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 "Reform"

Egypt’s Economic Reform: The Good and the Bad

by Steven A. Cook
Egyptians gather to buy subsidised sugar and oil from a government truck, after goods shortage in retail stores across the country and after the central bank floated the pound currency, in downtown Cairo, Egypt (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters). Egyptians gather to buy subsidised sugar and oil from a government truck, after goods shortage in retail stores across the country and after the central bank floated the pound currency, in downtown Cairo, Egypt (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters).

I wrote this piece with my friend Imran Riffat, who has served in senior management positions with a major international bank and has experience in Cairo that includes a five-year stint as country head of the Egyptian operation. 

Last Friday, many Egyptians and more than a few Egypt watchers in Washington, DC, held their collective breath. November 11 was to be the “Revolution of the Poor,” but the 22 million who live in poverty did not show up in Tahrir Square to demand change. It might have been the large number of riot police and armored vehicles in the streets that kept people away. It also might have been the sheer exhaustion of the last six years and the fear of what might come next should another “revolution” erupt. The era of former President Hosni Mubarak may be perceived as an era of stagnation, but thus far it looks good along a number of economic, social, and even political dimensions in comparison to what has followed it. Still, Friday was a big win for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (and a setback for the Muslim Brotherhood, whose spokesman, Hassan Saleh, seemed to be foaming at the mouth in his official statement on behalf of the group encouraging protests). Not long after it became clear that Egyptians were not mobilizing came the announcement that Egypt and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had agreed to a much-needed $12 billion loan. Then, on Sunday, the Egyptian stock market did well. To cap off the weekend, Egypt’s national soccer team beat Ghana 2-0, vaulting the team to the top spot in its World Cup qualifying group. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Liberal Arts in the Middle East, Morocco’s Durability, and Lebanon’s New President

by Steven A. Cook
Protests take part in a rally called by the February 20 Movement in Rabat after a fishmonger in the northern town of Al Hoceima was crushed to death inside a rubbish truck as he tried to retrieve fish confiscated by police (Stringer/Reuters). Protests take part in a rally called by the February 20 Movement in Rabat after a fishmonger in the northern town of Al Hoceima was crushed to death inside a rubbish truck as he tried to retrieve fish confiscated by police (Stringer/Reuters).

Ted Purinton and Allison Hodgkins argue that the Middle East needs to invest in the liberal arts as a way to foster a productive citizenry and combat violent extremism. Read more »

Thinking About Culture and the Middle East

by Steven A. Cook
Tunisian lawyers gather as they demonstrate against the government's proposed new taxes, near the courthouse, in Tunis, Tunisia (Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters). Tunisian lawyers gather as they demonstrate against the government's proposed new taxes, near the courthouse, in Tunis, Tunisia (Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters).

I read Ross Douthat’s column in the New York Times every Sunday. I guess that qualifies me as a fan, but it’s not that I agree with everything he writes. On at least one occasion, I thought his column was downright weird. For the most part, though, I appreciate his insights into cultural and religious conservatives that are the bread and butter of his work. On Sunday, October 9, he offered his readers a piece called “Among the Post-Liberals.” It was an exposition on how the “new radicals,” “new reactionaries,” and “religious dissenters” within the West are engaged in trenchant critiques of the Western, liberal, democratic, capitalist order, though none of these groups have developed a unified theory of what ails this system or of what should come next. Of Douthat’s 808 words, it was the following passage that really grabbed me: Read more »

Saudi Arabia’s Gamal Mubarak

by Steven A. Cook
Saudi Arabia's Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reacts upon his arrival at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France (Charles Platiau/Reuters). Saudi Arabia's Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reacts upon his arrival at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France (Charles Platiau/Reuters).

The deputy crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, was in Washington last week, arousing all the usual questions about what is going on in his country. Is it stable? Is the crown prince, Mohammed bin Nayef, in good health? Has the deputy crown prince, who is the son of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, already eclipsed the crown prince, the king’s nephew? Nobody knows for sure, of course, but Saudi watchers and other observers keep trying to guess anyway. Read more »

Tunisia: Saving Democracy in the Middle East? Really?

by Steven A. Cook
An unemployed graduate clashes with riot police during a demonstration to demand the government provide them with job opportunities in Tunis, Tunisia (Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters). An unemployed graduate clashes with riot police during a demonstration to demand the government provide them with job opportunities in Tunis, Tunisia (Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters).

