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 "Tunisia"

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 »

Weekend Reading: Egypt’s Unions, Tunisia’s Youth, and Syria’s Protests

by Steven A. Cook
Protesters carry a Free Syrian Army flags during an anti-government protest in the al-Sukari neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria (Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters). Protesters carry a Free Syrian Army flags during an anti-government protest in the al-Sukari neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria (Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters).

Giulio Regeni, in his last article before his death, finds that Egypt’s independent trade unions remain willing to defy the state.

Benoit Challand examines the alienation of Tunisia’s youth and its implications on jihadi recruitment. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Portraying Tunisia’s Revolution, Turkey’s TAK, and Orwellian Syria

by Steven A. Cook
A girl waves a Tunisian flags during celebrations marking the fifth anniversary of Tunisia's 2011 revolution, in Habib Bourguiba Avenue in Tunis, Tunisia (Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters). A girl waves a Tunisian flags during celebrations marking the fifth anniversary of Tunisia's 2011 revolution, in Habib Bourguiba Avenue in Tunis, Tunisia (Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters).

Khadija Mohsen-Finan discusses discrepancies in the portrayal of the Tunisian revolution around the world and Tunisians’ own purview on the achievements and difficulties of the past five years. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Saudi Arabia’s War, Tunisia’s Sidi Bouzid, and the Middle East’s Public Spaces

by Steven A. Cook
A boy holds up a rifle as he shouts slogans during a demonstration against Saudi-led strikes in Yemen's capital Sanaa November 20, 2015 (Khaled Abdullah/Reuters). A boy holds up a rifle as he shouts slogans during a demonstration against Saudi-led strikes in Yemen's capital Sanaa November 20, 2015 (Khaled Abdullah/Reuters).

Sharif Abdel Kouddous reports on the human toll of the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

Christine Petre looks at Sidi Bouzid five years after Tunisian fruit seller Mohammed Bouazizi’s self-immolation that sparked the Arab uprisings. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Turkey and the EU, Tunisia’s Nobel Winners, and Life in the Qandil Mountains

by Steven A. Cook
Hussein Abassi, head of the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), speaks during an interview with Reuters in Tunis, Tunisia, in this August 16, 2013 photo. Tunisia's National Dialogue Quartet won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for helping build democracy in the birthplace of the Arab Spring, an example of peaceful transition in a region otherwise struggling with violence and upheaval (Anis Mili/Reuters). Hussein Abassi, head of the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), speaks during an interview with Reuters in Tunis, Tunisia, in this August 16, 2013 photo. Tunisia's National Dialogue Quartet won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for helping build democracy in the birthplace of the Arab Spring, an example of peaceful transition in a region otherwise struggling with violence and upheaval (Anis Mili/Reuters).

Natasha Lennard examines the altering dynamics between Turkey and the European Union brought about by the refugee crisis.

Read the press release announcing that the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet won the Nobel Peace Prize for 2015. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Journey to Iran, Alawites on the Run, and Tunisia’s Terror Law

by Steven A. Cook
An Iranian cleric reads the Koran during the 26th anniversary ceremony of Iran's Islamic revolution at the Khomeini shrine in the Behesht Zahra cemetery, south of Tehran, January 31, 2005 (Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters). An Iranian cleric reads the Koran during the 26th anniversary ceremony of Iran's Islamic revolution at the Khomeini shrine in the Behesht Zahra cemetery, south of Tehran, January 31, 2005 (Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters).

Larry Cohler-Esses, writing for Forward, discovers a dynamic and complex society during his recent trip to Iran.

Omar Abdallah speaks with Syrian Alawites who no longer believe that the Assad regime can guarantee their safety. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Rediscovering Saddam, Revisiting Tunisia’s Democracy, and Reviewing the Islamic State

by Steven A. Cook
Saddam Hussein testifies during his trial in Baghdad, Iraq, June 12, 2006 (Jacob Silberberg/Reuters). Saddam Hussein testifies during his trial in Baghdad, Iraq, June 12, 2006 (Jacob Silberberg/Reuters).

Victor Argo revisits the persona of longtime Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Nadia Marzouki and Hamza Meddeb question the assumptions behind the claim that Tunisia is a democratic success story. Read more »

Beji Caid Essebsi and Tunisia’s Identity Politics

by Steven A. Cook
Beji Caid Essebsi, former Tunisian prime minister and leader of the Nidaa Tounes (Call of Tunisia) secular party, speaks during a meeting on the third anniversary of the overthrow of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali January 14, 2014 (Zoubeir Souissi/Courtesy Reuters). Beji Caid Essebsi, former Tunisian prime minister and leader of the Nidaa Tounes (Call of Tunisia) secular party, speaks during a meeting on the third anniversary of the overthrow of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali January 14, 2014 (Zoubeir Souissi/Courtesy Reuters).

The Tunisian president, Beji Caid Essebsi, is coming to Washington today for meetings with President Obama. It is a big moment. Tunisian leaders have visited multiple times since Zine El Abedine Ben Ali’s fall in January 2011, but Essebsi’s visit is more consequential if only because he is not saddled with “interim” in his title. As I have written before, there is a lot to like about what has happened in Tunisia—peaceful transfers of power, compromise, a sense of shared responsibility for the future of the country, and minimal violence. It is for all these reasons that one hears the constant refrain, “Tunisia is the Arab Spring success story.” Even by the low standards of the present (and future) Middle East, the Tunisians have accomplished much in a short period of time. Still, I am having a hard time bringing myself around to the perception that Tunisia is firmly on a democratic trajectory. This is not just because of the country’s serious economic challenges, center-periphery problems, the apparent appeal of extremism to a relatively large number of young educated Tunisian men, or my own terminal cynicism. It’s more straightforward than any of those explanations: I simply do not believe that Beji Caid Essebsi has any particular interest in building an inclusive, pluralist political system. He is not even shy about his intentions. Read more »

Weekend Reading and Watching: Zarif in NY, Daily Life in Damascus, and Science in the Middle East

by Steven A. Cook
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) speaks with Washington Post journalist David Ignatius at the New York University (NYU) Center on International Cooperation in New York (Lucas Jackson/Courtesy Reuters). Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) speaks with Washington Post journalist David Ignatius at the New York University (NYU) Center on International Cooperation in New York (Lucas Jackson/Courtesy Reuters).

Iranian FM Mohammad Zarif answers questions at New York University on the recent nuclear framework, terrorism, and more.

Rima Ayoubi talks about day to day difficulties she faces in Damascus. 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 »