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 "Protests"

Mubarak Still Rules

by Steven A. Cook
Protesters cheer with Egyptian flags and a banner of army chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, seen between former presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat, as they gather for a mass protest to support the army in front of the presidential palace in Cairo (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters). Protesters cheer with Egyptian flags and a banner of army chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, seen between former presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat, as they gather for a mass protest to support the army in front of the presidential palace in Cairo (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here at ForeignPolicy.com on Wednesday, August 14, 2013. 

My friend, the late Hassan El Sawaf, was correct. When I spoke to him on the evening of February 11, 2011, he was exuberant. After years of a lonely and personal struggle against Hosni Mubarak’s rule, the dictator was suddenly gone. A new era had begun. The prospects for democracy had never seemed so bright. Read more »

Egypt: Ruling But Not Governing

by Steven A. Cook
A military helicopter flies above Tahrir square as protesters opposing Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi demonstrate in Cairo June 30, 2013 (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters). A military helicopter flies above Tahrir square as protesters opposing Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi demonstrate in Cairo June 30, 2013 (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters).

Of all the arresting images that emerged from yesterday’s mass protests in Egypt, the ones that struck me most were those of military helicopters dropping Egyptian flags down to the crowds below.  The Egyptian commanders have been pilloried for many things in the last two and a half years, but for a group of people who eschew politics and maintain thinly veiled contempt for politicians, they are shrewd political operators.  After the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, under Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, sullied the image of the senior officer corps—if not the military itself—the Ministry of Defense is in the strongest position it has been in since February 11, 2011. Read more »

The Strong Man at His Weakest

by Steven A. Cook
Supporters hold a poster of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan during a rally of ruling AK party in Istanbul June 16, 2013 (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters). Supporters hold a poster of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan during a rally of ruling AK party in Istanbul June 16, 2013 (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on ForeignPolicy.com on Wednesday, June 19, 2013.

“Re-cep Tay-yip Er-do-gan! Re-cep Tay-yip Er-do-gan!” chanted supporters of the Turkish prime minister, as a friend and I made our way through the absolutely mammoth crowd that descended on the Kazlicesme area of Istanbul last Sunday to hear their leader speak. As with Erdogan’s rally in the capital, Ankara, the day before, the people who turned out here, many of whom were decked out in scarves, T-shirts, and masks supporting the prime minister, vastly outnumbered the Gezi Park protesters who have captured global headlines. Young, old, well-to-do, decidedly modest, religious, and secular all declared their devotion to the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Erdogan. When the prime minister surveyed the 295,000 souls who had come to express their devotion and thundered, “Taksim Square is not Turkey!” it was a vindication of his vision, his economic policies, and the strength of his leadership. Yet the irony was that at Kazlicesme, Erdogan’s demonstration of strength revealed his profound weakness and political vulnerability. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Turkey: Democrats and Liberals, #OccupyGezi, and Fethullah Gulen

by Steven A. Cook
Anti-government protesters and other men pray during Friday prayers in Istanbul's Taksim square June 7, 2013 (Yannis Behrakis/Courtesy Reuters). Anti-government protesters and other men pray during Friday prayers in Istanbul's Taksim square June 7, 2013 (Yannis Behrakis/Courtesy Reuters).

Suat Kiniklioglu discusses the reasons behind Turkey’s democrats and Liberals’ support for the protests, despite their traditional pro-AKP stance.

The OccupyGezi Tumblr blog, with updated pictures of the protests sweeping Turkey. Read more »

Keep Calm, Erdogan

by Steven A. Cook
A demonstrator waves Turkey's national flag as he sits on a monument during a protest against Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling AKP in central Ankara, 2013 (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters). A demonstrator waves Turkey's national flag as he sits on a monument during a protest against Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling AKP in central Ankara, 2013 (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published on ForeignAffairs.com on Monday, June 3, 2013. 

