Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

Weekend Reading: Meeting Assad’s Biographer, Alawis Have No Religion, and Egypt’s War on Artists

by Steven A. Cook Friday, May 30, 2014
Supporters of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi celebrate at Tahrir square in Cairo May 28, 2014 (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters). Supporters of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi celebrate at Tahrir square in Cairo May 28, 2014 (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters).

When Martin Kramer met Patrick Seale.

Robin Yassin-Kassab’s primer on Syria’s Alawis.

Delegitimizing artists in Sisi’s Egypt.  (Hat tip to Arabist)

Egypt After The Election

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, May 27, 2014
A man walks near replicas of Giza Pyramid covered with banners of presidential candidate and former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo May 26, 2014 (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). A man walks near replicas of Giza Pyramid covered with banners of presidential candidate and former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo May 26, 2014 (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

Below is a CFR Expert Roundup piece on Egypt’s elections, with contributions from Issandr El Amrani, Charles W. Dunne, Michael Hanna, and me.  The original article can be found hereRead more »

(Memorial Day) Weekend Reading: Mubarak’s Mansions and To Boycott or Not To Boycott?

by Steven A. Cook Friday, May 23, 2014
Steven Cook wears t-shirts purchased in Cairo, Egypt in Spring 2011, Winter 2011, Summer 2012, and Spring 2014 (from left to right) reflecting the changes in Egyptian politics. Steven Cook wears t-shirts purchased in Cairo, Egypt in Spring 2011, Winter 2011, Summer 2012, and Spring 2014 (from left to right) reflecting the changes in Egyptian politics.

Hossam Bahgat writes about the recent verdicts against former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his sons, and how Egyptians unwittingly paid for their lavish lifestyles over the years.

Aliaa Hamed muses on why Egypt’s revolutionaries are boycotting the elections. Read more »

Egypt and the Gulf: When a Free Lunch Is Not Free

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Minister of Interior Sheikh Saif Bin Zayed Al Nahyan of United Arab Emirates (Youssef Boudlal/Courtesy Reuters). Minister of Interior Sheikh Saif Bin Zayed Al Nahyan of United Arab Emirates (Youssef Boudlal/Courtesy Reuters).

Last Friday, the online version of the Egyptian daily, Al Ahram, reported that Egypt is slowing down its payments for commodities, especially food.   Apparently, because the country’s foreign currency reserves are currently about $17 billion—which means the Egyptians are coming close to the minimum amounts of reserves needed to cover imports for 3-4 months—the Central Bank has become “particularly cautious” about allocating these funds.  Upon hearing the news, one former IMF and Treasury Department official wrote to me: “So it begins…central bank has a delicate balancing act…withhold too long and it gets blamed, but it needs to slow the drain…often see this in advance of em [emerging market] crisis.” There has been some happy talk recently, most notably from IMF chief Christine LaGarde, about the state of Egypt’s finances, but it seems clear that the Egyptians are going to need additional assistance.  Their likely patrons will be the Saudis, Emiratis, and Kuwaitis who poured $12 billion in various forms into Egypt right after the July 3, 2013 coup and, in an implicit recognition that the Egyptian economy is in disastrous condition, the three Gulf states have committed an additional $8 billion.  The Gulfies may come to regret their investment in Egypt, but for now they remain unwavering in their support for Cairo.  It is true as some Emiratis have grumbled in private and stated publicly that they will not keep pouring money down a black hole, but for now at least  the assistance will continue to flow.  The funding from the Gulf is not just to keep the economy afloat but also to ensure that Egypt follows a particular political trajectory that does not pose a threat to the Saudis, Emiratis, and Kuwaitis or their common strategic interests. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Remembering Bassem Sabry

by Steven A. Cook Saturday, May 10, 2014
A man carries bread as he walks in front of al-Fatih mosque in Cairo (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). A man carries bread as he walks in front of al-Fatih mosque in Cairo (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

My friend, Bassem Sabry, died suddenly on April 29.  There have been many moving tributes to his memory over the last few weeks.  I do not have much to add other than the fact that Bassem was a light unto Egyptians and all his friends around the world. Read more »

Social Work, Violence, and Palestinian Nationalism

by Steven A. Cook Thursday, May 8, 2014
An Islamic Jihad militant stands guard during a rally marking the 25th anniversary of the movement's foundation in Gaza City  (Suhaib Salem/Courtesy Reuters). An Islamic Jihad militant stands guard during a rally marking the 25th anniversary of the movement's foundation in Gaza City (Suhaib Salem/Courtesy Reuters).

Is Islamic Jihad getting soft?  Most likely not, but last Sunday, Jodi Rudoren had an interesting piece in the New York Times about the group. For those not familiar with the details of Islamic Jihad (sometimes referred to as Palestinian Islamic Jihad), it was founded in the late 1970s by Palestinian students studying in Egypt, frustrated that, for all the rhetorical demands in the Arab world and beyond for the establishment of a Palestine state, no one was doing much about it.  As the group’s name implies, its focus was exclusively liberating Palestine—from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean—through violence. Read more »

How Personal Politics Drive Conflict in the Gulf

by Guest Blogger for Steven A. Cook Tuesday, May 6, 2014
Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (Louafi Larbi/Courtesy Reuters). Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (Louafi Larbi/Courtesy Reuters).

David Roberts, lecturer in the Defence Studies Department at King’s College London, based at the Joaan Bin Jassim Staff College in Qatar, offers expert insight into the recent tensions among the major GCC states.

“I love all the countries of the Gulf, and they all love me.” With this less than subtle statement, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the vocal Qatar-based Muslim Brotherhood scholar tried to do his part to repair regional relations in the Gulf that have badly frayed in recent weeks. Long-brewing discontent erupted in early March with the unprecedented withdrawal of the Saudi, Emirati, and Bahraini ambassadors from Qatar. Subsequent mediation from Kuwait’s Emir has led the protagonists to the cusp of a modus vivendi, and a vague document has been agreed upon. Read more »

Weekend Listening/Viewing/Reading: Satire in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia’s “Garden,” and Lebanese Relief Workers

by Steven A. Cook Friday, May 2, 2014
Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) employees count votes at an analysis centre in Baghdad May 2, 2014 (Thaier Al-Sudani/Courtesy Reuters). Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) employees count votes at an analysis centre in Baghdad May 2, 2014 (Thaier Al-Sudani/Courtesy Reuters).
Karl Sharro discusses Lebanese politics and the role of satire in political analysis of the Middle East on Karl Morand’s Middle East Week Podcast. Read more »