Last Wednesday, the Washington Post ran an op-ed called “We Can—And Must—Save Tunisia from its Troubling Recent Descent” under the byline of Marwan Muasher and William J. Burns. Muasher was Jordan’s foreign minister from 2002 to 2004, deputy prime minister from 2004 to 2005, and now serves as vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP). Burns had one of the most distinguished careers in the U.S. foreign service, rising to become deputy secretary of state from 2011 to 2014. After he left government, he became Muasher’s boss as president of CEIP. Needless to say, these gentlemen know of what they speak. Their clarion call to help Tunisia is important for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the recognition that the country is not the “Arab Spring success” that it is often portrayed to be. The United States should help Tunisia, but mostly because it will help Tunisians, and not for the additional reasons that Muasher and Burns lay out, which amount to a reformulation of something called the “international demonstration effect.” Read more »

The Middle Eastern Revolutions That Never Were

by Steven A. Cook
A man walks past graffiti that reads "Revelation, Screaming of people" at Mohamed Mahmoud street which leads to the Interior Ministry, where clashes between protesters and security force took place in late November, near Tahrir Square in Cairo December 5, 2011 (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters). A man walks past graffiti that reads "Revelation, Screaming of people" at Mohamed Mahmoud street which leads to the Interior Ministry, where clashes between protesters and security force took place in late November, near Tahrir Square in Cairo December 5, 2011 (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters).

This article originally appeared here on the American Interest on Monday, October 26, 2015.

Bloodshed, fragmentation, and repression portend a Middle Eastern future very different from the democratic dreams that many Western observers and some young locals entertained in 2011 and 2012. When the so-called revolutions of the region began to produce instability and violence, some analysts suggested there was no need to worry. What was happening in the Middle East was a process, albeit a painful one, that was common to countries that had undergone transitions to democracy. Yet it turns out that Egypt is not France and even Tunisia, the Arab Spring’s lone “success story”, is not Poland. For various political, structural, and historical reasons, unlike Western Europe of two centuries ago or Eastern Europe of two decades ago, authoritarian instability, not rocky democratic transitions, is the Middle East’s new reality. Read more »

Weekend Reading: The Horrors of Yarmouk, IS Relief, Judicial Reform in Tunisia

by Steven A. Cook
Palestinians from the besieged al-Yarmouk camp gather as they receive food aid from UNRWA May 1, 2014 (Rame Alsayed/Courtesy Reuters). Palestinians from the besieged al-Yarmouk camp gather as they receive food aid from UNRWA May 1, 2014 (Rame Alsayed/Courtesy Reuters).

Rami Alhames shows the disturbing situation in the Yarmouk Palestinian Refugee Camp.

Hussam al-Jaber offers a glimpse into Deir al-Zor, Syria, under the self-proclaimed Islamic State’s harsh rules on aid and relief. Read more »

Revolutionizing Religion in Sisi’s Egypt

by Guest Blogger for Steven A. Cook
An Egyptian Sufi Muslim practices ritualized Zikr (invocation) to celebrate "Mawlid al-Nabawi" or the birth of Prophet Mohammad in Al Azhar district, old Cairo (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). An Egyptian Sufi Muslim practices ritualized Zikr (invocation) to celebrate "Mawlid al-Nabawi" or the birth of Prophet Mohammad in Al Azhar district, old Cairo (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

This blog post was written by my research associate, Amr Leheta.

“We need a religious revolution!” Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi declared those words a month ago as he addressed senior religious leaders from al-Azhar University and elsewhere while Egyptians celebrated the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The speech was widely applauded in Egypt, particularly as it opened an ideological front to the battle against the Islamist violence that has troubled the country since the summer of 2013. His words seem especially significant after last week’s attack on security forces in the Sinai Peninsula that killed at least thirty and wounded many more. However, before Sisi is praised any more as a visionary and a reformer, observers should understand that Egypt and Sisi may not have the capacity to carry out much reform in Islamic thinking. Read more »

Washington Can’t Solve the Identity Crisis in Middle East Nations

by Steven A. Cook
Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing the violence in the Iraqi town of Sinjar, walk to a refugee camp after they re-enter Iraq from Syria, August 14, 2014 (Youssef Boudlal/Courtesy Reuters). Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing the violence in the Iraqi town of Sinjar, walk to a refugee camp after they re-enter Iraq from Syria, August 14, 2014 (Youssef Boudlal/Courtesy Reuters).

I published the following piece in the Outlook section of Sunday’s Washington Post. I hope you find it interesting and useful! Read more »

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 »