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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Showing posts for "Coups"

Egypt: Mockery

by Steven A. Cook
Riot police and army personnel take their positions during clashes with members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi around the area of Rabaa al Adawiya square on August 14, 2013 (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters). Riot police and army personnel take their positions during clashes with members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi around the area of Rabaa al Adawiya square on August 14, 2013 (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters).

There is no shortage of advice in the United States about how the Obama administration should approach Egypt.  The familiar ring of policy prescriptions bouncing around the Beltway and beyond is either a testament to a lack of creativity or limited leverage or the return of some version of the political order that prevailed under Mubarak. Take, for example, Saturday’s lead editorial in the Washington Post called, “The U.S. Must Confront the Egyptian Military’s Push for Authoritarian Rule.”  It could have been written in 2007 after Hosni Mubarak pushed through a series of constitutional reforms.  In fact, “Constitutional Autocracy” from March 2007 must have been a template of sorts for Saturday’s piece.  Don’t get me wrong, the editorial board’s criticism of Egypt’s draft constitution is spot on, but its policy prescriptions seem a bit tattered.  According to the folks over on 15th Street, now that it is clear that Egypt is not on the road to democracy (as if that has not been fairly obvious for some time) the Obama administration should “suspend aid and cooperation with the regime until it frees political prisoners and adopts a genuine democratic path.” Read more »

Turkey and Egypt: When Worlds Collide

by Steven A. Cook
Turkey's Prime Minister and leader of ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) Tayyip Erdogan (R) and former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi greet the audience during AK Party congress in Ankara (Kayhan Ozer/Courtesy Reuters). Turkey's Prime Minister and leader of ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) Tayyip Erdogan (R) and former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi greet the audience during AK Party congress in Ankara (Kayhan Ozer/Courtesy Reuters).

Over this past weekend one of my Economist-devouring, Washington Post-reading, New York Times-gobbling buddies who does not work in the field of foreign affairs asked me, “Hey, what’s up with Erdogan and the Turks?”  I’ve been asked this question so many times this summer by so many people that I have lost count.  It’s been a long summer in Turkey, starting in May with the Gezi Park protests that revealed a depth of anger toward Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which seemed to surprise the Turkish leadership.  Then in early August there were the Ergenekon verdicts, which brought to a close a five year investigation and trial in an alleged plot to undermine Erdogan and his government.  The trials may be over (excluding appeals), but the controversy around Ergenekon continues.  In between these two bookends have been the deteriorating situation in Syria, the coup in Egypt, a slowing economy, and the beginning of a peace process with the Kurdistan Workers Party.  The combined pressure of all of the events seems to have gotten to the prime minister who has been bullying domestic critics, engaging in conspiracies about “interest rate lobbies” intent on bringing down the Turkish economy, and generally finger-pointing at everyone but himself for the difficulties Turkey now confronts at home and abroad. Read more »

Turkey’s Summer of Discontent: Ergenekon Blues

by Steven A. Cook
Former Chief of the Turkish General Staff Ilker Basbug (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters). Former Chief of the Turkish General Staff Ilker Basbug (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters).

With the dramatic developments in Egypt over the last month, Turkey has fallen out of the news even though it has been an eventful summer along the Bosphorus.  The opposition to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that began after authorities tried to clear Istanbul’s Gezi Park in late May has proven more durable than virtually everyone predicted.  The government has responded to this political turbulence with a variety of coercive measures making Erdogan’s illiberal turn appear to be downright authoritarian.  At the same time, Ankara’s strategic position in the Middle East continues to crumble.  The prime minister’s reaction to Egypt’s July 3 coup d’état may be principled, but his harsh and oddly emotional rhetoric has alienated yet another important Middle Eastern country.  In an irony of ironies, the Egyptian press recently reported that if Erdogan makes a much-delayed visit to Gaza in late August, he will have to do it through Israel.  That makes Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq the major regional powers with whom Turkey is at odds. 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 »

Egypt’s Nexus of Power

by Guest Blogger for Steven A. Cook
Egypt's Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al Sisi is seen during a news conference in Cairo (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters). Egypt's Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al Sisi is seen during a news conference in Cairo (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters).

