Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

Weekend Reading: Israeli Identity, Sheikh of the Sinai, and Turkey’s Tumult

by Steven A. Cook Friday, May 31, 2013
A Turkish riot policeman uses tear gas as a demonstrator holds a banner which reads, "Chemical Tayyip", referring to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, during a protest against the destruction of trees in a park brought about by a pedestrian project, in Taksim Square in central Istanbul May 31, 2013 (Osman Orsal/Courtesy Reuters). A Turkish riot policeman uses tear gas as a demonstrator holds a banner which reads, "Chemical Tayyip", referring to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, during a protest against the destruction of trees in a park brought about by a pedestrian project, in Taksim Square in central Istanbul May 31, 2013 (Osman Orsal/Courtesy Reuters).

J.J. Goldberg, writing on his blog at The Forward, discusses the Israeli religious ministry’s new “Jewish Identity Administration.”

Moustafa Amara interviews Sinai tribal council head Sheikh Ali Freij about the fragile situation in the peninsula. Read more »

Masters of Disaster

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, May 28, 2013
The 4,500-year-old Pharaonic monuments, the Sphinx and the pyramids, are silhouetted in the sunset on the last day of 2005 year December 31, 2005 (Aladin Abdel Naby/Courtesy Reuters). The 4,500-year-old Pharaonic monuments, the Sphinx and the pyramids, are silhouetted in the sunset on the last day of 2005 year December 31, 2005 (Aladin Abdel Naby/Courtesy Reuters).

A good idea never seems to go unpunished, especially inside the Beltway. My post last Thursday, “What the United States Can Do for Egypt Right Now” ruffled a few feathers. This seems rather odd because I was calling for the United States to offer Egyptians humanitarian assistance.  This being Washington, and the topic being the Middle East, specifically Egypt, there is always something to contest, however. Read more »

Weekend Reading: “Egypt’s Dystopia,” Takbir, and Revolutionary Art

by Steven A. Cook Friday, May 24, 2013
A man takes a picture of a mural of Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi and with Arabic words that reads "Leave" on the wall of the presidential palace in Cairo (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). A man takes a picture of a mural of Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi and with Arabic words that reads "Leave" on the wall of the presidential palace in Cairo (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

Robert Johnson of Business Insider discusses Cairo’s deteriorating conditions, with a slideshow of pictures and captions highlighting the city’s biggest problems under Muslim Brotherhood rule. Read more »

What the United States Can Do for Egypt Right Now

by Steven A. Cook Thursday, May 23, 2013
A worker sits amongst bags of Flour at a warehouse in a grain market in Cairo (Nasser Nuri/Courtesy Reuters). A worker sits amongst bags of Flour at a warehouse in a grain market in Cairo (Nasser Nuri/Courtesy Reuters).

“How can the United States help Egypt?” is a common question heard around the Beltway these days.  There are lots of good ideas, but too often they do not address the country’s immediate and most pressing needs.  It should be clear  that Washington is not going to fix Egypt’s political problems no matter how many times people say, “we need to get Egypt right.”  That complex and difficult task is up to the Egyptians—though there are a few discrete policies that Washington can pursue that might be helpful.  All that said, here are four initiatives the United States can undertake that can make a difference in Egypt over the next 3 to 6 to 12 months: Read more »

Egypt: From Tehran With Love

by Steven A. Cook Monday, May 20, 2013
Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi (R) greets Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as Turkish President Abdullah Gul look on before meeting at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit in Cairo February 6, 2013 (Handout/Courtesy Reuters). Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi (R) greets Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as Turkish President Abdullah Gul look on before meeting at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit in Cairo February 6, 2013 (Handout/Courtesy Reuters).

As Iran loses ground in Syria, Lebanon, and the Gaza Strip, expect Tehran to try to shore up its ability to influence the Middle East in the most unlikely of places:  Egypt.

