Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

Memorial Day Weekend Reading

by Steven A. Cook Friday, May 27, 2016
Almost three thousand American soldiers—of whom 287 remain unknown—are buried just outside of Tunis (Photo by Steven A. Cook). Almost three thousand American soldiers—of whom 287 remain unknown—are buried just outside of Tunis (Photo by Steven A. Cook).

In the national collective memory of World War II, the North African campaign is often forgotten. Almost three thousand Americans were killed there in battles that took place between 1941 and 1945. Some of the earliest direct engagements of the war between U.S. and German forces took place in Tunisia, between the cities of Sidi Bouzid and Kasserine. There is no better book about this period than Rick Atkinson’s An Army At Dawn. Enjoy.

Drinking From the Nile

by Steven A. Cook Wednesday, May 25, 2016
A view of the Nile from Zamalek (Photo by Steven A. Cook). A view of the Nile from Zamalek (Photo by Steven A. Cook).

There is an Egyptian saying that goes like this: “Once you drink from the Nile, you will come back again.” I first drank from the Nile in June 1993 and I have been coming back ever since. That said, I took an almost two-year hiatus from Egypt that lasted from April 2014 until last week. I stayed away for a variety of reasons, from the general—I was growing weary of airplanes and I ached for my daughters on long trips—to the specific—I needed to actually write the book I had been talking about for the previous few years, but also, quite frankly, out of fear. Read more »

Weekend Reading: The Folly of Iraqi Partition, Turkey’s New Prime Minister, and Geopolitical Shiism

by Steven A. Cook Friday, May 20, 2016
Tribesmen loyal to the Houthi movement perform the Baraa dance during a gathering to show support to the movement in Sanaa, Yemen (Khaled Abdullah/Reuters). Tribesmen loyal to the Houthi movement perform the Baraa dance during a gathering to show support to the movement in Sanaa, Yemen (Khaled Abdullah/Reuters).

Ben Connable contends that persistent arguments to partition Iraq are often incoherent and offer weak solutions.

Murat Yetkin profiles Turkey’s presumptive new prime minister, Binali Yildirim, who was formerly the minister of transportation. Read more »

Tunisia: On the Road to Nowhere

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, May 17, 2016
A monument to Mohammed al-Bouazizi in Sidi Bouzid (Photo by Steven A. Cook). A monument to Mohammed al-Bouazizi in Sidi Bouzid (Photo by Steven A. Cook).

“The only things [that have] changed are the names of the streets. They used to be [called] November 7, now they are [called] December 17.”

A young Tunisian said this to me in Sidi Bouzid on Sunday. For those less familiar with Tunisian history, on November 7, 1987, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali pushed the country’s founder, Habib Bourguiba, from power in a palace coup, and December 17, 2010, is the day when Mohammed al-Bouazizi set himself on fire in front of the governorate building in Sidi Bouzid—an act of desperation that began the Tunisian uprising that deposed Ben Ali almost a month later. The quote is a simple and powerful rebuke to the oft-repeated phrase that Tunisia is “the one Arab Spring success story.” The country is not yet a success, but it also is not a failure. Read more »

Don’t Blame Sykes-Picot for the Middle East’s Mess

by Steven A. Cook Friday, May 13, 2016
Members of the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS), a militia affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), detonate improvised explosive devices captured from Islamic State fighters near village of Umm al-Dhiban, northern Iraq (Goran Tomasevic/Reuters). Members of the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS), a militia affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), detonate improvised explosive devices captured from Islamic State fighters near village of Umm al-Dhiban, northern Iraq (Goran Tomasevic/Reuters).

This article was originally published here on ForeignPolicy.com on Friday, May 13, 2016.

