Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

Holiday Reading

by Steven A. Cook Friday, December 20, 2013
A woman looks at a Christmas decoration at a shop ahead of Orthodox Christmas celebrations in Cairo (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters). A woman looks at a Christmas decoration at a shop ahead of Orthodox Christmas celebrations in Cairo (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters).

There will not be much in the way of blogging while I am away with my family.  From the Potomac to the Euphrates will return when I return.  In the meantime, I’ve put together a brief list of what “Team Cook” is reading over the holidays:

Steven (Team Cook, Captain) is reading “Paris 1919” by Margaret MacMillan. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Anglo-Egyptian Books, Polio in Syria, and “Prefix” Democracy

by Steven A. Cook Friday, December 13, 2013
Muslim girls read verses from the Koran at al-Amin mosque, in downtown Beirut (Jamal Saidi/Courtesy Reuters). Muslim girls read verses from the Koran at al-Amin mosque, in downtown Beirut (Jamal Saidi/Courtesy Reuters).

AUC Librarian Mark Muehlhaeusler, who launched a new blog called Cairo Booklore, takes a look at Egyptian-Anglophone literature.

Hernan del Valle discusses how political deadlock between rebel and government forces is failing to stop lethal Polio outbreaks in Syria. Read more »

Egypt: Mockery

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Riot police and army personnel take their positions during clashes with members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi around the area of Rabaa al Adawiya square on August 14, 2013 (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters). Riot police and army personnel take their positions during clashes with members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi around the area of Rabaa al Adawiya square on August 14, 2013 (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters).

There is no shortage of advice in the United States about how the Obama administration should approach Egypt.  The familiar ring of policy prescriptions bouncing around the Beltway and beyond is either a testament to a lack of creativity or limited leverage or the return of some version of the political order that prevailed under Mubarak. Take, for example, Saturday’s lead editorial in the Washington Post called, “The U.S. Must Confront the Egyptian Military’s Push for Authoritarian Rule.”  It could have been written in 2007 after Hosni Mubarak pushed through a series of constitutional reforms.  In fact, “Constitutional Autocracy” from March 2007 must have been a template of sorts for Saturday’s piece.  Don’t get me wrong, the editorial board’s criticism of Egypt’s draft constitution is spot on, but its policy prescriptions seem a bit tattered.  According to the folks over on 15th Street, now that it is clear that Egypt is not on the road to democracy (as if that has not been fairly obvious for some time) the Obama administration should “suspend aid and cooperation with the regime until it frees political prisoners and adopts a genuine democratic path.” Read more »

Weekend Reading: America’s Quagmire?, an Egyptian Thanksgiving, and Foreign Workers No Longer in Saudi

by Steven A. Cook Friday, December 6, 2013
Yemeni workers, deported from Saudi Arabia, wait to leave a bus on which they were deported, at the Saudi al-Tewal border outpost with Yemen (Khaled Abdullah/Courtesy Reuters). Yemeni workers, deported from Saudi Arabia, wait to leave a bus on which they were deported, at the Saudi al-Tewal border outpost with Yemen (Khaled Abdullah/Courtesy Reuters).

Ammar Abdulhamid looks at the consequences of U.S. inaction in Syria and elsewhere.

Maged Atiya remembers his first Thanksgiving. Read more »

Why Suez Still Matters

by Steven A. Cook Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) passes under the Friendship Bridge during a transit of the Suez Canal (Handout/Courtesy Reuters). Aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) passes under the Friendship Bridge during a transit of the Suez Canal (Handout/Courtesy Reuters).

The article below was originally published here on ForeignAffairs.com on Wednesday, December 4, 2013.

The drive from Rafah, the Egyptian town that borders the Gaza Strip, down to Ismailiyya, a port on the Suez Canal, is tedious. Although the route skirts al-Arish, the capital of the northern Sinai governorate, it passes an otherwise featureless landscape for 150 miles. Toward the end of the trip, if the timing is just right, out of nowhere an oil tanker or container ship might suddenly disrupt the horizon as it appears to glide through the Egyptian desert. Read more »

Arik Einstein: Poster Child, Culture God

by Guest Blogger for Steven A. Cook Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) lays a rose on the coffin of Israeli singer Arik Einstein, depicted in the placard, during a memorial ceremony before his funeral at Rabin square in Tel Aviv (Nir Elias/Courtesy Reuters). Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) lays a rose on the coffin of Israeli singer Arik Einstein, depicted in the placard, during a memorial ceremony before his funeral at Rabin square in Tel Aviv (Nir Elias/Courtesy Reuters).

My cousin, Ari Lieberman, is a keen observer of arts and culture in Israel.  With the passing of Arik Einstein last week, I thought readers would be interested in Ari’s take on the life and work of this musical icon.

Here’s an Einstein you may not have heard of: Arik Einstein, who died last week in Tel Aviv, aged seventy-four. And yet in Israel he was practically a god. For several days following the sad news last Tuesday, there was nothing on the radio except Arik Einstein songs, punctuated by tearful announcements: Israel’s greatest singer was no more. On Wednesday, prior to the funeral, his body lay in state in Kikar Rabin, Tel Aviv’s main square, where thousands crowded to pay their last respects. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself descended with his entourage of thick-necked bodyguards to eulogize the music legend, calling Einstein the singer of “eretz Israel hayafa, ha’amitit, hamezukeket” (the beautiful, the true, the Pure Land of Israel). And President Shimon Peres issued a statement, saying that Arik Einstein’s songs were “the soundtrack of an entire nation. His voice caressed the people and embraced the land. He was loved by older and newer generations alike….His melodies will fill the land. Even with his passing, his songs will continue to play a tune of life and hope.” Read more »

Egypt: Disorganization

by Steven A. Cook Monday, December 2, 2013
A soldier sits on guard atop an armoured personnel carrier (APC) at the main gate of the Cairo University around Al Nahda in Cairo (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters). A soldier sits on guard atop an armoured personnel carrier (APC) at the main gate of the Cairo University around Al Nahda in Cairo (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters).

For the first time since Mohammed Morsi’s overthrow five months ago, street protests erupted in Egypt last week that were not specifically the work of the Muslim Brotherhood aimed at restoring the deposed leader to the presidency.  The protagonists this time were another group of familiar faces.  The different groups that are commonly lumped together as “revolutionaries” or “youth” and who are associated most closely with the January 25 uprising have returned to the streets.  This time the object of their anger is not Mubarak, nor Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi’s SCAF, nor Morsi, but rather Major General Abdel Fatah al Sisi and Egypt’s interim government.  This is quite a twist given the amount of press attention the cult of al Sisi has received, but there have always been activists and analysts in Egypt who understood the false promise of the military.  Anecdotally, the Egyptian public seems to support solidly the Major General and the military-backed interim government—despite what recent polling might suggest—but Egyptian officials have given their opponents a political opportunity.  Will the revolutionaries, youth, liberals, socialist revolutionaries, and whoever else take it and develop a coherent vision for the future? Hope springs eternal, as they say, but probably not. Read more »