Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

Dissolve the Palestinian Authority

by Steven A. Cook Monday, February 25, 2013
A member of the Palestinian security forces is seen behind a flag during a celebration in the West Bank city of Ramallah upon the return of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas from the U.N. General Assembly in the U.S., September 25, 2011 (Darren Whiteside/Courtesy Reuters). A member of the Palestinian security forces is seen behind a flag during a celebration in the West Bank city of Ramallah upon the return of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas from the U.N. General Assembly in the U.S., September 25, 2011 (Darren Whiteside/Courtesy Reuters).

Negotiation? Done it. Violence? Check. Spoken openly of a one-state solution? Already part of the playbook. Declared statehood?  A few times.  UN recognition?  In the bag.  In the last almost decade and a half, the Palestinians have tried almost everything to force the Israelis to be more forthcoming on the issues that divide them—settlements, refugees, Jerusalem—all to no avail.  For a combination of political reasons and security concerns the Israeli leaders have resisted the pressure, arguing either that the Palestinians cannot deliver or that Israel will not respond to threats. Indeed, the Israelis have been ruthlessly effective in demonstrating to the Palestinians that these tactics do not work through violence, settlements, and economic pressure.  The result has been a crippled Palestinian leadership and bred despair among both West Bankers and Gazans. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Turkey’s Chief of Staff, Fronting as a Front in Egypt, and Tunisia’s Sudden Troubles

by Steven A. Cook Friday, February 22, 2013
An anti-Mursi protester, with his eyes closed due to tear gas fired by police, gestures while holding the national flag during clashes near the gate of El-Quba, one of the presidential palaces, in Cairo February 15, 2013 (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters). An anti-Mursi protester, with his eyes closed due to tear gas fired by police, gestures while holding the national flag during clashes near the gate of El-Quba, one of the presidential palaces, in Cairo February 15, 2013 (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters).

Murat Yetkin on an important proposed change to civil-military relations in Turkey.

Khalid Amayreh argues that Egypt’s National Salvation Front is not much of a Front. Read more »

Erdogan: To Be or Not To Be

by Steven A. Cook Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Turkish parliament (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters). Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Turkish parliament (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters).

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has already established himself as the most important politician of his generation. He has won two elections in a row with sizable majorities and presided over a period of remarkable economic growth and political change in the decade since his Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power.  Erdogan, whose charisma is apparent even to non-Turkish-speaking audiences and who has an innate sense of the Turkish public, now has a chance to move beyond his current lofty status to a truly historic figure.  Indeed, Prime Minister Erdogan has the opportunity to become the most significant Turkish statesman since Mustafa Kemal—who literally became the “father of the Turks” when the Turkish Grand National Assembly bestowed him the name “Ataturk” in November 1934.  Yet the Turkish leader is about to let a potential legacy as a transformative figure slip from his grasp. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Egypt’s Other Dialogue, Libya’s Revolution, and Saudi’s “Code”

by Steven A. Cook Saturday, February 16, 2013
Cars drive past parliamentary election campaign posters at a roundabout in central Amman (Ali Jarekji/Courtesy Reuters). Cars drive past parliamentary election campaign posters at a roundabout in central Amman (Ali Jarekji/Courtesy Reuters).

Nour Youssef on The Arabist offers her thoughts on the recent dialogue held between Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef and al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya member Nageh Ibrahim. Read more »

Syrian Dilemmas: Neither Freedom Nor Stability

by Steven A. Cook Friday, February 15, 2013
A Free Syrian Army fighter fires a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) during heavy fighting in the Ain Tarma neighbourhood of Damascus (Goran Tomasevic/Courtesy Reuters). A Free Syrian Army fighter fires a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) during heavy fighting in the Ain Tarma neighbourhood of Damascus (Goran Tomasevic/Courtesy Reuters).

There has been a lot of Syria news in the last week or so.  Elements of Syria’s armed opposition took over al Jarrah airbase in the Aleppo province and rebels and government forces are engaged in a pitched battle on the eastern side of Damascus in what some regard (as with other flare-ups of violence in the Syrian capital) as a prelude to the Syrian “end game.” Just before that, the president of Syria’s National Coalition of Opposition Forces, Mouaz al Khatib, stated that he was ready for talks with representatives of the Assad regime, a statement that was followed by meetings with the Russian and Iranian foreign ministers in Munich.  It doesn’t seem that the National Coalition is much of a coalition and it is unclear who exactly al Khatib is leading since other elements of the opposition quickly and vehemently denied their willingness for such talks to the government.  These developments come as the pace of people streaming out of Syria has picked up considerably.  There are now 374,000 refugees in Jordan, 180,000 have fled to Lebanon, about 185,000 Syrians in Turkey, 90,000 are displaced in Iraq, and 16,000 in Egypt—in other words, about four percent of Syria’s population.  Let’s not forget that somewhere in the neighborhood of 70,000 Syrians have lost their lives in the civil war.  Expect the numbers of refugees and deaths to climb. Read more »

Obsessive Are the Peacemakers

by Steven A. Cook Monday, February 11, 2013
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry addresses the press (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry addresses the press (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters).

