Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

Egypt’s Economy: Bringing The State Back In

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) meets with U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew at the presidential palace in Cairo (Hassan Ammar/Courtesy Reuters). Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) meets with U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew at the presidential palace in Cairo (Hassan Ammar/Courtesy Reuters).

Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew visited Cairo on Monday and no one seemed to notice or care. That’s probably because of the awful terrorist attack that took the lives of at least 31 Egyptian conscripts and reportedly two officers in the Sinai Peninsula over the weekend. Lew’s visit was not going to deal with any number of the hot topics on the U.S.-Egypt agenda—human rights, military and economic assistance, press freedoms, and the ongoing fight against extremism, anyway. “Economic statecraft,” it seems, is just not that sexy. Exciting or not, it is important, especially since the Obama administration seems to have come to the conclusion that the United States can be most constructive on Egypt through policies that focus on the economy. There is an assumption among many in the Beltway policy community that at least on economic issues and their solution, the United States and Egypt can agree. Working with other countries to aid their economic development is a good idea, of course, but I wonder whether, like so much of the conversation between Washington and Cairo, American and Egyptian officials have very different ideas about the right approach to Egypt’s economic problems. Don’t be surprised, then, if the economy becomes another point of friction, or if Egyptian decision makers just ignore Washington’s advice. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Reading History in Doha, Egypt Intervenes in Libya, and Nervous Gulfies

by Steven A. Cook Friday, October 24, 2014
Kuwait's Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Sabah al Khalid al Sabah presides over the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) meeting in Riyadh June 2, 2014 (Faisal Al Nasser/Courtesy Reuters). Kuwait's Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Sabah al Khalid al Sabah presides over the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) meeting in Riyadh June 2, 2014 (Faisal Al Nasser/Courtesy Reuters).

Explore the Qatar Digital Library, an archive featuring the cultural and historical heritage of the Gulf and the wider region.

Janet Basurto, writing for Egyptian Streets, explores the reasons behind Egypt’s intervention in Libya. Read more »

Weekend Reading: The Artful Arab Spring, Disillusionment in Sidi Bouzid, and Rethinking Fragmented States

by Steven A. Cook Friday, October 17, 2014
Artists, who [are] against the Egyptian army and government, work on graffiti representing Egypt's life along Mohamed Mahmoud Street near Tahrir Square in Cairo (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). Artists, who [are] against the Egyptian army and government, work on graffiti representing Egypt's life along Mohamed Mahmoud Street near Tahrir Square in Cairo (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

St. Lawrence University offers an interactive look at the Arab uprisings through the lens of graffiti art.

Michael Marcusa examines the revolutionary spirit of the youth of Sidi Bouzid three-and-a-half years after the Tunisian uprising. Read more »

Turkey Has Been Consistent, Just Not In Line With U.S.

by Steven A. Cook Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the 69th United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York (Lucas Jackson/Courtesy Reuters). Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the 69th United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York (Lucas Jackson/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on NYTimes.com on Tuesday, October 14, 2014.

Turkey could still commit itself to becoming a more active member of the anti-ISIS coalition, though that seems unlikely. Last Friday, Ankara agreed to train members of the Free Syrian Army, and is still considering whether it will allow American and allied forces to use the Incirlik air base in the fight against the militant group. However, the permission to use this sprawling airfield close to the Syrian border may not be the breakthrough that U.S. officials have touted, revealing a continuing gap between Washington’s security needs and Turkey’s political dilemmas. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Houthi Rebels, Orthodox Intelligence, and Combative Kurdish Women

by Steven A. Cook Friday, October 10, 2014
Kurdish Peshmerga female fighters take up positions during combat skills training before being deployed to fight Islamic State militants, at their military camp in Sulaimaniya, northern Iraq (Ahmed Jadallah/Courtesy Reuters). Kurdish Peshmerga female fighters take up positions during combat skills training before being deployed to fight Islamic State militants, at their military camp in Sulaimaniya, northern Iraq (Ahmed Jadallah/Courtesy Reuters).

Abdul-Ghani Al-Iryani finds that Yemen is becoming polarized between the Shia Houthi rebels and the Sunni Islah Islamist party.

J. J. Goldberg looks at the rising influence of the right in Israel’s security and intelligence agencies. Read more »

Fiddling While Kobani Burns

by Steven A. Cook Wednesday, October 8, 2014
Turkish soldiers watch over the Syrian town of Kobani as they take position near Mursitpinar border crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters). Turkish soldiers watch over the Syrian town of Kobani as they take position near Mursitpinar border crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on ForeignPolicy.com on Tuesday, October 7, 2014.

