Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

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 »

Weekend Reading: Surveillance in Egypt, Inside ISIS, and Peace in Libya

by Steven A. Cook Saturday, September 20, 2014
Demonstrators protest against the Libyan Parliament's decision to call on the United Nations and the Security Council to immediately intervene to protect civilians and state institutions in Libya (Esam Al-Fetori/Courtesy Reuters). Demonstrators protest against the Libyan Parliament's decision to call on the United Nations and the Security Council to immediately intervene to protect civilians and state institutions in Libya (Esam Al-Fetori/Courtesy Reuters).

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai reports on the mysteries surrounding Egypt’s new surveillance system. Read more »

Revisiting Rabaa

by Steven A. Cook Friday, September 19, 2014
Suspects are rounded up near a burnt annex building of Rabaa Adawiya mosque after the clearing of a protest camp around the mosque, in Cairo August 15, 2013 (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). Suspects are rounded up near a burnt annex building of Rabaa Adawiya mosque after the clearing of a protest camp around the mosque, in Cairo August 15, 2013 (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

Between the war in Gaza, the ISIS advance on Iraq, Libya’s disintegration, and the monumental brutality of the Syrian conflict—the last week of July was the deadliest of the civil war—the world barely noticed the one year anniversary of the violent dispersal of a sit-in at Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya Square. Now as the annual UN General Assembly meeting is set to begin, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, and lesser officials are descending upon New York to spread the good word that everything in Egypt is just fine. They are hoping—in some cases demanding—that people don’t ask hard questions about what transpired last year. Despite these wishes, let’s reviewOn August 14, 2013 almost 1,000 Egyptians were killed and another 3,000 injured mostly at the hands of the Ministry of Interior’s Central Security Forces, but also under the watchful eyes of the Egyptian armed forces. The sit-in at Rabaa and al-Nahda Squares had been underway since the coup d’état that ousted President Mohammed Morsi on July 3. Human Rights Watch recently released a report detailing the massacre. It makes for a chilling read. Others have weighed-in on this terrible event as well. Of particular interest is a piece that Amy Austin Holmes, who is an assistant professor of sociology at the American University in Cairo, posted at the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog under the title “Why Egypt’s Military Orchestrated a Massacre.” In it Holmes poses an important question: “How do we explain the behavior of the Egyptian military on Tahrir in January 2011 [which was ostensibly peaceful] and in Rabaa in 2013?” As Holmes recounts—she observed the Rabaa protests—the clearing of the square was the worst massacre in modern Egyptian history and it was, by Egyptian officials’ own admission, entirely planned. The massacre itself tells analysts something important about the trajectory of Egyptian politics in general, but the conduct of the armed forces, which had previously vowed never to use violence against fellow Egyptians, cries out for explanation. Holmes comes up short, however. She offers sound analysis without ever getting to the heart of matter. So what is the deal? How come there was no massacre in Tahrir, but one at Rabaa? Read more »