Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

Closing the Channels of the Military’s Economic Influence in Turkey

by Steven A. Cook Thursday, April 24, 2014
Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (2nd R) is flanked by Ground Forces Commander and acting Chief of Staff General Necdet Ozel (C), Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz (R) and top military officials (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters). Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (2nd R) is flanked by Ground Forces Commander and acting Chief of Staff General Necdet Ozel (C), Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz (R) and top military officials (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here as part of the Middle East Institute’s Middle East-Asia Project on civilianizing the state. 

Since the patterns of civil-military relations in Turkey began to change a decade ago, analysts have focused on the modalities and the durability of civilian control of the armed forces, the consequences of the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer cases on the cohesion of the armed forces, and how the transformation of the officer corps’ historic relationship with the political system has affected the capabilities of the armed forces. Observers have given significantly less attention to the military’s role in the economy. Since the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923, the military has deployed its power in this area through indirect means. First, during relatively brief periods of military rule, the officers influenced economic policy without dictating the details of policymaking. Second, the military’s pension fund invests its members’ funds in the economy. Finally, until the mid-1980s, the senior command exercised control over the military procurement process through various military foundations. Over time, however, the military’s ability to shape economic policies has changed and the officers’ role in the economy has become normalized. Read more »

Arab Spring Reality Check

by Steven A. Cook Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Protesters from Tunisia's marginalised rural heartlands hold a hunger strike as they prepare to spend their second night outside the Prime Minister's office in Tunis January 24, 2011 (Zohra Bensemra/Courtesy Reuters). Protesters from Tunisia's marginalised rural heartlands hold a hunger strike as they prepare to spend their second night outside the Prime Minister's office in Tunis January 24, 2011 (Zohra Bensemra/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on Muftah on Tuesday, April 22, 2014. 

It has been more than three years since the uprisings in the Arab world began.  The civil war in Syria, the persistent conflict between rebel militias and the government in Libya, the return of authoritarianism in Egypt, and the ongoing bloody crackdown in Bahrain all make for considerable hand-wringing among regional observers—to say nothing of Middle Easterners themselves, who once hoped for a better future. Read more »

Turkey: “What Next?”

by Steven A. Cook Monday, April 21, 2014
Sun sets behind the 16th century Ottoman era Blue Mosque in the old city of Istanbul (Fatih Saribas/Courtesy Reuters). Sun sets behind the 16th century Ottoman era Blue Mosque in the old city of Istanbul (Fatih Saribas/Courtesy Reuters).

“What next?”  That is the question that virtually everyone in Turkey is asking and it has Turks on edge. It has become shorthand for a series of other questions: Will Prime Minister Erdogan declare his presidential candidacy? Probably…maybe…,but you never know. Will President Gul oppose him? Unclear. Can Erdogan remain prime minister?  Yes, but he seems to want to be president. Would Gul be willing to be prime minister if Erdogan becomes president? He says he won’t play Medvedev to Erdogan’s Putin, but that may just be a tactic.  If not Gul, then who would assume the prime ministry? Perhaps deputy prime minister Ali Babacan, but whoever it is—besides Gul—it will certainly be someone Erdogan can control or intimidate.  Can Erdogan be marginalized in the officially apolitical presidency? The prime minister is the sun around which Turkish politics revolves; he does not do “marginalized.” Read more »

Weekend Reading: Turkey’s Intelligence State, Egypt’s Subsidies, and Syria’s European Jihadis

by Steven A. Cook Friday, April 18, 2014
Lebanese Christian priests distribute painted eggs in celebration of Easter after an Easter service at St. George church in central Beirut (Jamal Saidi/Courtesy Reuters). Lebanese Christian priests distribute painted eggs in celebration of Easter after an Easter service at St. George church in central Beirut (Jamal Saidi/Courtesy Reuters).

Fehim Tastekin wonders if Turkey is reverting to an intelligence state.

Mohamed Gad, writing for Mada Masr, asks if current Egyptian Finance Minister Hany Qadry will actually reform Egypt’s subsidies. Read more »

Powering the Way to a Darker Tomorrow: Coal Cannot Solve Egypt’s Energy Crisis

by Guest Blogger for Steven A. Cook Monday, April 14, 2014
Mostafa Khaled, 20, studies by candlelight for his early morning exams during a power cut in Toukh, El-Kalubia governorate, northeast of Cairo (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). Mostafa Khaled, 20, studies by candlelight for his early morning exams during a power cut in Toukh, El-Kalubia governorate, northeast of Cairo (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

I am pleased to cross post the following article with my friends at The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.  Allison McManus’ timely post on the problems in Egypt’s energy sector and coal is an excellent follow-up to my recent Contingency Planning Memorandum on the potential for a solvency crisis in that country.  I hope readers find it interesting and useful. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Boutef Again, Bringing Democracy Back to Turkey, and Hep-C in Egypt

by Steven A. Cook Friday, April 11, 2014
Members of a local dance troupe perform during a campaign rally for current Algerian President and candidate in the forthcoming presidential election, Abdelaziz Bouteflik, in Ain Ouassara southwest of Algiers April 10, 2014 (Louafi Larbi/Courtesy Reuters). Members of a local dance troupe perform during a campaign rally for current Algerian President and candidate in the forthcoming presidential election, Abdelaziz Bouteflik, in Ain Ouassara southwest of Algiers April 10, 2014 (Louafi Larbi/Courtesy Reuters).

Alexis Artaud de La Ferrière examines how Algeria’s elections will influence regional politics, especially those in Tunisia.

The Turkish citizen journalism group “140journos” is trying to use technology to bring democracy back to Turkey, writes Burcu Baykurt for Jadaliyya. Read more »

Be Afraid, Very Afraid: Egypt’s Economic Nightmare

by Steven A. Cook Thursday, April 10, 2014
A man talks on his mobile phone as he walks past an exchange bureau advertisement showing images of the U.S dollar (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). A man talks on his mobile phone as he walks past an exchange bureau advertisement showing images of the U.S dollar (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

It would not be an overstatement to say that over the last decade Egypt has become a slow-rolling train wreck.  The fact that it has picked up steam in the last three years should be even less of a surprise.  Egypt analysts, policymakers, journalists, and legislators have become inured to the country’s increasingly violent politics, authoritarianism, and economic dysfunction. The violence that is now spreading out from the Sinai Peninsula and the force that the state has used to confront it is not likely to bring about a collapse of the Egyptian state, but the economy could. Read more »

Turkey: Orientalists’ Delight

by Steven A. Cook Monday, April 7, 2014
The sun sets over the Ottoman-era Suleymaniye mosque in Istanbul January 8, 2014 (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters). The sun sets over the Ottoman-era Suleymaniye mosque in Istanbul January 8, 2014 (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters).

There has been a lot of commentary and speculation about what is likely to happen in Turkey now that the country is past the March 30 municipal elections.  The Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) resounding tally—44 percent of voters chose the party’s candidates—has renewed questions whether Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will seek the presidency, about the disposition of the armed forces in Turkish society, and concerning the future of the Gulen movement.  There are also significant accusations of electoral fraud, especially in Ankara.  I have thoughts on all of these issues, but for the moment I will leave them to others.  All the recent attention lavished on Turkey as a result of last summer’s Gezi Park protests, the corruption scandal that broke last December, and now the municipal elections has me ruminating on how to write about the country. This may seem like excessive navel gazing to some, but the way in which analysts and journalists write about other countries (and their own) can have powerful political effects.  Ideas and images can become rooted and shape the way people view a given government or society.  The image of the “Terrible Turk,” for example, is a remnant of the late 15th century that lives on. Read more »

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 »