Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

Weekend Reading: No Way to Defeat Takfiris, Handicapping Turkey’s Elections, and Syria’s borders.

by Steven A. Cook Saturday, March 29, 2014
Supporters of Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan wave Turkish and AK Party (AKP) flags during an election rally in Istanbul March 23, 2014 (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters). Supporters of Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan wave Turkish and AK Party (AKP) flags during an election rally in Istanbul March 23, 2014 (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters).

Nader Bakkar says that harsh punishment, such as the recent wave of death sentences on Muslim Brotherhood members, is no way to combat radical takfiri ideology. Read more »

Man in the Middle

by Steven A. Cook Friday, March 28, 2014
Turkey's President Abdullah Gul (C) is applauded by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (R) and his ministers as he arrives to address the Turkish Parliament (Umit Bektas /Courtesy Reuters). Turkey's President Abdullah Gul (C) is applauded by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (R) and his ministers as he arrives to address the Turkish Parliament (Umit Bektas /Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on ForeignAffairs.com on Thursday, March 27, 2014. 

Many observers, both in Turkey and abroad, believe that this is Turkish President Abdullah Gul’s moment to shine. In recent months, Turkey’s democracy has careened wildly off its democratic path, as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has resorted to increasingly authoritarian measures — including a ban on access to Twitter and YouTube — to suppress what he believes is an existential threat posed by his onetime ally Fethullah Gulen, a charismatic Turkish cleric who has followers in positions of influence throughout the government. Erdogan seems intent on trying to excise Gulenists from Turkish society entirely. Erdogan’s paranoia has also moved the AKP toward becoming an authoritarian cult of personality. Read more »

Sisi 2014!

by Steven A. Cook Thursday, March 27, 2014
A supporter of Egypt's  General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi holds a poster with Sisi's image in Tahrir Square in Cairo (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters). A supporter of Egypt's General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi holds a poster with Sisi's image in Tahrir Square in Cairo (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on ForeignPolicy.com on Wednesday, March 26, 2014.

Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi hung up his military uniform today, launching a process that will inevitably end in his election as Egypt’s next president. Following a meeting of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), Sisi declared that he has retired from the army and would enter the political arena. “I humbly announce my intention to run for the presidency of the Arab Republic of Egypt,” he said in colloquial Arabic in a speech aired on state television. “I consider myself — as I have always been — a soldier dedicated to serve the nation, in any position ordered by the people.” Read more »

On Cynicism and Twitter in Turkey

by Steven A. Cook Monday, March 24, 2014
A Twitter logo on an iPhone display is pictured next to a Turkish flag in this photo illustration taken in Istanbul March 21, 2014 (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters). A Twitter logo on an iPhone display is pictured next to a Turkish flag in this photo illustration taken in Istanbul March 21, 2014 (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters).

“Twitter…schmitter,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is reported to have said a few hours before a Turkish court gave the government legal writ to ban the micro-blogging service partially.  With Ankara’s actions came a torrent of Tweets from Turkish Tweeps in defiance of the prohibition, as well as an avalanche of commentary on the revolutionary nature of social media. Yawn.  This just an extension of the “Twitter revolution” meme that was going around at the time the Zine al Abidine Ben Ali was dumped in Tunisia, which was just the next evolution of commentary that began (in the mainstream) with a January 2009 New York Times Magazine article about Egypt’s Facebook activists.  There has been some good work out there on social media and some excellent analyses of what is happening in Turkey of course, but something is amiss.  No one has offered a convincing account for Erdogan’s behavior.  Why does he want to “eradicate Twitter” and what is he seeking to achieve by antagonizing a large portion of Turkey’s almost 6.1 million Twitter users (out of an estimated population of 81 million)? Read more »

Weekend Reading: The Middle East and the Internet

by Steven A. Cook Friday, March 21, 2014
A man gestures during a gathering celebrating Newroz, which marks the arrival of spring and the new year, in Diyarbakir March 21, 2014 (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters). A man gestures during a gathering celebrating Newroz, which marks the arrival of spring and the new year, in Diyarbakir March 21, 2014 (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters).

See where your favorite Middle Eastern country ranks on Google’s Internet Transparency Report .

The World Bank reports that the Arab world lags behind in access to high-speed internet. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Islamic Sustainability, Cairo’s Traffic Goes Mobile, and Recycling in Qatar

by Steven A. Cook Friday, March 14, 2014
Anti-Morsi protesters hold up posters of Egypt's army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi during a protest supporting al-Sisi in front of the state television building in central Cairo (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters). Anti-Morsi protesters hold up posters of Egypt's army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi during a protest supporting al-Sisi in front of the state television building in central Cairo (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters).

Arwa Aburawa interviews Professor Al Jayoussi about Islamic notions of sustainability.

Tafline Laylin discusses an award-winning Egyptian traffic app that helps users avoid the legendary Cairo traffic. Read more »

Saudi, The MB, and The Politics of Terrorism

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, March 11, 2014
A supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, wearing a headband that reads "We all are Rabaa", takes part in a protest against the military and interior ministry (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). A supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, wearing a headband that reads "We all are Rabaa", takes part in a protest against the military and interior ministry (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

Last Friday, the Saudi government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, lumping the Brothers in with Jabhat al Nusra, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and al Qaeda.   The announcement was not terribly surprising.  Riyadh has proven to be Cairo’s staunchest patron since the July 3 coup d’état and both governments have led the effort to delegitimize the Brotherhood ever since.  This actually has much more to do with politics than it does with terrorism, which prompted me to tweet: Read more »

Ukraine’s Uprising: More Than an Economic Crisis

by Steven A. Cook Monday, March 3, 2014
An aerial view shows Independence Square during clashes between anti-government protesters and Interior Ministry members and riot police in central Kiev (Olga Yakimovich/Courtesy Reuters). An aerial view shows Independence Square during clashes between anti-government protesters and Interior Ministry members and riot police in central Kiev (Olga Yakimovich/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on Fortune.com on Friday, February 28, 2014.

Over the last three years, as uprisings and demonstrations have erupted around the world, journalists, pundits, and other analysts have wrongly drawn parallels between these events. When protests broke out in Istanbul last spring, some news outlets wondered whether Taksim Square was Turkey’s “Tahrir Square” — a reference to the now iconic traffic roundabout in central Cairo where Egyptian demonstrations brought an end to then president Hosni Mubarak’s rule in early 2011. Read more »