Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

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 »

Weekend Reading: Kurdish in Turkey, The Ghost of Omar Pasha, and Islam vs. Jihadism

by Steven A. Cook Friday, June 26, 2015
Former spy chief and presidential candidate Omar Suleiman talks during an interview with Reuters at his office in Cairo April 14, 2012 (Asmaa Waguih/Reuters). Former spy chief and presidential candidate Omar Suleiman talks during an interview with Reuters at his office in Cairo April 14, 2012 (Asmaa Waguih/Reuters).

Nadeen Shaker investigates how Turkey’s Kurds are reclaiming their language in the classroom.

Farah Halime of Rebel Economy has published a translation of former Vice President of Egypt Omar Suleiman’s September 2011 court testimony in the case against former President Hosni Mubarak. Read more »

Michael Oren’s Myths

by Steven A. Cook Monday, June 22, 2015
Israeli schoolchildren hold the Israeli and American flags during a rehearsal for U.S. President Barack Obama's visit at his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres' residence tomorrow, in Jerusalem March 19, 2013 (Baz Ratner/Reuters). Israeli schoolchildren hold the Israeli and American flags during a rehearsal for U.S. President Barack Obama's visit at his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres' residence tomorrow, in Jerusalem March 19, 2013 (Baz Ratner/Reuters).

Israel’s former ambassador to the United States, Michael B. Oren, has been all over the papers, online magazines, and blogs in the last week. He has had opeds in the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Foreign Policy.com, and gave a two part interview to Shmuel Rosner, the political editor of the Jewish Journal. Most of what has appeared are excerpts from Oren’s new book, Ally, in which he recounts his time in Washington. Oren has stirred passions among Israel’s supporters, its detractors, defenders of the Obama administration, and its harshest critics. This is all because Oren’s depiction of President Obama, his worldview, and his administration’s approach to the Middle East is not generous, to put it diplomatically. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Egypt’s Jews, an Afternoon With Hezbollah, and Moroccan Salafis

by Steven A. Cook Friday, June 19, 2015
An Afghan man reads the Koran on the holy fasting month of Ramadan at a mosque in Herat (Mohammad Shoib/Reuters). An Afghan man reads the Koran on the holy fasting month of Ramadan at a mosque in Herat (Mohammad Shoib/Reuters).

Sigal Samuel reviews a new Ramadan television series about Egypt’s Jewish community.

The Beirut Report recounts the story of a journalist held by Hezbollah in southern Beirut. Read more »

What Should the U.S. Do About ISIS?

by Steven A. Cook Monday, June 15, 2015
Shi'ite paramilitaries and iraqi army riding on a tank travel from Lake Tharthar towards Ramadi to fight against Islamic state militants, west of Samarra, Iraq May 27, 2015 (Stringer/Reuters). Shi'ite paramilitaries and iraqi army riding on a tank travel from Lake Tharthar towards Ramadi to fight against Islamic state militants, west of Samarra, Iraq May 27, 2015 (Stringer/Reuters).

This article originally appeared here on NationalJournal.com on Saturday, June 13, 2015.

The policy debate would be more productive if we asked ourselves what we should not do about ISIS. Having made the world safe for democracy in the 20th century, Americans are naturally disposed to want to meet great ideological challenges. But the struggle against ISIS is a political and theological fight that is largely beyond the United States. The group is successful at this moment because of a series of failures—of the Iraq project that began in 2003, of the Arab republics, of the Arab uprisings, of the Muslim Brotherhood’s experiment with governance, of shortsighted policy in Libya—that have made its claims about authenticity, citizenship, and religion attractive to young men and women grappling with these failures. At the same time, there are millions of Arabs and Muslims who do not want to live in ISIS-land, and who have begun to respond to the threat that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi represents. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Rediscovering Saddam, Revisiting Tunisia’s Democracy, and Reviewing the Islamic State

by Steven A. Cook Friday, June 12, 2015
Saddam Hussein testifies during his trial in Baghdad, Iraq, June 12, 2006 (Jacob Silberberg/Reuters). Saddam Hussein testifies during his trial in Baghdad, Iraq, June 12, 2006 (Jacob Silberberg/Reuters).

Victor Argo revisits the persona of longtime Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Nadia Marzouki and Hamza Meddeb question the assumptions behind the claim that Tunisia is a democratic success story. Read more »

Turkey Comes Undone

by Steven A. Cook Wednesday, June 10, 2015
Selahattin Demirtas, co-chairman of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) holds a ballot paper at a polling station during the parliamentary election in Istanbul (Yagiz Karahan/Reuters). Selahattin Demirtas, co-chairman of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) holds a ballot paper at a polling station during the parliamentary election in Istanbul (Yagiz Karahan/Reuters).

This article was originally published here on The American Interest on Wednesday, June 10, 2015.

Turks can be forgiven for the party they threw themselves late Sunday, stretching into Monday morning. They voted in droves in what was widely regarded as the most important general election in more than a decade and dealt the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) a significant blow. After garnering nearly 50 percent of the vote in the 2011 parliamentary elections, the AKP ceded about 9 percentage points to a combination of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), a new Kurdish-based group that will enter the Grand National Assembly for the first time. The AKP’s result translates into a loss of either 68 or 69 seats (officials results have yet to be released), meaning that the party will need to find a coalition partner if it wants to continue governing—something it has never had to do. It is true that the AKP still commands the largest number of votes by a significant percentage, but it no longer seems so invincible. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the central figure in Turkish politics, who made the elections about himself and his ambition to transform Turkey from a hybrid parliamentary-presidential system to a purely presidential system is no doubt diminished by the result. Erdogan, who once rode to power on a broad coalition of liberals, the pious, Kurds, big business, and average Turks, is now a deeply polarizing figure for many. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Debunking Iraq’s Myth, Demolishing History in Egypt, and Biking Syria’s Civil War

by Steven A. Cook Friday, June 5, 2015
The word "Mubarak" is seen inside the burnt headquarters of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's political party National Democratic Party (NDP) during its demolition in Cairo, Egypt (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters). The word "Mubarak" is seen inside the burnt headquarters of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's political party National Democratic Party (NDP) during its demolition in Cairo, Egypt (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters).

Sara Pursley, in a two-part report on Jadaliyya, debunks the myth of Iraq as an artificial state.

Mahmoud Riad protests the demolition of the National Democratic Party’s headquarters in Cairo. Read more »

“Is Egypt Stable?”

by Steven A. Cook Monday, June 1, 2015
Ramadan lanterns, known as "fanous", made in the likeness of Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi are displayed for sale at a market in Cairo (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters). Ramadan lanterns, known as "fanous", made in the likeness of Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi are displayed for sale at a market in Cairo (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters).

I do not know how many times over how many months that question has been put to my colleagues and me at an endless number of panel discussions, roundtables, hearings, and meetings with our friends in government. It is actually a question more about durability—will President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Egypt’s new/old political order exist anywhere from one year to five years from now?—than stability. The intellectually honest answer is: Maybe, maybe not. That is about as wishy–washy as one can get, but analytically that is likely the best we are going to do. Read more »