Sometime in the 100 years since the Sykes-Picot agreement was signed, invoking its “end” became a thing among commentators, journalists, and analysts of the Middle East. Responsibility for the cliché might belong to the Independent’s Patrick Cockburn, who in June 2013 wrote an essay in the London Review of Books arguing that the agreement, which was one of the first attempts to reorder the Middle East after the Ottoman Empire’s demise, was itself in the process of dying. Since then, the meme has spread far and wide: A quick Google search reveals more than 8,600 mentions of the phrase “the end of Sykes-Picot” over the last three years. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Beirut’s Elections, Armenian Artisans, and Egyptian Buildings

by Steven A. Cook Friday, May 6, 2016
A picture of a candidate for municipality elections is hung near displayed mirrors of an antique shop in Beirut, Lebanon (Alia Haju/Reuters). A picture of a candidate for municipality elections is hung near displayed mirrors of an antique shop in Beirut, Lebanon (Alia Haju/Reuters).

Habib Battah examines the intersection of new and old in Lebanese politics in the context of Beirut’s municipal elections.

Nektaria Petrou narrates her quest to find a renowned Armenian hand engraver in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. Read more »

Syria’s Doctors

by Steven A. Cook Monday, May 2, 2016
Burnt vehicles are pictured in front of the damaged the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF)-backed al-Quds hospital after it was hit by airstrikes, in a rebel-held area of Syria's Aleppo (Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters). Burnt vehicles are pictured in front of the damaged the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF)-backed al-Quds hospital after it was hit by airstrikes, in a rebel-held area of Syria's Aleppo (Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters).

In late May 1994, I boarded a Pakistan International Airways flight bound for Islamabad with intermediate stops in the Netherlands and Syria. It was the summer between my two years at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and I was headed to the Institute for Teaching Arabic to Foreigners in Damascus. Somewhere halfway across the Atlantic that night I struck up a conversation with the guy sitting next to me, who was juggling two little fidgety children. He was probably the same age that I am now. For the life of me I cannot remember his name or where in the United States he lived—I want to say Texas, but it could have been California or Illinois—but I do remember his profession. He was a doctor. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Kurdish Linguistics, Egypt’s Repressive Complacency, and Music and Pluralism in Jordan

by Steven A. Cook Friday, April 29, 2016
Journalists and activists protest against the restriction of press freedom and to demand the release of detained journalists, in front of the Press Syndicate in Cairo, Egypt (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters). Journalists and activists protest against the restriction of press freedom and to demand the release of detained journalists, in front of the Press Syndicate in Cairo, Egypt (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters).

Theotime Chabre explores the complexities of Kurdish linguistic diversity, explaining how limits in communication across the Kurdish nation can be both a hindrance and an opportunity. Read more »

This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is Saudi Land

by Steven A. Cook Monday, April 25, 2016
Supporters of Egypt's army and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi dance and cheer as they celebrate the anniversary of Sinai Liberation Day in Cairo, Egypt (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters). Supporters of Egypt's army and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi dance and cheer as they celebrate the anniversary of Sinai Liberation Day in Cairo, Egypt (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters).

Today is Sinai Liberation Day. On April 25, 1982, the then-governor of the South Sinai governorate, Fouad Aziz Ghali, hoisted the Egyptian flag over Sharm el-Sheikh, in view of two islands called Tiran and Sanafir. The same day, former President Hosni Mubarak gave a speech before the People’s Assembly and laid wreaths at Egypt’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the graves of Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar al-Sadat. These solemn events marked the official end of Israel’s occupation of the Sinai (with the exception of a place called Taba that remained under Israeli control until 1989). Read more »

Weekend Reading: Comedy and the Islamic State, Protest and Failure in Egypt, and Insulting Erdogan

by Steven A. Cook Friday, April 22, 2016
A view shows actors during the filming of the set of the television series, whose title is loosely translated as "State of Myths" in Baghdad (Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters). A view shows actors during the filming of the set of the television series, whose title is loosely translated as "State of Myths" in Baghdad (Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters).

Nathaniel Greenberg examines the use of comedy in Iraq to counter the narrative of the self-declared Islamic State.

One blogger expounds on the weaknesses and pitfalls of the Egyptian protest movement. Read more »