Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

Weekend Watching: Hollywood in Arabia

by Steven A. Cook Friday, July 31, 2015
Camels graze in the desert during the 19th Ghat Festival of Culture and Tourism, in Ghat, about 1,360 km (845 miles) south of Tripoli December 30, 2013 (Esam Omran Al-Fetori/Reuters). Camels graze in the desert during the 19th Ghat Festival of Culture and Tourism, in Ghat, about 1,360 km (845 miles) south of Tripoli December 30, 2013 (Esam Omran Al-Fetori/Reuters).

This weekend we are taking a break from reading to watch the best in Orientalist cinema that Western film has to offer. Here are Team Cook’s top ten favorite movies of the genre:

1.  Aladdin (for added fun, watch it dubbed in Arabic)
2.  Argo
3.  Homeland
4.  Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark
5.  The Kingdom
6.  Kingdom of Heaven
7.  The Mummy
8.  OSS 117—Cairo: Nest of Spies
9.  Syriana Read more »

The U.S.-Egypt Strategic Dialogue: Drift Along the Nile

by Guest Blogger for Steven A. Cook Wednesday, July 29, 2015
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) is thanked by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi after speaking at the Egypt Economic Development Conference in Sharm el-Sheikh March 13, 2015 (Brian Snyder/Reuters). U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) is thanked by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi after speaking at the Egypt Economic Development Conference in Sharm el-Sheikh March 13, 2015 (Brian Snyder/Reuters).

My friend and colleague, Amy Hawthorne, wrote this terrific preview of the upcoming U.S.-Egypt strategic dialogue.  I hope you find it interesting and useful.

On August 2, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Cairo for the first U.S.-Egypt “strategic dialogue” since 2009. The high-level forum has been held on and off since the Clinton administration as part of the still-unmet goal of expanding the relationship beyond security issues into more robust trade, investment, and educational ties. During the presidency of Hosni Mubarak, the dialogue was mostly a talk shop and sop to Egypt for support on counterterrorism and the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. In light of today’s diminished ties, similarly modest expectations for this Sunday’s conclave are in order, despite the State Department’s upbeat announcement that the dialogue “reaffirms the United States’ longstanding and enduring partnership with Egypt and will…further our common values, goals, and interests.” Read more »

Turkey, Syria, and the United States: Quagmires Are Us

by Steven A. Cook Monday, July 27, 2015
A Turkish F-16 jet returns to the military airbase in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir November 7, 2007 (Osman Orsal/Reuters). A Turkish F-16 jet returns to the military airbase in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir November 7, 2007 (Osman Orsal/Reuters).

This weekend Turkey and the United States took steps toward getting more heavily involved in the Syrian quagmire. First, after a year of protracted negotiations, Turkey agreed to allow the United States to use Incirlik airbase to conduct operations against the so-called Islamic State. In return, the Obama administration has agreed to the establishment of a “safe zone” in northwestern Syria that “moderate Syrian opposition forces” would protect along with Turkish and American airpower. Second, Turkey undertook airstrikes against Islamic State positions in Syria and the forces of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraq. Read more »

Weekend Reading: The Birmingham Quran, the Illiberal Middle East, and Terror in Turkey

by Steven A. Cook Friday, July 24, 2015
Conservator, Marie Sviergula holds a fragment of a Koran manuscript in the library at the University of Birmingham in Britain (Peter Nicholls/Reuters). Conservator, Marie Sviergula holds a fragment of a Koran manuscript in the library at the University of Birmingham in Britain (Peter Nicholls/Reuters).

Take a closer look at fragments of one of the earliest extant Qurans today, found recently at the University of Birmingham.

Nervana Mahmoud laments the fate of Middle Eastern liberalism in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal. Read more »

The Iran Deal: Tastes Great! Less Filling!

by Steven A. Cook Monday, July 20, 2015
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif reacts during a plenary session at the United Nations building in Vienna, Austria (Leonhard Foeger/Reuters). Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif reacts during a plenary session at the United Nations building in Vienna, Austria (Leonhard Foeger/Reuters).

