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 "Elections"

Turkey to See More Ballot Boxes This Year

by Guest Blogger for Steven A. Cook
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during his meeting with mukhtars at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey (Umit Bektas/Reuters). Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during his meeting with mukhtars at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey (Umit Bektas/Reuters).

Ali Sokmen is an analyst covering Turkish affairs for Control Risks, the global business risk consultancy.

After having voted four times over the past two years, many Turkish citizens think they have seen enough ballot boxes. Turkish politicians seem to disagree. Read more »

What Turkey’s Election Surprise Says About The Troubled Country

by Steven A. Cook
People wave flags and hold a portrait of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan outside the AK Party headquarters in Istanbul, Turkey (Osman Orsal/Reuters). People wave flags and hold a portrait of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan outside the AK Party headquarters in Istanbul, Turkey (Osman Orsal/Reuters).

This article originally appeared here on Fortune.com on Monday, November 2, 2015.

Just five months after failing to secure a parliamentary majority for the first time since 2002, Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) came roaring back on Sunday with 49.4% of the popular vote and a renewed mandate to govern without any coalition partners. Going into the elections, all the polling indicated that the AKP would garner about 40% of the vote, which would force it to seek coalition partners to form a government. This was precisely the outcome of the June elections, after which the inability of the AKP and Turkey’s other main parties to agree on a government produced a “hung parliament” and Sunday’s re-run elections. There are already questions about the AKP’s turnaround, improving almost ten percentage points in an environment where the country is once again at war with the terrorists of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), where the self-declared Islamic State has perpetrated horrific bombings taking the lives of 134 Turks since July, and where the economy has been on the slide. Opponents of the AKP and critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who sabotaged coalition talks in June because he did not like the election results, suspect the outcome was manipulated. Erdogan and AKP party officials insist that voters opted for stability during increasingly uncertain times. Regardless, neither Erdogan nor the AKP have answers for the multiple crises buffeting the country. Read more »

Turkey: Past Is Present

by Steven A. Cook
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan leaves the voting booth at a polling station in Istanbul (Murad Sezer/Reuters). Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan leaves the voting booth at a polling station in Istanbul (Murad Sezer/Reuters).

When this post goes up Turkish electoral officials will likely still be tallying the results of Sunday’s do-over parliamentary elections. Like the voting that took place on June 7, this round is widely regarded to be crucial. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s quest for the executive presidency, the coherence of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), the integration and normalization of the Kurdish-based People’s Democratic Party (HDP), and the quality of Turkish politics going forward are all thought to be riding on the outcome. If the pre-election polling is accurate—and they have been stable for months—Turks will be faced with the same, inconclusive result that they produced five months ago, resolving nothing. Then again, anything can happen. I have been told that Turkey’s political institutions are both robust and meaningful, giving them the capacity to process people’s grievances and prevent excesses of both winners and losers. I have my doubts. Last June’s elections were supposed to have proven the resilience of Turkey’s democracy, but Erdogan demonstrated his ability to manipulate the political system because the elections did not go his way. Turkey is actually more fragile than people believe. Read more »

Interest and Intrigue in Egypt’s Parliamentary Elections

by Guest Blogger for Steven A. Cook
A man casts his vote during the first phase of the parliamentary elections at a polling station in Giza governorate (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters). A man casts his vote during the first phase of the parliamentary elections at a polling station in Giza governorate (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters).

H. A. Hellyer contributed this guest post on the recent Egyptian parliamentary elections. I hope you find it interesting.

Egyptians voted this week for the eighth time in four years—ten if you count runoffs. The most blatant characteristic this time appears to be rather unedifying: An abundant lack of interest in the formal exercise of the democratic process. Unlike the enthusiasm of the last parliamentary elections in 2011, generalized apathy marked this round of voting. Yet there are some issues of intrigue to be drawn out and looked at further. Read more »

The Real Reason Turkey Is Fighting ISIL

by Steven A. Cook
Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during a graduation ceremony in Ankara, Turkey, June 11, 2015 (Umit Bektas/Reuters). Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during a graduation ceremony in Ankara, Turkey, June 11, 2015 (Umit Bektas/Reuters).

This article originally appeared here on Politico.com on Friday, August 21, 2015.

