Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

Why is Sami Enan Running for President?

by Steven A. Cook Monday, February 24, 2014
Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi (R), former head of Egypt's ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), with his former Chief of Staff Sami Enan (Mohamed Abd El-Ghany/Courtesy Reuters).

On February 17, Lieutenant-General Sami Enan, Egypt’s former armed forces chief-of-staff, announced that he would be running for president. One can be forgiven for asking: Why?  Enan’s candidacy seems impractical and impracticable. Based on what is known publicly, which actually is not very much, it is widely assumed that Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will be the military’s candidate.  It seems hard to imagine that if al-Sisi runs, he would have much trouble winning.  Despite the crude propaganda in the form of al-Sisi sweets, sandwiches, pajamas, posters, t-shirts, and odes to the man, there are many Egyptians who seem inclined—at this moment—to want the Field Marshal’s firm hand.  Enan, whose sterling reputation was tarnished during the 18 months he was the second-in-command of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, does not have the kind of broad appeal of al-Sisi.  So what is going on?  Why does Sami Enan want to be the president?  As with everything in Egypt, Enan’s candidacy may (or may not) be a bit more complicated than a man with an ambition to lead a great country back from the brink. Read more »

Egypt and The Exigencies of Self Preservation

by Steven A. Cook Monday, February 10, 2014
Riot police officers sit behind barbed wire in front of the presidential palace in Cairo (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters).

Last week, a knowledgeable and respected DC-based Egypt expert commented that Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al Sisi is “just a cog in the machine.”  It is not at all clear what exactly this means.  If there is a machine, who is behind it?  And if it is not al Sisi, who is it? The “cog in the machine” explanation of Egyptian politics is not new, it has just become more pronounced over the last three years.  It ranks high with other myths of Egyptian politics, notably the “evil genius” view of senior military commanders who allegedly pull levers and push buttons in a masterful subterfuge that produces only the outcomes that serve the military’s interests.  Perhaps al Sisi is a cog in the military’s machine, but it seems that Egyptian politics are more prosaic. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Sudanese Refugees in Jordan, Egyptian Insults, and Living Without Sabra Hummus

by Steven A. Cook Friday, February 7, 2014
A Palestinian vendor reads a newspaper with the death of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on the front page in Jerusalem's Old City (Amir Cohen/Courtesy Reuters).

IRIN reports on Jordan’s neglected refugees.

Mada Masr presents “Lexicon of a revolution’s insults,” which looks at new terms and labels invented after the Egyptian uprising of January 25. Read more »

Settlement Impossible

by Steven A. Cook Monday, February 3, 2014
Actress Scarlett Johansson poses at a film premiere (Mario Anzuoni/Courtesy Reuters).

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the never-ending peace process are back.  Not that they ever went away, but the conflict has gotten far more newsprint and bandwidth in the last week or so than it has over the last six months. On Sunday, the New York Times ran three pieces in its “Sunday Review” section that touched on the conflict.  Essays by Hirsh Goodman and Omar Barghouti dealt specifically with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign—an issue bound up in politics and fraught with emotions that is linked to the efficacy of non-violent protest, the fight against South African apartheid in the 1980s, and the long effort to deny the Jewish connection to the territory that is now Israel and the West Bank. Read more »