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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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 »

On Cynicism and Twitter in Turkey

by Steven A. Cook
A Twitter logo on an iPhone display is pictured next to a Turkish flag in this photo illustration taken in Istanbul March 21, 2014 (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters). A Twitter logo on an iPhone display is pictured next to a Turkish flag in this photo illustration taken in Istanbul March 21, 2014 (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters).

“Twitter…schmitter,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is reported to have said a few hours before a Turkish court gave the government legal writ to ban the micro-blogging service partially.  With Ankara’s actions came a torrent of Tweets from Turkish Tweeps in defiance of the prohibition, as well as an avalanche of commentary on the revolutionary nature of social media. Yawn.  This just an extension of the “Twitter revolution” meme that was going around at the time the Zine al Abidine Ben Ali was dumped in Tunisia, which was just the next evolution of commentary that began (in the mainstream) with a January 2009 New York Times Magazine article about Egypt’s Facebook activists.  There has been some good work out there on social media and some excellent analyses of what is happening in Turkey of course, but something is amiss.  No one has offered a convincing account for Erdogan’s behavior.  Why does he want to “eradicate Twitter” and what is he seeking to achieve by antagonizing a large portion of Turkey’s almost 6.1 million Twitter users (out of an estimated population of 81 million)? Read more »

Weekend Reading: The Middle East and the Internet

by Steven A. Cook
A man gestures during a gathering celebrating Newroz, which marks the arrival of spring and the new year, in Diyarbakir March 21, 2014 (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters). A man gestures during a gathering celebrating Newroz, which marks the arrival of spring and the new year, in Diyarbakir March 21, 2014 (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters).

See where your favorite Middle Eastern country ranks on Google’s Internet Transparency Report .

The World Bank reports that the Arab world lags behind in access to high-speed internet. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Islamic Sustainability, Cairo’s Traffic Goes Mobile, and Recycling in Qatar

by Steven A. Cook
Anti-Morsi protesters hold up posters of Egypt's army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi during a protest supporting al-Sisi in front of the state television building in central Cairo (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters). Anti-Morsi protesters hold up posters of Egypt's army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi during a protest supporting al-Sisi in front of the state television building in central Cairo (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters).

Arwa Aburawa interviews Professor Al Jayoussi about Islamic notions of sustainability.

Tafline Laylin discusses an award-winning Egyptian traffic app that helps users avoid the legendary Cairo traffic. Read more »