When Recep Tayyip Erdogan was mayor of Istanbul in the mid-1990s, he did what successful big city mayors do — he made life a little easier for the millions of residents of his beautiful, maddening megalopolis. Erdogan cleaned up the garbage in the streets, unknotted traffic, and literally cleared the air by introducing environmentally friendlier public transportation. Always one for grand ambitions, during his tenure at City Hall the future prime minister made a now often repeated statement to a journalist from the daily Milliyet, “Democracy,” he declared, “is like a tram. You ride it until you arrive at your destination, then you step off.” Read more »

How Democratic Is Turkey?

by Steven A. Cook
An anti-government protester holds Turkey's national flag with a portrait of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey, on it during a demostration in Ankara late June 2, 2013 (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters). An anti-government protester holds Turkey's national flag with a portrait of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey, on it during a demostration in Ankara late June 2, 2013 (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters).

This article that I co-authored with my good friend and colleague Michael Koplow was originally published on ForeignPolicy.com on Sunday, June 2, 2013.  Read more »

Weekend Reading: Controversy in Jordan, A New Year in Iran, and Religion in Syria

by Steven A. Cook
Tourists stroll at the Grand Bazaar, which was built during the Ottoman-era, in Istanbul (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters). Tourists stroll at the Grand Bazaar, which was built during the Ottoman-era, in Istanbul (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters).

The Jordanian perspective on Jordan’s current political situation and King Abdullah’s recent commentary in the Atlantic. Read more »

Syrian Dilemmas: Neither Freedom Nor Stability

by Steven A. Cook
A Free Syrian Army fighter fires a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) during heavy fighting in the Ain Tarma neighbourhood of Damascus (Goran Tomasevic/Courtesy Reuters). A Free Syrian Army fighter fires a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) during heavy fighting in the Ain Tarma neighbourhood of Damascus (Goran Tomasevic/Courtesy Reuters).

There has been a lot of Syria news in the last week or so.  Elements of Syria’s armed opposition took over al Jarrah airbase in the Aleppo province and rebels and government forces are engaged in a pitched battle on the eastern side of Damascus in what some regard (as with other flare-ups of violence in the Syrian capital) as a prelude to the Syrian “end game.” Just before that, the president of Syria’s National Coalition of Opposition Forces, Mouaz al Khatib, stated that he was ready for talks with representatives of the Assad regime, a statement that was followed by meetings with the Russian and Iranian foreign ministers in Munich.  It doesn’t seem that the National Coalition is much of a coalition and it is unclear who exactly al Khatib is leading since other elements of the opposition quickly and vehemently denied their willingness for such talks to the government.  These developments come as the pace of people streaming out of Syria has picked up considerably.  There are now 374,000 refugees in Jordan, 180,000 have fled to Lebanon, about 185,000 Syrians in Turkey, 90,000 are displaced in Iraq, and 16,000 in Egypt—in other words, about four percent of Syria’s population.  Let’s not forget that somewhere in the neighborhood of 70,000 Syrians have lost their lives in the civil war.  Expect the numbers of refugees and deaths to climb. Read more »

Egypt: Could the Military Intervene?

by Steven A. Cook
Protesters, who are against Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, gather near a military tank as they take part in a march during a nighttime curfew in the city of Port Said January 28, 2013 (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters). Protesters, who are against Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, gather near a military tank as they take part in a march during a nighttime curfew in the city of Port Said January 28, 2013 (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters).

When the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces handed power to President Mohammed Morsi last June it seemed that everyone in Egypt, especially the officers, breathed a huge sigh of relief.  The transition from Mubarak to Morsi had been long, difficult, and sometimes violent.  The SCAF under Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and his deputy, Lt. General Sami Ennan, were manifestly ill-equipped to govern Egypt on a day-to-day basis and it showed.  By the spring of 2012, the officers were counting down the days to when they could hand-off the whole problem that Egyptian politics had become to anyone who would relieve them of the burdens of government.  Of course, the military exacted its price.  Egypt’s constitution gives the senior command autonomy in defense policy, budgeting, and personnel.  In addition, the Ministry of Defense held onto its robust economic interests. Read more »