Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

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

by Guest Blogger for Steven A. Cook
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 »

Neither Shocked nor Awed: The Arab Reaction to the Iran Deal

by Guest Blogger for Steven A. Cook
Saudi King Salman attends the opening meeting of the Arab Summit in Sharm el-Sheikh (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters). Saudi King Salman attends the opening meeting of the Arab Summit in Sharm el-Sheikh (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters).

My research associate, Amr Leheta, wrote this terrific post on the Arab reaction to the framework agreement between the P5+1 and Iran. Enjoy!

“The Nuclear Agreement…A Strategic Earthquake in the Middle East” read one headline in a London-based, pan-Arab newspaper on April 4. In the article underneath, published a couple of days after the announcement of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) regarding Iran’s nuclear program, the editorial board of Al-Quds Al-Arabi wrote the following: Read more »

Who’s Afraid of Negotiations?

by Guest Blogger for Steven A. Cook
Then-General Khalifa Haftar speaks during a news conference at a sports club in Abyar, east of Benghazi May 21, 2014 (Esam Omran Al-Fetori/Courtesy Reuters). Then-General Khalifa Haftar speaks during a news conference at a sports club in Abyar, east of Benghazi May 21, 2014 (Esam Omran Al-Fetori/Courtesy Reuters).

My intern, Alex Decina, wrote this terrific post on the current state of play in Libya. I hope you find it interesting and useful.

Last Thursday could have been an important day for Libya. It could have marked the beginning of the end of the brutal civil war that has rocked the country for several months. It could have been the day divergent factions came together in spite of their political differences to form a unity government, one that could bring Libya forward. Since last week, the country’s two competing governments—the General National Congress (GNC) in the western city of Tripoli and the House of Representatives (HoR) in the eastern city of Tobruk—and their respective allies have been meeting in Morocco for what the United Nations hopes is the final phase of negotiations. If they can put this conflict behind them, Libya might see light at the end of what has been a very dark tunnel. While these negotiations show more promise than previous talks in Ghadames and Madrid, and the UN remains optimistic as it tries to push forward a unity government, they will likely still fail. The rival parties have shown time and again they are not above prolonging Libya’s violence to vie for political leverage and complete supremacy over each other. Without significant pressure, they will avoid resorting to compromise as a political solution. Read more »

Revolutionizing Religion in Sisi’s Egypt

by Guest Blogger for Steven A. Cook
An Egyptian Sufi Muslim practices ritualized Zikr (invocation) to celebrate "Mawlid al-Nabawi" or the birth of Prophet Mohammad in Al Azhar district, old Cairo (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). An Egyptian Sufi Muslim practices ritualized Zikr (invocation) to celebrate "Mawlid al-Nabawi" or the birth of Prophet Mohammad in Al Azhar district, old Cairo (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

This blog post was written by my research associate, Amr Leheta.

“We need a religious revolution!” Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi declared those words a month ago as he addressed senior religious leaders from al-Azhar University and elsewhere while Egyptians celebrated the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The speech was widely applauded in Egypt, particularly as it opened an ideological front to the battle against the Islamist violence that has troubled the country since the summer of 2013. His words seem especially significant after last week’s attack on security forces in the Sinai Peninsula that killed at least thirty and wounded many more. However, before Sisi is praised any more as a visionary and a reformer, observers should understand that Egypt and Sisi may not have the capacity to carry out much reform in Islamic thinking. Read more »

Silence in Egypt

by Guest Blogger for Steven A. Cook
Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed (L-R) listen to the ruling at a court in Cairo June 23, 2014 (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters). Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed (L-R) listen to the ruling at a court in Cairo June 23, 2014 (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters).

My research associate, Alex Brock, is in Cairo getting some well-deserved rest.  I thought you would be interested in his thoughts on recent developments in Egypt.  Enjoy.

Cairo, Egypt—I waited, and waited, checking Twitter.  I stopped by Tahrir Square a few times, figuring if anything would happen it would be there.  Some BBC employees staged a moment of silence, but that was in London. There was nothing in Cairo after a court convicted three Al Jazeera journalists and sentenced them to 7-10 years in prison.  Just silence.  The Twittersphere went crazy over the verdicts while the rest of Egypt went about its business.  The political turmoil in Egypt has become a fight between elites, while the rest of the country seems to want some sense of normalcy. Read more »

How Personal Politics Drive Conflict in the Gulf

by Guest Blogger for Steven A. Cook
Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (Louafi Larbi/Courtesy Reuters). Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (Louafi Larbi/Courtesy Reuters).

