Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

Egypt: Could the Military Intervene?

by Steven A. Cook Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Protesters, who are against Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, gather near a military tank as they take part in a march during a nighttime curfew in the city of Port Said January 28, 2013 (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters). Protesters, who are against Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, gather near a military tank as they take part in a march during a nighttime curfew in the city of Port Said January 28, 2013 (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters).

When the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces handed power to President Mohammed Morsi last June it seemed that everyone in Egypt, especially the officers, breathed a huge sigh of relief.  The transition from Mubarak to Morsi had been long, difficult, and sometimes violent.  The SCAF under Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and his deputy, Lt. General Sami Ennan, were manifestly ill-equipped to govern Egypt on a day-to-day basis and it showed.  By the spring of 2012, the officers were counting down the days to when they could hand-off the whole problem that Egyptian politics had become to anyone who would relieve them of the burdens of government.  Of course, the military exacted its price.  Egypt’s constitution gives the senior command autonomy in defense policy, budgeting, and personnel.  In addition, the Ministry of Defense held onto its robust economic interests. Read more »

45 Percent Is Still a Failing Grade

by Guest Blogger for Steven A. Cook Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Protesters opposing Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi shout slogans and hit a poster of Morsi that reads "If he speaks, he always lies" with shoes at Tahrir Square in Cairo January 25, 2013. (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). Protesters opposing Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi shout slogans and hit a poster of Morsi that reads "If he speaks, he always lies" with shoes at Tahrir Square in Cairo January 25, 2013. (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

Hani Sabra responds to Cynical Islamist’s response to me…

On January 16, Steven Cook wrote a blog post that asked, “Are Egypt’s Muslim Brothers Democrats?” By the end of the piece, it’s clear that he believes the answer is no. A week later, an Egyptian man—and I’m going to go ahead and bet that it was a man—who goes by the moniker “Cynical Islamist,” responded to Cook’s piece in an attempt to pour cold water on the arguments. Read more »

Can Israel’s New Coalition Fix Relations with Turkey?

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Employees from a Turkish-owned company in Israel protest against the recent tensions between the two countries outside the Turkish embassy in Tel Aviv December 28, 2010. (Nir Elias/Courtesy Reuters). Employees from a Turkish-owned company in Israel protest against the recent tensions between the two countries outside the Turkish embassy in Tel Aviv December 28, 2010. (Nir Elias/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on TheAtlantic.com on Monday, January 28, 2013.

Since Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid party’s surprise showing last week in Israel’s elections, there has been an outpouring of commentary about a new dawn in Israeli domestic and foreign policies. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose Likud, in conjunction with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party lost a combined eleven seats in the Knesset, will have to form a broader government that includes centrists like Lapid. As a result, a conventional wisdom has developed that this new coalition will lead Israel out of its international isolation. Typically, observers have been asking what the Lapid phenomenon means for the “peace process” — as if that is something that exists. Yet a handful of commentators have also zeroed in on Turkey-Israel ties as ripe for rapprochement under a new, allegedly more conciliatory, Israeli government. It is a nice idea, but so are rainbows and unicorns. The reality is that, despite Lapid’s rise, nothing has or will likely change to convince Israeli and Turkish leaders that mending ties is in their political interests. Read more »

Wanting Egypt to Fail

by Steven A. Cook Monday, January 28, 2013
An Egyptian Air Force F-16 fighter jet flies low over thousands of anti-government protesters gathered at Tahrir square in Cairo January 30, 2011. (Yannis Behrakis/Courtesy Reuters). An Egyptian Air Force F-16 fighter jet flies low over thousands of anti-government protesters gathered at Tahrir square in Cairo January 30, 2011. (Yannis Behrakis/Courtesy Reuters).

Egypt is a mess.  Just two short years after the uprising that brought Hosni Mubarak’s long-rule to an end, the country is paralyzed politically, protests have become increasingly violent, sectarian tensions are high, the public health system is in total disarray, and the economy is near collapse.  Nothing has gone right in this country of 84 million people that has traditionally been the most influential in the region—for good or bad—and since the mid-1970s a pillar of U.S.-Middle East policy.  It is not only the peace between Egypt and Israel, but also the U.S. Navy’s access to the Suez Canal, the many daily U.S. military overflights critical to the United States in confronting the Iranian threat, and Egypt’s logistical assistance for U.S. operations in Afghanistan and until not too long ago Iraq that are of paramount importance to Washington.  As a result, an objective observer might come to the reasonable conclusion that Egypt needs help and that the international community should do what it can to help pull Egyptians back from the brink.  That is certainly the view of most analysts from across the political spectrum, yet in one corner of the commentariat, they are actually hoping for Egypt to fail. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Looking Back on Egypt’s Uprising

by Steven A. Cook Friday, January 25, 2013
An anti-government protester defaces a picture of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak in Alexandria (Stringer Egypt/Courtesy Reuters). An anti-government protester defaces a picture of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak in Alexandria (Stringer Egypt/Courtesy Reuters).

On the second anniversary of Egypt’s January 25 uprising, I decided to re-post some of my own work on Egypt.  I hope you continue to find these posts/articles useful.  Enjoy!