Last week, the Turkish Grand National Assembly voted to authorize the use of force in Syria and Iraq. Turkish legislators also voted to permit the deployment of foreign forces in Turkey for the purpose of fighting against the Islamic State (IS). The votes were heralded in the Turkish and U.S. media as proof that Ankara is a dependable ally in the ongoing battle against the Islamic State. So why are Turkish forces sitting idly along the border while jihadist militants advance toward the border? Read more »

Weekend Reading: Mapping the Middle East, What ISIS Is Not, and Egypt’s Total Information Awareness

by Steven A. Cook Friday, October 3, 2014
A Syrian Kurdish refugee boy smiles as he waits for transportation after crossing into Turkey (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters). A Syrian Kurdish refugee boy smiles as he waits for transportation after crossing into Turkey (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters).

In this interactive map, David McCandless charts the key players in the Middle East and the relationships between them.

Alireza Doostdar argues that ISIS is more a product of war and instability than Salafist ideology. Read more »

Hating Mubarak; Loving Sisi

by Steven A. Cook Monday, September 29, 2014
A supporter of Egypt's new President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi kisses his picture and dances as he leaves after taking his oath of office in front of the Supreme Constitutional Court in Cairo June 8, 2014 (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). A supporter of Egypt's new President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi kisses his picture and dances as he leaves after taking his oath of office in front of the Supreme Constitutional Court in Cairo June 8, 2014 (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

Over the last few years, Egypt has become an object lesson in how narrow interests, greed, and politics can quickly undo noble ideas and aspirations. The time since former President Hosni Mubarak’s departure has been a period of political cynicism, unprecedented violence, and economic dislocation. Yet for all the troubles bearing down on Egyptians, there are many who believe that the country’s trajectory is positive. This is not just elites grateful that the military intervention of July 2013 has restored the old—in their minds, natural—political order, but widespread optimism. Treat the polling with caution, but they demonstrate an overwhelming amount of support for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Friends in Cairo insist that “as much as 80 percent of the population” supports the new program and believe that Egypt’s new leader has set the country on a proper course. If that is the case, then why do Egyptians seem so furious? Read more »

Weekend Reading: On Being Jewish in Egypt, Iraq’s Militias, and What Just Happened in Yemen?

by Steven A. Cook Friday, September 26, 2014
Shi'ite Houthi rebels bury comrades, who were killed in recent fighting against government forces, in Sanaa (Khaled Abdullah/Courtesy Reuters). Shi'ite Houthi rebels bury comrades, who were killed in recent fighting against government forces, in Sanaa (Khaled Abdullah/Courtesy Reuters).

An old one from Eric Rouleau, who reflects on his experiences as an Egyptian-Jewish journalist.

Omar el-Jaffal examines the phenomenon of militias in Iraq and its implications on the Iraqi state. Read more »

Methinks Sisi Doth Protest Too Much

by Steven A. Cook Monday, September 22, 2014
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi waits for a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at the presidential palace in Cairo September 13, 2014 (Brendan Smialowski/Courtesy Reuters). Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi waits for a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at the presidential palace in Cairo September 13, 2014 (Brendan Smialowski/Courtesy Reuters).

Every year at the annual United Nations General Assembly meeting there seems to be one world leader who garners all the attention. Last year’s UNGA “It Guy” was Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani. In 2012, the King of the Prom was Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected leader and a Muslim Brother. The year before that everyone wanted to hear from then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. This year all the Turtle Bay buzz is building around the man who is Erdogan’s bête noire and Morsi’s jailer, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Even though he is not getting a coveted “bilateral” with President Obama, Sisi is breakfasting with Henry Kissinger, James Baker, and Madeleine Albright, breaking bread with New York’s titans of business over lunch, and presiding at a small meeting of opinion leaders in advance of his speech before fellow heads of state on Thursday, September 25. The Egyptian president’s message is a simple one: “Egypt is back, I am in charge, we have an economic plan, it is safe to invest, I am actually on the right side of history, and Egypt is stable.” Don’t believe it. Methinks Sisi doth protest too much. For all of the persistently positive messages coming from official circles in Cairo, there is nevertheless a certain skittish and vulnerable quality to them. Read more »