On July 23 virtually every news outlet in the United States ran some version of the following headline: “Turkey Joins the Fight Against ISIL; Opens Air Base to Coalition Forces; Washington and Ankara Agree to Safe Zone in Syria.” The media, being what it is, dubbed Ankara’s decision to order up airstrikes on Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s forces a “game changer,” which is what journalists say when they have nothing else to say, do not understand a situation and are itching to get back to covering Donald Trump. The only game that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is actually interested in changing is the political one that he has been uncharacteristically losing since mid-June when his Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost the parliamentary majority it has held since November 2002. Erdogan’s military actions against the self-proclaimed Islamic State are best understood as one part a desperate, highly complex attempt by Erdogan to win back the power he lost. If his plan fails, the risky multi-front war Erdogan has just launched may become his undoing. Read more »

Turkey Comes Undone

by Steven A. Cook
Selahattin Demirtas, co-chairman of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) holds a ballot paper at a polling station during the parliamentary election in Istanbul (Yagiz Karahan/Reuters). Selahattin Demirtas, co-chairman of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) holds a ballot paper at a polling station during the parliamentary election in Istanbul (Yagiz Karahan/Reuters).

This article was originally published here on The American Interest on Wednesday, June 10, 2015.

Turks can be forgiven for the party they threw themselves late Sunday, stretching into Monday morning. They voted in droves in what was widely regarded as the most important general election in more than a decade and dealt the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) a significant blow. After garnering nearly 50 percent of the vote in the 2011 parliamentary elections, the AKP ceded about 9 percentage points to a combination of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), a new Kurdish-based group that will enter the Grand National Assembly for the first time. The AKP’s result translates into a loss of either 68 or 69 seats (officials results have yet to be released), meaning that the party will need to find a coalition partner if it wants to continue governing—something it has never had to do. It is true that the AKP still commands the largest number of votes by a significant percentage, but it no longer seems so invincible. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the central figure in Turkish politics, who made the elections about himself and his ambition to transform Turkey from a hybrid parliamentary-presidential system to a purely presidential system is no doubt diminished by the result. Erdogan, who once rode to power on a broad coalition of liberals, the pious, Kurds, big business, and average Turks, is now a deeply polarizing figure for many. Read more »

No Way Out

by Steven A. Cook
Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters). Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on the American Interest’s website on Tuesday, April 7, 2015. 

It is eight weeks before Turkey’s general elections, the end of a stretch that has lasted a little more than a year during which Turks will have gone to the polls three times to elect their Mayors, President, and now legislators. The extended electoral season, made difficult by Turkey’s polarization, has not dampened the Istanbul-Ankara elite’s appetite for rank speculation, however. In years past, much of this chatter centered on parties and politicians who were going to save Turkey from whatever crisis of governance had befallen the country. There was the businessman Cem Uzan and his Youth Party in 2002; the dream team of Ismail Cem and Kemal Dervis, who were going to lead the New Turkey Party to victory also in 2002; Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the man to reverse the slide of the Republican People’s Party into the party of Izmir and certain Istanbul neighborhoods; and, of course, Abdullah Gul, the man to wrest control of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) from Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Uzan, however, was convicted of fraud in the United States and now lives in France, the New Turkey Party received a paltry 1.2 percent of the vote, Kilicdaroglu has presided over one defeat after the next, and Gul moved quietly from Ankara’s Cankaya Palace to Istanbul, where he seems to be enjoying retirement. So much for saving Turkey. Read more »

Netanyahu Has the Last Laugh

by Steven A. Cook
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures to supporters at party headquarters in Tel Aviv (Nir Elias/Courtesy Reuters). Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures to supporters at party headquarters in Tel Aviv (Nir Elias/Courtesy Reuters).

Wow. Just wow. The river of commentary about Israel’s recent election and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just keeps flowing. As I sat down to write this another piece popped into my inbox. Never has so much time been spent and ink spilled on what was a largely inconsequential event. Netanyahu called the election in order to consolidate his political position and he did precisely just that. The only places Netanyahu lost were North Tel Aviv, Twitter, and the editorial pages of most Western newspapers of record. For those who believed that a victory for the Zionist Union—a party list consisting of the Labor Party and Hatnuah, or “The Movement”— would produce a political dynamic conducive to a peace settlement with the Palestinians are either reality-denying optimists or simply do not understand the conflict. No matter the outcome of last week’s election there would be no peace deal because there is no deal to be had. The underlying structure of the conflict in which Israelis and Palestinians cannot satisfy the minimum requirements of peace for the other suggests prolonged stalemate. In the meantime, the annexation of the West Bank proceeds apace. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Wasting Capital on a New Capital, Jihadism in Tunisia, and Israel’s Election

by Steven A. Cook
A model of a planned new capital for Egypt is displayed for investors during the final day of Egypt Economic Development Conference (EEDC) in Sharm el-Sheikh (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). A model of a planned new capital for Egypt is displayed for investors during the final day of Egypt Economic Development Conference (EEDC) in Sharm el-Sheikh (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

Khaled Fahmy criticizes the Egyptian government’s plan to invest money in building a new capital rather than fixing Cairo’s endemic problems.

Simon Cordall investigates the social and intellectual appeal of jihadism in Tunisia. Read more »