David Roberts, lecturer in the Defence Studies Department at King’s College London, based at the Joaan Bin Jassim Staff College in Qatar, offers expert insight into the recent tensions among the major GCC states.

“I love all the countries of the Gulf, and they all love me.” With this less than subtle statement, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the vocal Qatar-based Muslim Brotherhood scholar tried to do his part to repair regional relations in the Gulf that have badly frayed in recent weeks. Long-brewing discontent erupted in early March with the unprecedented withdrawal of the Saudi, Emirati, and Bahraini ambassadors from Qatar. Subsequent mediation from Kuwait’s Emir has led the protagonists to the cusp of a modus vivendi, and a vague document has been agreed upon. Read more »

Powering the Way to a Darker Tomorrow: Coal Cannot Solve Egypt’s Energy Crisis

by Guest Blogger for Steven A. Cook
Mostafa Khaled, 20, studies by candlelight for his early morning exams during a power cut in Toukh, El-Kalubia governorate, northeast of Cairo (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). Mostafa Khaled, 20, studies by candlelight for his early morning exams during a power cut in Toukh, El-Kalubia governorate, northeast of Cairo (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

I am pleased to cross post the following article with my friends at The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.  Allison McManus’ timely post on the problems in Egypt’s energy sector and coal is an excellent follow-up to my recent Contingency Planning Memorandum on the potential for a solvency crisis in that country.  I hope readers find it interesting and useful. Read more »

Arik Einstein: Poster Child, Culture God

by Guest Blogger for Steven A. Cook
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) lays a rose on the coffin of Israeli singer Arik Einstein, depicted in the placard, during a memorial ceremony before his funeral at Rabin square in Tel Aviv (Nir Elias/Courtesy Reuters). Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) lays a rose on the coffin of Israeli singer Arik Einstein, depicted in the placard, during a memorial ceremony before his funeral at Rabin square in Tel Aviv (Nir Elias/Courtesy Reuters).

My cousin, Ari Lieberman, is a keen observer of arts and culture in Israel.  With the passing of Arik Einstein last week, I thought readers would be interested in Ari’s take on the life and work of this musical icon.

Here’s an Einstein you may not have heard of: Arik Einstein, who died last week in Tel Aviv, aged seventy-four. And yet in Israel he was practically a god. For several days following the sad news last Tuesday, there was nothing on the radio except Arik Einstein songs, punctuated by tearful announcements: Israel’s greatest singer was no more. On Wednesday, prior to the funeral, his body lay in state in Kikar Rabin, Tel Aviv’s main square, where thousands crowded to pay their last respects. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself descended with his entourage of thick-necked bodyguards to eulogize the music legend, calling Einstein the singer of “eretz Israel hayafa, ha’amitit, hamezukeket” (the beautiful, the true, the Pure Land of Israel). And President Shimon Peres issued a statement, saying that Arik Einstein’s songs were “the soundtrack of an entire nation. His voice caressed the people and embraced the land. He was loved by older and newer generations alike….His melodies will fill the land. Even with his passing, his songs will continue to play a tune of life and hope.” Read more »

Egypt Sneezes, Libya Catches Cold

by Guest Blogger for Steven A. Cook
People hold a vigil for supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood, and in protest of the recent violence in Egypt, in front of the headquarters of the Egyptian consulate, in Benghazi (Esam Omran al-Fetori/Courtesy Reuters). People hold a vigil for supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood, and in protest of the recent violence in Egypt, in front of the headquarters of the Egyptian consulate, in Benghazi (Esam Omran al-Fetori/Courtesy Reuters).

LONDON – In 2011, shortly after Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down as Egypt’s president, protests erupted in eastern Libya. A few months later Muammar al-Qaddafi’s own decades-long rule came to an end. Although each country took a different path toward revolution, developments in Cairo influenced events in Tripoli. Similarly, the ripple effects from Egypt’s summer of upheaval are already rumbling through Libya, with secularists feeling their oats and Islamists feeling pinched. At the very least, the diverse and fractious armed groups that operate throughout Libya are gripping their guns a bit more tightly. Read more »