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 "Egypt"

Reinventing Egypt’s Jews

by Steven A. Cook
An Egyptian army soldier stands beside a star of David, on a wall surrounding the Israeli Embassy in Cairo September 4, 2011 (Mohamed Abd El-Ghany/Reuters). An Egyptian army soldier stands beside a star of David, on a wall surrounding the Israeli Embassy in Cairo September 4, 2011 (Mohamed Abd El-Ghany/Reuters).

After two millennia, it seems Jews are “in” in the Middle East. In what can only be described as a stunning turn of events, Jews—though not Israelis—have become “What’s Hot” in the region, and the Muslim Brotherhood has become “What’s Not.” The nostalgia for lost Jewish communities has been a recurring theme since at least 2012 with the release of Amir Ramses’ documentary Jews of Egypt. The latest installment is the Egyptian Ramadan serial called The Jewish Alley (Haret el-Yahood). In between, there has been a rediscovery of Jewish life and culture in Tunisia, Morocco, and Lebanon, where the Maghen Abraham synagogue has been undergoing a lengthy renovation. It is easy to overstate the case given Egypt’s recent history of seemingly pathological anti-Semitism, but Egyptians seem to have gone further than others in the region in their rediscovery of Jewish life and culture. This should make well-meaning people feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but what is happening in Egypt is actually less rediscovery than reinvention. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Kurdish in Turkey, The Ghost of Omar Pasha, and Islam vs. Jihadism

by Steven A. Cook
Former spy chief and presidential candidate Omar Suleiman talks during an interview with Reuters at his office in Cairo April 14, 2012 (Asmaa Waguih/Reuters). Former spy chief and presidential candidate Omar Suleiman talks during an interview with Reuters at his office in Cairo April 14, 2012 (Asmaa Waguih/Reuters).

Nadeen Shaker investigates how Turkey’s Kurds are reclaiming their language in the classroom.

Farah Halime of Rebel Economy has published a translation of former Vice President of Egypt Omar Suleiman’s September 2011 court testimony in the case against former President Hosni Mubarak. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Egypt’s Jews, an Afternoon With Hezbollah, and Moroccan Salafis

by Steven A. Cook
An Afghan man reads the Koran on the holy fasting month of Ramadan at a mosque in Herat (Mohammad Shoib/Reuters). An Afghan man reads the Koran on the holy fasting month of Ramadan at a mosque in Herat (Mohammad Shoib/Reuters).

Sigal Samuel reviews a new Ramadan television series about Egypt’s Jewish community.

The Beirut Report recounts the story of a journalist held by Hezbollah in southern Beirut. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Debunking Iraq’s Myth, Demolishing History in Egypt, and Biking Syria’s Civil War

by Steven A. Cook
The word "Mubarak" is seen inside the burnt headquarters of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's political party National Democratic Party (NDP) during its demolition in Cairo, Egypt (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters). The word "Mubarak" is seen inside the burnt headquarters of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's political party National Democratic Party (NDP) during its demolition in Cairo, Egypt (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters).

Sara Pursley, in a two-part report on Jadaliyya, debunks the myth of Iraq as an artificial state.

Mahmoud Riad protests the demolition of the National Democratic Party’s headquarters in Cairo. Read more »

“Is Egypt Stable?”

by Steven A. Cook
Ramadan lanterns, known as "fanous", made in the likeness of Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi are displayed for sale at a market in Cairo (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters). Ramadan lanterns, known as "fanous", made in the likeness of Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi are displayed for sale at a market in Cairo (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters).

I do not know how many times over how many months that question has been put to my colleagues and me at an endless number of panel discussions, roundtables, hearings, and meetings with our friends in government. It is actually a question more about durability—will President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Egypt’s new/old political order exist anywhere from one year to five years from now?—than stability. The intellectually honest answer is: Maybe, maybe not. That is about as wishy–washy as one can get, but analytically that is likely the best we are going to do. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Egypt’s Money Pit, Morocco’s Jewish Community, and Saudi Civil Society

by Steven A. Cook
Moroccan Jewish men pray at a synagogue in Tetouan (Rafael Marchante/Reuters). Moroccan Jewish men pray at a synagogue in Tetouan (Rafael Marchante/Reuters).

