed Morsy as Egypt’s first civilian president has only heightened interest in the Brotherhood.  Although there are sophisticated analyses of the Brothers, too often the organization’s complexities are overlooked, leaving observers with erroneous notions about the way the Brotherhood works, its perspective on violence, and the Brothers’ ultimate goals.  Part of the problem is the ambiguity with which the Brotherhood often speaks about sensitive issues including the relationship between sharia and Egypt’s future political order, the role of women in society, and major foreign policy issues such as Egypt’s relationship with the United States, and the states of its peace treaty with Israel. Read more »

Sinai Again

by Steven A. Cook Monday, August 6, 2012
An Egyptian soldier stands guard at a checkpoint in Rafah city on the Egyptian border (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters). An Egyptian soldier stands guard at a checkpoint in Rafah city on the Egyptian border (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters).

In light of Sunday’s events in which a dozen Egyptian policemen were killed near the Rafah border in addition to ongoing violence in Gaza, I am re-posting three pieces I have written on Sinai over the last year.  As always, comments are welcome.  Many thanks. Read more »