Over the last few years there have been numerous signs that Cairo and Tehran were making tentative steps toward changing their previously rather frosty relations, including the transit of Iranian warships through the Suez Canal, open discussion among decision-makers in both countries about normalizing ties, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s August 2012 visit to Iran for a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement, and his Iranian counterpart’s reciprocal visit to Cairo this past February for the summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.  In addition, the current cause célèbre between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis of the al Nour party concerns whether to allow Iranian tourists to visit Egypt.  The Brothers are for it, while the Salafis, fearing Shi’a proselytizing, are vehemently opposed. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Lebanon and Iran in Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and Rock Like an Egyptian

by Steven A. Cook Friday, May 17, 2013
A man reads El-Watan newspaper at Tahrir square in Cairo, May 12, 2013 (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters). A man reads El-Watan newspaper at Tahrir square in Cairo, May 12, 2013 (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters).

Thanassis Cambanis claims that Lebanon’s Hizballah and the clerical regime in Iran are now fully vested factions in Syria’s civil war.

Hicham Mourad discusses the uneasy relationship between Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and the leaders in Saudi Arabia. Read more »

Egypt, Turkey, and Tunisia Are All Slowly Islamizing

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, May 14, 2013
A supporter of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood holds up a Koran during Friday prayers during a rally in Cairo December 14, 2012 (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). A supporter of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood holds up a Koran during Friday prayers during a rally in Cairo December 14, 2012 (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published on The Atlantic on Monday, May 12, 2013.

Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil announced a cabinet reshuffle recently that included a number of new ministers from the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership. This development seems to have confirmed the worst fears of the Egyptian opposition, which has raised concern over the “Brotherhoodization” of the country. Although the increased representation of the Brothers in the government is cause for alarm for Egypt’s secularists and liberals, they should be concerned about a quieter, but more worrying process — the Islamization of Egypt’s political institutions — which is likely to be far more durable than the Brotherhood’s grip on political power. This phenomenon is not just underway in Egypt, however. Islamist power and the Islamization of society are what the the future holds for Egypt, Tunisia, post-Assad Syria, and likely other countries in the region.
Given that the noticeable evidence of the Islamization in the Middle East is few and far between, the idea that Islamization is the trajectory of the region might seem misplaced. Egypt’s Muslim Brothers and Tunisia’s Ennahda have not declared alcohol forbidden, forced women to don the hijab, or instituted hudud punishments (i.e., specific punishments for specific crimes set forth in the Qur’an or hadiths). Read more »

Turkey: Rescue Me

by Steven A. Cook Monday, May 13, 2013
A man checks an apartment on a damaged building at the site of a blast in the town of Reyhanli in Hatay province, near the Turkish-Syrian border, May 13, 2013 (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters). A man checks an apartment on a damaged building at the site of a blast in the town of Reyhanli in Hatay province, near the Turkish-Syrian border, May 13, 2013 (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters).

The Turkish government’s tepid response to the car bombings in Reyhanli last Friday should help bring to a merciful end the prevailing meme in Washington that Ankara is poised to lead the Middle East.  Rather than providing leadership and a source of stability in the region, Turkey is now a party to regional conflicts, especially the civil war in Syria.  It is true that Turkey did not necessarily seek the position that it now finds itself in, but the mismatch between its grand ambitions and Ankara’s capacity to provide order to the Middle East contributed mightily to its problems. Despite all the talk of models and rising to the level of U.S. traditional allies in Europe—code for the United Kingdom and France—over the last few years, Turkey, like a variety of other countries in the region, needs rescuing. Read more »

Mr. Erdogan Goes to Washington

by Steven A. Cook Wednesday, May 8, 2013
U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington (Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington (Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters).

In what the Turkish press is building up to be a “historic” trip, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will be visiting Washington next week.  Much has changed since he was last here in December 2009.  In particular, Turkey’s position in the region has, despite its strong economic performance and rising diplomatic stature, deteriorated markedly:   Iraq is teetering on the brink of another round of civil war; Iran’s nuclear program has proceeded apace; Turkey’s ally in Libya, Muammar Qaddafi is dead; and Bashar al Assad, in whom the prime minister invested so much time, has killed somewhere between 70 and 80 thousand of his own people and has made millions of others refugees.  The only recent geo-political bright spot has been Israel’s apology for the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident.  That is not saying much given that bilateral ties between Ankara and Jerusalem are likely to remain strained. Read more »