Nizar Manek and Jeremy Hodge chase after $9.4 billion worth of secret accounts and special funds hidden away by top Egyptian officials.

Evelyn Crunden examines how one group in Morocco remembers and revives the country’s Jewish heritage. Read more »

Mothers of the Middle East

by Steven A. Cook
An Egyptian boy attends evening prayers called "Tarawih", during Laylat al-Qadr outside Amr Ibn El-Aas mosque, the first and oldest mosque ever built on the land of Egypt, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Cairo September 16, 2009 (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). An Egyptian boy attends evening prayers called "Tarawih", during Laylat al-Qadr outside Amr Ibn El-Aas mosque, the first and oldest mosque ever built on the land of Egypt, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Cairo September 16, 2009 (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

As I write, Mother’s Day 2015 is coming to a close. It was a special day. Who is better than Mom? I called my mother, made breakfast in bed for my wife, spoke to my mother-in-law, and cheered all the Moms whose photos showed up on my Facebook feed. Yet for all of the celebration of Mom, there remain a few Mothers who—to the best of my knowledge— have gone without recognition this year, which is a bummer for them. So here goes, my favorite Middle Eastern Moms: Read more »

Weekend Reading: A Return to Idlib, Secular Politics in Egypt, and al-Qaeda in Syria

by Steven A. Cook
Civilians react as they wear gas masks after what activists said was a chlorine gas attack on Kansafra village at Idlib countryside, Syria (Abed Kontar/Courtesy Reuters). Civilians react as they wear gas masks after what activists said was a chlorine gas attack on Kansafra village at Idlib countryside, Syria (Abed Kontar/Courtesy Reuters).

Ahmad al-Akla writes about people’s return to rebel-controlled Idlib, Syria.

A new party in Egypt calls for a secular constitution. Read more »

Weekend Reading and Watching: Zarif in NY, Daily Life in Damascus, and Science in the Middle East

by Steven A. Cook
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) speaks with Washington Post journalist David Ignatius at the New York University (NYU) Center on International Cooperation in New York (Lucas Jackson/Courtesy Reuters). Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) speaks with Washington Post journalist David Ignatius at the New York University (NYU) Center on International Cooperation in New York (Lucas Jackson/Courtesy Reuters).

Iranian FM Mohammad Zarif answers questions at New York University on the recent nuclear framework, terrorism, and more.

Rima Ayoubi talks about day to day difficulties she faces in Damascus. Read more »

Washington and Cairo: Goodbye My Love, Goodbye

by Steven A. Cook
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi attends the opening meeting of the Arab Summit in Sharm el-Sheikh (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi attends the opening meeting of the Arab Summit in Sharm el-Sheikh (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

Last Tuesday afternoon the National Security Council announced that the Obama administration was releasing the long-delayed shipments of M1A1 tank kits, Harpoon missiles, and F-16 fighter jets to the Egyptian armed forces. The decision proved to be immediately controversial and was swiftly denounced on social media as “back to business as usual” with the Egyptians. It certainly seems that way. Reportedly, the administration based its decision on Egypt’s own deteriorating security situation, which has coincided with wars raging in Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. The regional political environment may be novel, but the White House’s rationale—security—is reminiscent of a time in the not so distant past when Washington only raised Egypt’s dismal human rights record in a perfunctory way. The most important things then (and now) were keeping the Suez Canal open, the Islamists down, and the peace with Israel secure. Yet for all of the apparent continuities in Washington’s approach to Egypt’s president, from Hosni Mubarak to Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, it is not back to business as usual, and that’s not because the administration will be cutting off Cairo’s access to cash flow financing—a credit card for weapons—in fiscal year 2018. Rather, it is not business as usual because business as usual is not really an option. Read more »