It is rather difficult to know what to say about the Iran nuclear deal. It seems that everything that needs to be said has been said and will continue to be said in the coming days over and over and over again. As I have watched and read the commentary with a measure of detached bemusement, the debate reminds me of the Miller Lite television commercials of my youth. Retired sports greats and others were divided into two teams, one of which would scream “Tastes great!” and the other would retort “Less filling!” Everyone’s ideas were fixed beforehand and no one ever moved from one camp to the other. So it is with the high-pitched, high velocity contest over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that the P5+1 signed with the Islamic Republic of Iran last Tuesday. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Remembering Omar Sharif

by Steven A. Cook Friday, July 17, 2015
Egyptian actor Omar Sharif poses for a photograph during the presentation of his latest film entitled "Disparadme" at a hotel in Aviles, northern Spain, June 16, 2009 (Eloy Alonso/Reuters). Egyptian actor Omar Sharif poses for a photograph during the presentation of his latest film entitled "Disparadme" at a hotel in Aviles, northern Spain, June 16, 2009 (Eloy Alonso/Reuters).

Randa Ali from Al-Ahram remembers legendary Egyptian actor Omar Sharif.

Magdi Abdelhadi laments Omar Sharif’s death as a reminder of a bygone era of Egyptian culture. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Condemning or Condoning Egypt,Urban Redevelopment in Alexandria, and Linking ISIS?

by Steven A. Cook Friday, July 10, 2015
A boy holds a Tunisian flag as he stands near bouquets of flowers laid at the beachside of the Imperiale Marhabada hotel, which was attacked by a gunman in Sousse, Tunisia (Zohra Bensemra/Reuters). A boy holds a Tunisian flag as he stands near bouquets of flowers laid at the beachside of the Imperiale Marhabada hotel, which was attacked by a gunman in Sousse, Tunisia (Zohra Bensemra/Reuters).

Maged Atiya writes that, two years after, the removal of former President of Egypt Mohammed Morsi is as difficult to condemn as it is to condone.

Amro Ali examines the debate on urban development in Alexandria and the rebuilding of that city’s famed lighthouse. Read more »

Egypt’s Coming Chaos

by Steven A. Cook Monday, July 6, 2015
Relatives of 21-year-old Mohamed Adel, one of the army officers who died in yesterday's Sinai attacks, carry his coffin during the funeral in Al-Kaliobeya, near Cairo, Egypt, July 2, 2015 (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters). Relatives of 21-year-old Mohamed Adel, one of the army officers who died in yesterday's Sinai attacks, carry his coffin during the funeral in Al-Kaliobeya, near Cairo, Egypt, July 2, 2015 (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters).

This article originally appeared here on ForeignPolicy.com on Friday, July 3, 2015.

When Egyptian Prosecutor-General Hisham Barakat’s car was blown up in Cairo this week by as of yet unknown terrorists, there was a profound sense of foreboding that Egypt was in some new, unprecedented phase of violence. These concerns were only reinforced when the Islamic State-affiliated Wilayat Sinai, or “Province of Sinai,” killed dozens of soldiers and policemen in a spectacular raid on the town of Sheikh Zuweid the following day. Egypt is indeed entering unchartered territory, fighting an undeclared war in the Sinai Peninsula that is spreading to population centers in the Nile Valley. It is hard to imagine how Egyptians will avoid a prolonged period of bloodshed. Read more »

Reinventing Egypt’s Jews

by Steven A. Cook Monday, June 29, 2015
An Egyptian army soldier stands beside a star of David, on a wall surrounding the Israeli Embassy in Cairo September 4, 2011 (Mohamed Abd El-Ghany/Reuters). An Egyptian army soldier stands beside a star of David, on a wall surrounding the Israeli Embassy in Cairo September 4, 2011 (Mohamed Abd El-Ghany/Reuters).

After two millennia, it seems Jews are “in” in the Middle East. In what can only be described as a stunning turn of events, Jews—though not Israelis—have become “What’s Hot” in the region, and the Muslim Brotherhood has become “What’s Not.” The nostalgia for lost Jewish communities has been a recurring theme since at least 2012 with the release of Amir Ramses’ documentary Jews of Egypt. The latest installment is the Egyptian Ramadan serial called The Jewish Alley (Haret el-Yahood). In between, there has been a rediscovery of Jewish life and culture in Tunisia, Morocco, and Lebanon, where the Maghen Abraham synagogue has been undergoing a lengthy renovation. It is easy to overstate the case given Egypt’s recent history of seemingly pathological anti-Semitism, but Egyptians seem to have gone further than others in the region in their rediscovery of Jewish life and culture. This should make well-meaning people feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but what is happening in Egypt is actually less rediscovery than reinvention. Read more »