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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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 »

The False Hope of International Judicial Intervention in Syria

by Guest Blogger for Steven A. Cook
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks during an interview with a Russian newspaper in Damascus (Handout/Courtesy Reuters). Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks during an interview with a Russian newspaper in Damascus (Handout/Courtesy Reuters).

The post below was written by my friend and colleague, Patrick Costello. 

As the civil war in Syria grinds on, the President’s speech last week has shifted the debate from Congress back to the international community as they consider the framework agreement between the United States and Russia that would place Syria’s chemical weapons under international control, and eventually destroy them. Commentators and policymakers alike have also suggested a variety of international legal remedies to the atrocity crimes committed in Syria, including the use of chemical weapons, most notably involving the International Criminal Court (ICC). In fact, calls for ICC action on Syria have been made since 2011, and, most recently, Syria’s top rebel commander called for the ICC to investigate. While such calls are understandable given the merits of the case, involving the ICC must not replace military and diplomatic efforts. Moreover, pursuing ICC action is beset with obstacles, in terms of both political difficulties at the United Nations Security Council and mechanical complications at the ICC itself. Read more »

Lights Out for Al-Nour?

by Guest Blogger for Steven A. Cook
Nader Bakkar, official spokesman of the Salafi al-Nour party, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Cairo (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters). Nader Bakkar, official spokesman of the Salafi al-Nour party, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Cairo (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters).

The post below on Egypt’s Salafis  was written by my research associate, Alexander Brock, and my intern, Amr T. Leheta. I hope you find it interesting.  

After the military intervention that toppled Mohammed Morsi and imprisoned much of the Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership, many Egyptian and foreign observers are speculating that  Egypt’s Salafis are poised to rise to prominence. The Salafi parties have shown political acumen that hardly anyone could have predicted, given their historical opposition to political participation. Yet just as Salafi parties, in particular al-Nour, are well positioned to replace the Muslim Brotherhood as the predominant Islamist political actor in Egypt, the seeds of the movement’s political demise may have already been sown. Read more »