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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Closing the Channels of the Military’s Economic Influence in Turkey

by Steven A. Cook
Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (2nd R) is flanked by Ground Forces Commander and acting Chief of Staff General Necdet Ozel (C), Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz (R) and top military officials (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters). Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (2nd R) is flanked by Ground Forces Commander and acting Chief of Staff General Necdet Ozel (C), Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz (R) and top military officials (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here as part of the Middle East Institute’s Middle East-Asia Project on civilianizing the state. 

Since the patterns of civil-military relations in Turkey began to change a decade ago, analysts have focused on the modalities and the durability of civilian control of the armed forces, the consequences of the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer cases on the cohesion of the armed forces, and how the transformation of the officer corps’ historic relationship with the political system has affected the capabilities of the armed forces. Observers have given significantly less attention to the military’s role in the economy. Since the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923, the military has deployed its power in this area through indirect means. First, during relatively brief periods of military rule, the officers influenced economic policy without dictating the details of policymaking. Second, the military’s pension fund invests its members’ funds in the economy. Finally, until the mid-1980s, the senior command exercised control over the military procurement process through various military foundations. Over time, however, the military’s ability to shape economic policies has changed and the officers’ role in the economy has become normalized. Read more »

Arab Spring Reality Check

by Steven A. Cook
Protesters from Tunisia's marginalised rural heartlands hold a hunger strike as they prepare to spend their second night outside the Prime Minister's office in Tunis January 24, 2011 (Zohra Bensemra/Courtesy Reuters). Protesters from Tunisia's marginalised rural heartlands hold a hunger strike as they prepare to spend their second night outside the Prime Minister's office in Tunis January 24, 2011 (Zohra Bensemra/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on Muftah on Tuesday, April 22, 2014. 

It has been more than three years since the uprisings in the Arab world began.  The civil war in Syria, the persistent conflict between rebel militias and the government in Libya, the return of authoritarianism in Egypt, and the ongoing bloody crackdown in Bahrain all make for considerable hand-wringing among regional observers—to say nothing of Middle Easterners themselves, who once hoped for a better future. Read more »

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 »

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 »

How Europe Can Save Turkey

by Steven A. Cook
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan gestures during the Ministry for European Union Affairs' EU-Istanbul Conference in Istanbul June 7, 2013 (Osman Orsal/Courtesy Reuters). Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan gestures during the Ministry for European Union Affairs' EU-Istanbul Conference in Istanbul June 7, 2013 (Osman Orsal/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published in the Washington Post on Friday, June 7, 2013.

In the past five years, Turkey has veered from what was once a promising path of liberal democracy — and the European Union can pull it back. 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 »

45 Percent Is Still a Failing Grade

by Guest Blogger for Steven A. Cook
Protesters opposing Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi shout slogans and hit a poster of Morsi that reads "If he speaks, he always lies" with shoes at Tahrir Square in Cairo January 25, 2013. (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). Protesters opposing Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi shout slogans and hit a poster of Morsi that reads "If he speaks, he always lies" with shoes at Tahrir Square in Cairo January 25, 2013. (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

Hani Sabra responds to Cynical Islamist’s response to me…

On January 16, Steven Cook wrote a blog post that asked, “Are Egypt’s Muslim Brothers Democrats?” By the end of the piece, it’s clear that he believes the answer is no. A week later, an Egyptian man—and I’m going to go ahead and bet that it was a man—who goes by the moniker “Cynical Islamist,” responded to Cook’s piece in an attempt to pour cold water on the arguments. Read more »

Wanting Egypt to Fail

by Steven A. Cook
An Egyptian Air Force F-16 fighter jet flies low over thousands of anti-government protesters gathered at Tahrir square in Cairo January 30, 2011. (Yannis Behrakis/Courtesy Reuters). An Egyptian Air Force F-16 fighter jet flies low over thousands of anti-government protesters gathered at Tahrir square in Cairo January 30, 2011. (Yannis Behrakis/Courtesy Reuters).

Egypt is a mess.  Just two short years after the uprising that brought Hosni Mubarak’s long-rule to an end, the country is paralyzed politically, protests have become increasingly violent, sectarian tensions are high, the public health system is in total disarray, and the economy is near collapse.  Nothing has gone right in this country of 84 million people that has traditionally been the most influential in the region—for good or bad—and since the mid-1970s a pillar of U.S.-Middle East policy.  It is not only the peace between Egypt and Israel, but also the U.S. Navy’s access to the Suez Canal, the many daily U.S. military overflights critical to the United States in confronting the Iranian threat, and Egypt’s logistical assistance for U.S. operations in Afghanistan and until not too long ago Iraq that are of paramount importance to Washington.  As a result, an objective observer might come to the reasonable conclusion that Egypt needs help and that the international community should do what it can to help pull Egyptians back from the brink.  That is certainly the view of most analysts from across the political spectrum, yet in one corner of the commentariat, they are actually hoping for Egypt to fail. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Looking Back on Egypt’s Uprising

by Steven A. Cook
An anti-government protester defaces a picture of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak in Alexandria (Stringer Egypt/Courtesy Reuters). An anti-government protester defaces a picture of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak in Alexandria (Stringer Egypt/Courtesy Reuters).

On the second anniversary of Egypt’s January 25 uprising, I decided to re-post some of my own work on Egypt.  I hope you continue to find these posts/articles useful.  Enjoy!

Five Things You Need to Know About the Egyptian Armed Forces, January 31, 2011 on “From the Potomac to the Euphrates.” Read more »