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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Arab Spring Reality Check

by Steven A. Cook
Protesters from Tunisia's marginalised rural heartlands hold a hunger strike as they prepare to spend their second night outside the Prime Minister's office in Tunis January 24, 2011 (Zohra Bensemra/Courtesy Reuters). Protesters from Tunisia's marginalised rural heartlands hold a hunger strike as they prepare to spend their second night outside the Prime Minister's office in Tunis January 24, 2011 (Zohra Bensemra/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on Muftah on Tuesday, April 22, 2014. 

It has been more than three years since the uprisings in the Arab world began.  The civil war in Syria, the persistent conflict between rebel militias and the government in Libya, the return of authoritarianism in Egypt, and the ongoing bloody crackdown in Bahrain all make for considerable hand-wringing among regional observers—to say nothing of Middle Easterners themselves, who once hoped for a better future. Read more »

Turkey: “What Next?”

by Steven A. Cook
Sun sets behind the 16th century Ottoman era Blue Mosque in the old city of Istanbul (Fatih Saribas/Courtesy Reuters). Sun sets behind the 16th century Ottoman era Blue Mosque in the old city of Istanbul (Fatih Saribas/Courtesy Reuters).

“What next?”  That is the question that virtually everyone in Turkey is asking and it has Turks on edge. It has become shorthand for a series of other questions: Will Prime Minister Erdogan declare his presidential candidacy? Probably…maybe…,but you never know. Will President Gul oppose him? Unclear. Can Erdogan remain prime minister?  Yes, but he seems to want to be president. Would Gul be willing to be prime minister if Erdogan becomes president? He says he won’t play Medvedev to Erdogan’s Putin, but that may just be a tactic.  If not Gul, then who would assume the prime ministry? Perhaps deputy prime minister Ali Babacan, but whoever it is—besides Gul—it will certainly be someone Erdogan can control or intimidate.  Can Erdogan be marginalized in the officially apolitical presidency? The prime minister is the sun around which Turkish politics revolves; he does not do “marginalized.” Read more »

Weekend Reading: Turkey’s Intelligence State, Egypt’s Subsidies, and Syria’s European Jihadis

by Steven A. Cook
Lebanese Christian priests distribute painted eggs in celebration of Easter after an Easter service at St. George church in central Beirut (Jamal Saidi/Courtesy Reuters). Lebanese Christian priests distribute painted eggs in celebration of Easter after an Easter service at St. George church in central Beirut (Jamal Saidi/Courtesy Reuters).

Fehim Tastekin wonders if Turkey is reverting to an intelligence state.

Mohamed Gad, writing for Mada Masr, asks if current Egyptian Finance Minister Hany Qadry will actually reform Egypt’s subsidies. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Boutef Again, Bringing Democracy Back to Turkey, and Hep-C in Egypt

by Steven A. Cook
Members of a local dance troupe perform during a campaign rally for current Algerian President and candidate in the forthcoming presidential election, Abdelaziz Bouteflik, in Ain Ouassara southwest of Algiers April 10, 2014 (Louafi Larbi/Courtesy Reuters). Members of a local dance troupe perform during a campaign rally for current Algerian President and candidate in the forthcoming presidential election, Abdelaziz Bouteflik, in Ain Ouassara southwest of Algiers April 10, 2014 (Louafi Larbi/Courtesy Reuters).

Alexis Artaud de La Ferrière examines how Algeria’s elections will influence regional politics, especially those in Tunisia.