Five Things You Need to Know About the Egyptian Armed Forces, January 31, 2011 on “From the Potomac to the Euphrates.” Read more »

Are Egypt’s Muslim Brothers Democrats? A Response

by Guest Blogger for Steven A. Cook Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Supporter of Egyptian President Morsi carries a poster and chants slogans in Cairo (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). Supporter of Egyptian President Morsi carries a poster and chants slogans in Cairo (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

My friend who goes by the twitter handle @CynicalIslamist responded to my post about the Muslim Brotherhood’s democratic credentials.  It’s a thoughtful and articulate response.  Enjoy! Read more »

Why No Israeli Government Will Ever Impose Mandatory IDF Service on the Ultra-Orthodox

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Benjamin Netanyahu meets Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in Jerusalem. (Reuters Photographer/Courtesy Reuters). Benjamin Netanyahu meets Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in Jerusalem. (Reuters Photographer/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published on Saturday, January 19, 2013, on 972Mag.com.

Washington – Last week the Israeli media reported that Shas spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, suffered a minor stroke. Although his doctors were mum on what might have caused the episode, sources close to Yosef indicated that a contributing factor was the rabbi’s fear of a renewed push among secular Israelis for yeshiva students to be drafted into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) after the January 22 election.  Yosef is so consumed with this issue that five days before he was hospitalized, the rabbi suggested that Haredim youth emigrate rather than serve in the military.  It seems that Rabbi Yosef’s concerns are real and quite clearly run deep, but he should not worry so much.  It is unlikely that Israel’s budding Talmudic scholars will be picking up Galil rifles anytime soon. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Iraq’s Sects, Jordan’s Elections, and Bahrain’s Social Networks

by Steven A. Cook Friday, January 18, 2013
A man reads the Koran at the Al-Masjid al-Nabawi, before the early morning prayer of Al-Fajr in the holy city of Medina (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). A man reads the Koran at the Al-Masjid al-Nabawi, before the early morning prayer of Al-Fajr in the holy city of Medina (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

Wadah Khanfar discusses Iraq’s problem of increased sectarian tension, which threatens Iraq’s security and the security of the whole region.

Abdulilah, posting on AmmonNews, offers reflections on Jordan’s upcoming parliamentary elections, which will take place on January 23. Read more »

Are Egypt’s Muslim Brothers Democrats?

by Steven A. Cook Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Judge El-Gheriany, chairman of the constituent assembly gives Egyptian President Morsi, the final draft of Egyptian constitution in Cairo (Handout/Courtesy Reuters). Judge El-Gheriany, chairman of the constituent assembly gives Egyptian President Morsi, the final draft of Egyptian constitution in Cairo (Handout/Courtesy Reuters).

It may seem non-controversial these days to suggest that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) are not exactly forces for democratic change.  Much of Washington, which only last spring feted an FJP delegation carrying the message that all would be well, has fallen into an Egypt funk.  No one is longing for Hosni Mubarak, but the hope for a democratic transition on the Nile has dissipated.  Indeed, with a few exceptions, there are few in the policy or traditional academic communities who cling to the once-conventional wisdom that the Brotherhood could be a force for more open politics. The record is clear and as a result, the conversation has shifted to hoping that Egypt can stay afloat economically.  Still, not everyone shares the doom and gloom about the Brothers.  When I recently suggested on Twitter that President Mohammed Morsi, the FJP, and the Brothers had not been exactly faithful to the revolutionary promise of a more open political system and had used some of the same tricks as the Mubarak regime, I received a fair amount of pushback from some quarters.  One of my tweeps challenged me to prove it, chastising me for blindly accepting the narrative of Egyptian liberals and revolutionaries. Read more »

Syria: Reflecting on the Past Year

by Steven A. Cook Monday, January 14, 2013
Syrian refugees stand outside their tents after heavy rain at the Al-Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq (Ali Jarekji/Courtesy Reuters). Syrian refugees stand outside their tents after heavy rain at the Al-Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq (Ali Jarekji/Courtesy Reuters).

Almost exactly a year ago, I published “It’s Time to Think Seriously About Intervening in Syria” on the Atlantic.com.  A lot has happened since then including an additional 55,000 deaths in what has become a full-blown civil war.  It is nothing short of tragic.  When I think about Syria today, I drift back sixteen and seventeen years ago to when I spent time there first as a tourist and then as a student studying Arabic.  As I explained to friends who invariably asked, “You are going where?” if you separate the brutality of the Assad regime from the people, the wonderful things to see, and the outstanding cuisine, Syria was a great place to visit.  By no means do I intend to whitewash the horrors of what Syria has become, which brings me back to the Atlantic piece.  I don’t think it was the time I spent in Damascus and traveling around the country that gave me some sort of insight, but I’ve never been so unhappy to say how correct I was about how Syria would unfold if nothing were done to stop Assad early last year.  The “it’s only a matter of time before Assad falls” argument that was going around Washington at the time was a matter of wishful thinking.  All of the talk of a diplomatic solution including the “Russia option” proved to be a chimera as Syrians were left to defend themselves against a leader who had every incentive and means to defend himself, his family, and his regime.  Is it any wonder that Syria has ended up the horrific war zone that it is? Read more »