Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

Weekend Reading: The “New” Libya, International Indecision on Syria, and the Brotherhood’s New Strategy

by Steven A. Cook Friday, September 27, 2013
A man walks past graffiti depicting ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi (R) and the Deputy Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood Khairat Al-Shater in downtown Cairo, September 24, 2013 (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

Abdel Bari Atwan looks at the devastating reality of the “new” Libya.

Kristian Coates Ulrichsen says that Syria is paying the price of international indecision. Read more »

The Object of India’s Ire

by Steven A. Cook Thursday, September 26, 2013
The arches at Ferguson College. Pune, India.

Pune, India–My last two posts from India looked at the mistrust with which many Indians view the United States and the way in which the Palestine issue plays out here.  There is no consensus on these issues, though.  My meetings in Mumbai and Pune over the last few days have made it abundantly clear that along with those who are wary of American foreign policy, there are strong advocates of close U.S.-India ties.  In addition, there are Indians who see the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in terms far different from my interlocutors in Lucknow and Chennai.  As one academic specialist in international relations told me today, “India is Israel’s only true friend in Asia.”  Yet there seems to be one country that has brought Indians across the country’s boisterous political spectrum together in shared enmity.  If you guessed Pakistan, you would be correct, but that Indians generally despise Pakistan is a given—a lay-up for anyone who has ever glanced at a newspaper every now and again.  Besides Pakistan, which is widely regarded as a rogue, terrorist state here, Indians have expressed a deep and abiding dislike for Saudi Arabia. Read more »

Palestine in India

by Steven A. Cook Monday, September 23, 2013
An example of Rangoli--Indian folk art that is intended as a welcoming of Hindu gods.

Mumbai, India—A few nights ago, I had the opportunity to speak about the Middle East at an interfaith forum in Chennai.  India is not without its sectarian problems and periodic spasms of terrible religion-inspired violence, but the country’s well-deserved reputation for spirituality seems to take the edge off on a daily basis.  For that reason, I was looking forward to the interfaith dialogue.  This is a country of six major religions, and though 80 percent are Hindus, departments of Religious Studies at Indian universities teach about Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Jainism, Sikhism, and Buddhism.  That’s not all, of course.  Another almost 7 million people adhere to a variety of other religions.  The interfaith forum provided an opportunity for me to see how the Indians make it all work.  I was imagining a lot of Namaste (a hard to translate expression of reverence and respect). The rangoli—a symbolic offering to Hindu gods—just outside the building where the dialogue was taking place only heightened my expectations about how the evening would unfold. The event started off well-enough with the director of the center giving a “Moon is in the 7th House—all religions teach love—peace is our destiny” oration that in a previous era inspired a generation of hippies. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Regional Inaction in Syria, Syria’s Kurds, and the Egyptian Military

by Steven A. Cook Saturday, September 21, 2013
An antiques seller waits by a lantern for customers in his shop during a blackout in Sanaa, September 19, 2013 (Mohamed al-Sayaghi/Courtesy Reuters).

Naseem Tarawnah raises the question, why have Arab states not intervened in Syria?

Robert Olson reminds the world of “the other war” in Syria. Read more »

Egypt Sneezes, Libya Catches Cold

by Guest Blogger for Steven A. Cook Friday, September 20, 2013
People hold a vigil for supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood, and in protest of the recent violence in Egypt, in front of the headquarters of the Egyptian consulate, in Benghazi (Esam Omran al-Fetori/Courtesy Reuters).

LONDON – In 2011, shortly after Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down as Egypt’s president, protests erupted in eastern Libya. A few months later Muammar al-Qaddafi’s own decades-long rule came to an end. Although each country took a different path toward revolution, developments in Cairo influenced events in Tripoli. Similarly, the ripple effects from Egypt’s summer of upheaval are already rumbling through Libya, with secularists feeling their oats and Islamists feeling pinched. At the very least, the diverse and fractious armed groups that operate throughout Libya are gripping their guns a bit more tightly. Read more »

India: New Delhi and Lucknow So Far

by Steven A. Cook Thursday, September 19, 2013
The India Gate, a memorial to the Indians who died during WWI. New Delhi.

Chennai, India—It’s been a fascinating six days on the ground in India.  Everything everyone has told me about the country—its beauty, the friendly people, its dynamism, the great food—is true.  Of course, I am no India expert, so my impressions are superficial, at best.  I’ll be in India another twelve days.  From Chennai (aka Madras until the 1990s), I will travel to Mumbai, from there to Pune, and then my final stop in Hyderabad.  I’ve spent the better part of the last week in New Delhi and Lucknow, the capital of the northern state, Uttar Pradesh. Read more »

The False Hope of International Judicial Intervention in Syria

by Guest Blogger for Steven A. Cook Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks during an interview with a Russian newspaper in Damascus (Handout/Courtesy Reuters).

The post below was written by my friend and colleague, Patrick Costello. 

As the civil war in Syria grinds on, the President’s speech last week has shifted the debate from Congress back to the international community as they consider the framework agreement between the United States and Russia that would place Syria’s chemical weapons under international control, and eventually destroy them. Commentators and policymakers alike have also suggested a variety of international legal remedies to the atrocity crimes committed in Syria, including the use of chemical weapons, most notably involving the International Criminal Court (ICC). In fact, calls for ICC action on Syria have been made since 2011, and, most recently, Syria’s top rebel commander called for the ICC to investigate. While such calls are understandable given the merits of the case, involving the ICC must not replace military and diplomatic efforts. Moreover, pursuing ICC action is beset with obstacles, in terms of both political difficulties at the United Nations Security Council and mechanical complications at the ICC itself. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Leadership in the Middle East, Syria’s Refugees, and Turkish Democracy

by Steven A. Cook Friday, September 13, 2013
Free Syrian Army fighters run to take cover in a village in Aleppo's countryside September 12, 2013 (Hamid Khatib/Courtesy Reuters).

Daniel Lakin discusses how the Arab Spring has all but prevented any clear leader from emerging in the Middle East.

Gershom Gorenberg argues that the United States can help in Syria’s crisis by supplying money and visas to refugees. Read more »

Return to the Bad Old Days

by Steven A. Cook Thursday, September 12, 2013
A policeman stands guard as investigators examine the site of a bomb attack and assassination attempt near the house of Egypt's Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim in the Nasr City district of Cairo September 5, 2013 (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on on Thursday, September 12, 2013. 

In October 1990, extremists affiliated with the terrorist organization Egyptian Islamic Jihad raked Abdel Halim Moussa’s motorcade with gunfire. Moussa, the newly-appointed interior minister, survived, but the speaker of Egypt’s lower house of parliament, Rifaat el Mahgoub, was not as lucky. Islamic Jihad, the group responsible for President Anwar Sadat’s assassination in 1981, would try to kill Moussa three more times in as many years. Had it not been for the Algerian Civil War, which claimed approximately 100,000 lives between 1992 and 1998, more attention would likely have been paid to the insurrection that raged in Egypt during the same period. Between the first attempt on Moussa’s life and the infamous Luxor massacre seven years later, roughly 1,600 people were killed in a conflict between the Egyptian state and Islamist extremists — 1,100 in 1993 alone. So when Egypt’s current interior minister, Mohammed Ibrahim, survived a car bombing in the Nasr City area of Greater Cairo last week, there was a palpable sense of dread among those with even a passing familiarity with recent Egyptian history. Are the 1990s back in Egypt? It is a distinct possibility. Read more »