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"

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 »

The Banality of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi

by Steven A. Cook
People walk in front of an election campaign poster of presidential candidate and Egypt's former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, along a highway in downtown Cairo (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). People walk in front of an election campaign poster of presidential candidate and Egypt's former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, along a highway in downtown Cairo (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on ForeignAffairs.com on Sunday, June 8, 2014. 

“I wish I was like Nasser,” Egypt’s new president, the retired field marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi told Egyptian journalists during a televised interview in early May, referring to the former president, Gamal Abdel Nasser. “Nasser was not just a portrait on walls for Egyptians but a photo and voice carved in their hearts.” Sisi’s comments seemed rather appropriate; his crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, his military background, and his apparent popularity have a distinctly 1950s feel to them. Yet Sisi is not Nasser. Nor is he Anwar Sadat or Hosni Mubarak, or any other formative Egyptian leader. Sisi is just Sisi. As much as the new president has been billed as a hero and a savior, his coming rule is likely to be banal. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Investing in Egypt, Haunting 1967 Photos, and August in Turkey

by Steven A. Cook
Galatasaray fans light flares to celebrate their goal against Fenerbahce during the Turkish Super League derby soccer match between Galatasaray and Fenerbahce in Istanbul (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters). Galatasaray fans light flares to celebrate their goal against Fenerbahce during the Turkish Super League derby soccer match between Galatasaray and Fenerbahce in Istanbul (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters).

Hdeel Abdelhady says that Egypt’s new investment law is not a solution to its economic woes, but rather is a symptom of the country’s inability to conceive and implement coherent economic policies. Read more »

Egypt After The Election

by Steven A. Cook
A man walks near replicas of Giza Pyramid covered with banners of presidential candidate and former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo May 26, 2014 (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). A man walks near replicas of Giza Pyramid covered with banners of presidential candidate and former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo May 26, 2014 (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

Below is a CFR Expert Roundup piece on Egypt’s elections, with contributions from Issandr El Amrani, Charles W. Dunne, Michael Hanna, and me.  The original article can be found hereRead more »

(Memorial Day) Weekend Reading: Mubarak’s Mansions and To Boycott or Not To Boycott?

by Steven A. Cook
Steven Cook wears t-shirts purchased in Cairo, Egypt in Spring 2011, Winter 2011, Summer 2012, and Spring 2014 (from left to right) reflecting the changes in Egyptian politics. Steven Cook wears t-shirts purchased in Cairo, Egypt in Spring 2011, Winter 2011, Summer 2012, and Spring 2014 (from left to right) reflecting the changes in Egyptian politics.

Hossam Bahgat writes about the recent verdicts against former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his sons, and how Egyptians unwittingly paid for their lavish lifestyles over the years.

Aliaa Hamed muses on why Egypt’s revolutionaries are boycotting the elections. Read more »