Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

Posts by Category

Showing posts for "Coups"

Where the Turkish Military Fails, Egypt’s Succeeds

by Steven A. Cook
Supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan celebrate after soldiers involved in the coup surrendered on the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul (Yagiz Karahan/Reuters). Supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan celebrate after soldiers involved in the coup surrendered on the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul (Yagiz Karahan/Reuters).

This article was originally published here on ForeignAffairs.com on Tuesday, July 19, 2016.

In a half-decade of extraordinary moments in the Middle East, images of citizens swarming tanks and other military vehicles have been among the most arresting. Within the emerging iconography of the era are photos from early July 2013 that capture overjoyed Egyptians celebrating that the military had emerged from its barracks to depose the country’s elected president, Mohammed Morsi, ending the Muslim Brotherhood’s year-long experiment in governance. The intervention reaffirmed the military’s prestige, influence, and authority in the Egyptian political system. Last Friday night, similar scenes played out in the streets of Istanbul and Ankara. Instead of joy, however, Turks were outraged that members of the military sought to depose President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a politician who has been winning elections as mayor of Istanbul, prime minister of Turkey, and head of state since 1994. The attempted coup failed, a purge is underway, and the Turkish armed forces—the second largest military in NATO—is in chaos. How was it that the Egyptian officers managed to do what that one faction in the Turkish military could not, especially given Turkey’s extensive history of coups? The answer lies in the interventions themselves and the underlying worldview that served as the basis of the officers’ apparent power. Read more »

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 »