The Turkish citizen journalism group “140journos” is trying to use technology to bring democracy back to Turkey, writes Burcu Baykurt for Jadaliyya. Read more »

Be Afraid, Very Afraid: Egypt’s Economic Nightmare

by Steven A. Cook
A man talks on his mobile phone as he walks past an exchange bureau advertisement showing images of the U.S dollar (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). A man talks on his mobile phone as he walks past an exchange bureau advertisement showing images of the U.S dollar (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

It would not be an overstatement to say that over the last decade Egypt has become a slow-rolling train wreck.  The fact that it has picked up steam in the last three years should be even less of a surprise.  Egypt analysts, policymakers, journalists, and legislators have become inured to the country’s increasingly violent politics, authoritarianism, and economic dysfunction. The violence that is now spreading out from the Sinai Peninsula and the force that the state has used to confront it is not likely to bring about a collapse of the Egyptian state, but the economy could. Read more »

Turkey: Orientalists’ Delight

by Steven A. Cook
The sun sets over the Ottoman-era Suleymaniye mosque in Istanbul January 8, 2014 (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters). The sun sets over the Ottoman-era Suleymaniye mosque in Istanbul January 8, 2014 (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters).

There has been a lot of commentary and speculation about what is likely to happen in Turkey now that the country is past the March 30 municipal elections.  The Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) resounding tally—44 percent of voters chose the party’s candidates—has renewed questions whether Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will seek the presidency, about the disposition of the armed forces in Turkish society, and concerning the future of the Gulen movement.  There are also significant accusations of electoral fraud, especially in Ankara.  I have thoughts on all of these issues, but for the moment I will leave them to others.  All the recent attention lavished on Turkey as a result of last summer’s Gezi Park protests, the corruption scandal that broke last December, and now the municipal elections has me ruminating on how to write about the country. This may seem like excessive navel gazing to some, but the way in which analysts and journalists write about other countries (and their own) can have powerful political effects.  Ideas and images can become rooted and shape the way people view a given government or society.  The image of the “Terrible Turk,” for example, is a remnant of the late 15th century that lives on. Read more »

Weekend Reading: No Way to Defeat Takfiris, Handicapping Turkey’s Elections, and Syria’s borders.

by Steven A. Cook
Supporters of Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan wave Turkish and AK Party (AKP) flags during an election rally in Istanbul March 23, 2014 (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters). Supporters of Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan wave Turkish and AK Party (AKP) flags during an election rally in Istanbul March 23, 2014 (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters).

Nader Bakkar says that harsh punishment, such as the recent wave of death sentences on Muslim Brotherhood members, is no way to combat radical takfiri ideology. Read more »

Man in the Middle

by Steven A. Cook
Turkey's President Abdullah Gul (C) is applauded by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (R) and his ministers as he arrives to address the Turkish Parliament (Umit Bektas /Courtesy Reuters). Turkey's President Abdullah Gul (C) is applauded by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (R) and his ministers as he arrives to address the Turkish Parliament (Umit Bektas /Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on ForeignAffairs.com on Thursday, March 27, 2014. 

Many observers, both in Turkey and abroad, believe that this is Turkish President Abdullah Gul’s moment to shine. In recent months, Turkey’s democracy has careened wildly off its democratic path, as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has resorted to increasingly authoritarian measures — including a ban on access to Twitter and YouTube — to suppress what he believes is an existential threat posed by his onetime ally Fethullah Gulen, a charismatic Turkish cleric who has followers in positions of influence throughout the government. Erdogan seems intent on trying to excise Gulenists from Turkish society entirely. Erdogan’s paranoia has also moved the AKP toward becoming an authoritarian cult of personality. Read more »

Sisi 2014!

by Steven A. Cook
A supporter of Egypt's  General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi holds a poster with Sisi's image in Tahrir Square in Cairo (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters). A supporter of Egypt's General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi holds a poster with Sisi's image in Tahrir Square in Cairo (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on ForeignPolicy.com on Wednesday, March 26, 2014.

Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi hung up his military uniform today, launching a process that will inevitably end in his election as Egypt’s next president. Following a meeting of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), Sisi declared that he has retired from the army and would enter the political arena. ”I humbly announce my intention to run for the presidency of the Arab Republic of Egypt,” he said in colloquial Arabic in a speech aired on state television. “I consider myself — as I have always been — a soldier dedicated to serve the nation, in any position ordered by the people.” Read more »