Lost in all the reporting and blogging about President Obama’s planned March visit to Israel were the first phone calls his new Secretary of State, John Kerry, made even before entering office.  Even before figuring out how to use his new email, learning the way to the cafeteria, and filling out “Emergency Contact” forms, Secretary Kerry called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli President Shimon Peres and president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.  Perhaps America’s new chief diplomat was merely extending a courtesy to important Middle East allies or maybe he was giving them a heads-up that the White House was going to announce the president’s visit to Israel and the West Bank or perchance Secretary Kerry wants to have a go at making peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Banking on the Nile, Dialogue in Bahrain, and Obama in Israel

by Steven A. Cook Friday, February 8, 2013
Pigeons fly during a dust storm in Kuwait City (Stephanie McGehee/Courtesy Reuters). Pigeons fly during a dust storm in Kuwait City (Stephanie McGehee/Courtesy Reuters).

Mohamed A. El-Erian presents seven compelling reasons that Egypt’s leadership needs to adopt new, more cooperative approaches to solving the increasingly dire economic crisis on the banks of the Nile. Read more »

Is Egypt Too Big To Fail?

by Steven A. Cook Thursday, February 7, 2013
A man stands outside an exchange bureau in Cairo December 30, 2012 (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters). A man stands outside an exchange bureau in Cairo December 30, 2012 (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters).

Egypt’s official Middle East News Agency reported on Tuesday that the country’s foreign reserves have dropped to $13.6 billion, a little more than a billion dollars below the Central Bank’s “critical minimum” of foreign reserves.  Egypt now has barely enough money to cover imports such as energy and food through April.  Given the dire state of Egyptian finances—a development that many have predicted for the better part of the last two years—observers have been asking, “what is the Muslim Brotherhood’s economic strategy?”  Members of the organization and its Freedom and Justice Party respond with a copy of their al Nahda (Renaissance) agenda, but it does not help.  The centerpiece of the Brothers’ program for Egypt’s rebirth is a confused document combining tropes to economic justice while expressing fealty to the private market.  Anyway, it is a long-term plan that does not address the current foreign reserves crisis.  From the outside, it seems that the Brotherhood’s short-term strategy to deal with the country’s economic ills  is fairly straight-forward:  “Egypt is too big to fail and the international community owes us,” which are actually two sides of the same coin.  This is entirely accurate, but as with everything in Egypt, things are always more complicated. Read more »

Turkey: Davutoglu’s Pebbles

by Steven A. Cook Monday, February 4, 2013
An Israeli air force pilot poses near a F15-E fighter jet at the Tel Nof air base in central Israel (Baz Ratner/Courtesy Reuters). An Israeli air force pilot poses near a F15-E fighter jet at the Tel Nof air base in central Israel (Baz Ratner/Courtesy Reuters).

A few years ago, a Turkish contact in a position to know regaled me with stories about the inner workings of the ruling Justice and Development Party—who was up and who was down, the personality differences, and who was positioning himself to be the next prime minister (this was at a time when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s health was thought to be failing).  Most of this stuff was harmless gossip not to be taken seriously.  When we veered into more substantive matters of mutual interest, Turkey-Israel relations came up.  My interlocutor indicated that Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was the driving force behind the continued tension between Ankara and Jerusalem and that there was a growing awareness that while downgrading Turkey-Israel ties had been appropriate, a policy bordering on outright hostility was not benefiting Turkey even if its grievances had not been addressed. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Terrorism in Turkey, Egypt’s Re-Revolution, and Syria’s Clerics

by Steven A. Cook Friday, February 1, 2013
A general view of Tahrir Square in Cairo, February 1, 2013. (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters). A general view of Tahrir Square in Cairo, February 1, 2013. (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters).

The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) offers a profile of the terrorist group Dev Sol allegedly responsible for the suicide bombing near the U.S. embassy in Ankara. Read more »