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"

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 »

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 »

Weekend Reading: Syrian Deals, Tunisia’s Libya, and Israeli Elections

by Steven A. Cook
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to a session of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem (Ronen Zvulun/Courtesy Reuters). Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to a session of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem (Ronen Zvulun/Courtesy Reuters).

Yezid Sayegh, in an interview with Syria Deeply, argues that a deteriorating situation in Syria may incentivize some rebels to strike a deal with the Assad regime. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Mubarak Acquitted, (Another) Tunisian Uprising, and Iraq’s Flags

by Steven A. Cook
A supporter of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak celebrates in front of Maadi military hospital after Mubarak returned to the hospital following the verdict of his trial in Cairo (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters). A supporter of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak celebrates in front of Maadi military hospital after Mubarak returned to the hospital following the verdict of his trial in Cairo (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters).

Hossam Bahgat sheds some light on the verdict acquitting former President Hosni Mubarak of charges against him.

Sam Kimball and Nicholas Linn contend that despite Tunisia’s recent elections, the country could be headed for another uprising. Read more »

Tunisia: First Impressions

by Steven A. Cook
The view from Sidi Bou Said. The view from Sidi Bou Said.

Tunis—Ever since Tunisia’s October 26 elections, there has been a raft of paeans to the “birthplace of the Arab Spring.” Tunisia does look pretty good, especially as it sits in between the chaos, resurgent authoritarianism, stasis, and faux reform of the neighborhood. The free and fair elections, which occurred ten months after the adoption of a new compromise constitution and a little more than a year after violence almost wrecked the whole post-Zine El Abidine Ben Ali political process, is worthy of praise. There have been two peaceful elections since Tunisians sent Ben Ali packing, which is an important benchmark for the country’s political trajectory. There is no doubt that Tunisians should be feeling pretty good about themselves, but I wonder if the editorial writers and commentators haven’t gotten a bit carried away. According to my friend and colleague, Amy Hawthorne, who observed last month’s elections, Tunisia’s transition to democracy is “very fragile.” I agree; Tunisia may be the best of the lot, but there are lots of ways it can go wrong. Read more »

Weekend Reading: The Artful Arab Spring, Disillusionment in Sidi Bouzid, and Rethinking Fragmented States

by Steven A. Cook
Artists, who [are] against the Egyptian army and government, work on graffiti representing Egypt's life along Mohamed Mahmoud Street near Tahrir Square in Cairo (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). Artists, who [are] against the Egyptian army and government, work on graffiti representing Egypt's life along Mohamed Mahmoud Street near Tahrir Square in Cairo (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

St. Lawrence University offers an interactive look at the Arab uprisings through the lens of graffiti art.

Michael Marcusa examines the revolutionary spirit of the youth of Sidi Bouzid three-and-a-half years after the Tunisian uprising. 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 »