My dear friend, Nervana Mahmoud, an Egyptian-born doctor in the UKis a keen observer of Egyptian politics.  Her article below discusses power dynamics among Egypt’s principal political actors and how those dynamics might play out in the next presidential elections there. Enjoy… Read more »

A Faustian Pact: Generals as Democrats

by Steven A. Cook
Protesters hold a poster featuring the head of Egypt's armed forces General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Tahrir Square in Cairo (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters). Protesters hold a poster featuring the head of Egypt's armed forces General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Tahrir Square in Cairo (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here in the New York Times on July 25, 2013.

The luxurious officers’ club of Egypt’s elite Republican Guard sits near downtown Cairo, its pool and patios surrounded by high walls with reliefs and paintings lauding Egypt’s military history, going back to the pharaohs. Where a huge poster of the deposed president Hosni Mubarak once stood, a new one declares: “The Army. The People. One Hand.” Read more »

Echoes of Nasser

by Steven A. Cook
Army soldiers take their positions on a bridge which leads to the Raba El-Adwyia mosque square, where members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of ousted Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi are at, in Cairo July 4, 2013 (Louafi Larbi/Courtesy Reuters). Army soldiers take their positions on a bridge which leads to the Raba El-Adwyia mosque square, where members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of ousted Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi are at, in Cairo July 4, 2013 (Louafi Larbi/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on ForeignPolicy.com on Tuesday, July 16.

It was October 26, 1954, and Gamal Abdel Nasser was regaling a crowd gathered in Alexandria’s Manshiya Square. A Muslim Brother named Mahmoud Abdel Latif squeezed through the crowd and fired eight shots at the Egyptian leader, all of them missing. Perhaps Abdel Latif was a poor marksman or perhaps, as many have since wondered, the assassination attempt was staged — whatever the case, Nasser went on to finish his speech to the thunderous approval of his audience. The extraordinary boost in popularity that the failed assassination attempt gave Nasser and his military comrades provided the regime with wide latitude to crush the Muslim Brotherhood: In Cairo, activists soon destroyed the Brotherhood’s headquarters, while near the Suez Canal, regime supporters sacked Brotherhood-affiliated businesses. Read more »

Egypt’s Civilians Should Control Military

by Steven A. Cook
Protesters, who are against Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, react in Tahrir Square in Cairo July 3, 2013 (Suhaib Salem/Courtesy Reuters). Protesters, who are against Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, react in Tahrir Square in Cairo July 3, 2013 (Suhaib Salem/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here at Politico.com on Thursday, July 4, 2013.

For the millions of Egyptians celebrating President Mohamed Morsi’s ouster, the military’s move promises a brighter future. Yet the laudable democratic goals of Egypt’s twin revolutions will remain beyond reach so long as the officers continue to be the source of power and authority in the political system. Read more »

The Calculations of Tunisia’s Military

by Steven A. Cook

Tunisian army soldier stands in front of the headquarters of the Constitutional Democratic Rally party of ousted president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali during a demonstration in Tunis on January 20, 2011 (Zohra Bensemra/Courtesy Reuters)

Hi folks,

Below is my article on Tunisia that is now up on Foreign Policy. Enjoy.

Aren’t Middle Eastern militaries supposed to crack down and kick butt? Aren’t they supposed to be the “backbone” of regimes? The guarantors of last resort? The ultimate instrument of political control? Read any account of civil-military relations and the Middle East — including my own — and the answers to these questions are a resounding yes. So when the Tunisian armed forces, allegedly at the command of General Rashid Ammar, told Tunisian President Zine Abidine Ben Ali that the military would not shoot protesters demanding the strongman’s ouster and then pushed him from power, the commanders were clearly not playing to type. The role that the military has played in the Tunisian uprising thus far is intriguing and as Tunisia grapples with phase two of the post-Ben Ali era, what the military does (and doesn’t do) will be critical in the country’s political trajectory.

Read more »