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 "Turkey"

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: AKP and the Kurds; IS in Syria, and Arab Cartoonists

by Steven A. Cook
Pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputy Sebahat Tuncel (1st row, 3rd L) and her party members are surrounded by riot police as they hold a sit-in protest near Gezi Park in central Istanbul July 28, 2013 (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters). Pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputy Sebahat Tuncel (1st row, 3rd L) and her party members are surrounded by riot police as they hold a sit-in protest near Gezi Park in central Istanbul July 28, 2013 (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters).

Serkan Demirtas writes about the AKP and the quest for peace with the Kurds

Mohammad Raba’a discusses Wadi Barada, an Islamic State foothold in Syria. Read more »

Weekend Reading: A Return to Idlib, Secular Politics in Egypt, and al-Qaeda in Syria

by Steven A. Cook
Civilians react as they wear gas masks after what activists said was a chlorine gas attack on Kansafra village at Idlib countryside, Syria (Abed Kontar/Courtesy Reuters). Civilians react as they wear gas masks after what activists said was a chlorine gas attack on Kansafra village at Idlib countryside, Syria (Abed Kontar/Courtesy Reuters).

Ahmad al-Akla writes about people’s return to rebel-controlled Idlib, Syria.

A new party in Egypt calls for a secular constitution. Read more »

One Hundred Years After Gallipoli

by Steven A. Cook
Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, with a portrait of modern Turkey's founder Ataturk in the background, works at his office at the AK Party headquarters in Ankara June 13, 2011 (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters). Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, with a portrait of modern Turkey's founder Ataturk in the background, works at his office at the AK Party headquarters in Ankara June 13, 2011 (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on ForeignAffairs.com on Thursday, April 23, 2015.

On April 25, 1915, when British, French, and Australian and New Zealand troops landed on the strategic Gallipoli Peninsula, their objective was to knock out Ottoman defenses and make way for Allied navies to steam up the Dardanelles strait toward Istanbul. It was a risky and costly endeavor that culminated in their total retreat eight months later. For Gallipoli’s defenders, who lost 86,692 men, the battle was an important victory in defense of the Ottoman Empire. Paradoxically, it also became a touchstone of the nationalism that was so important to the establishment of the Republic of Turkey less than a decade later. Likewise, celebrations planned for the battle’s centenary reflect the tension between the valorization of the Ottoman era and the hallowed memory of Mustafa Kemal—Ataturk—modern Turkey’s founder. In many ways, the memory of Gallipoli is still shaping, and is being shaped by, the country’s political trajectory. Read more »

The King of the Arab Street vs. the Pope

by Steven A. Cook
Pope Francis and Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan prepare to leave after a press conference at the presidential palace in Ankara November 28, 2014 (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters). Pope Francis and Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan prepare to leave after a press conference at the presidential palace in Ankara November 28, 2014 (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on Foreign Policy‘s website on Wednesday, April 22, 2015.

As the world commemorates the centennial of the Armenian genocide this week, Turkey’s government once again finds itself fighting an old, losing battle. According to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, the recent spate of calls to recognize the genocide is the work of an “evil gang” bent on slandering the country’s honor. Read more »

No Way Out

by Steven A. Cook
Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters). Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on the American Interest’s website on Tuesday, April 7, 2015. 

It is eight weeks before Turkey’s general elections, the end of a stretch that has lasted a little more than a year during which Turks will have gone to the polls three times to elect their Mayors, President, and now legislators. The extended electoral season, made difficult by Turkey’s polarization, has not dampened the Istanbul-Ankara elite’s appetite for rank speculation, however. In years past, much of this chatter centered on parties and politicians who were going to save Turkey from whatever crisis of governance had befallen the country. There was the businessman Cem Uzan and his Youth Party in 2002; the dream team of Ismail Cem and Kemal Dervis, who were going to lead the New Turkey Party to victory also in 2002; Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the man to reverse the slide of the Republican People’s Party into the party of Izmir and certain Istanbul neighborhoods; and, of course, Abdullah Gul, the man to wrest control of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) from Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Uzan, however, was convicted of fraud in the United States and now lives in France, the New Turkey Party received a paltry 1.2 percent of the vote, Kilicdaroglu has presided over one defeat after the next, and Gul moved quietly from Ankara’s Cankaya Palace to Istanbul, where he seems to be enjoying retirement. So much for saving Turkey. Read more »

Ahmet Davutoglu: Only in New York

by Steven A. Cook
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (C) stands at a conference table at the outset of his meeting with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at U.N. Headquarters in New York, March 5, 2015 (Mike Segar/Courtesy Reuters). Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (C) stands at a conference table at the outset of his meeting with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at U.N. Headquarters in New York, March 5, 2015 (Mike Segar/Courtesy Reuters).

With all the hubbub over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s visit to New York City this week was almost entirely overlooked in the United States. Turkey’s opposition press—or what is left of it—is pretty much convinced that Davutoglu is not visiting Washington because he is not welcome here. That seems unlikely. No matter the discord between Washington and Ankara over the fight against the Islamic State, how to deal with Egypt, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and Turkey’s rollback of civil and political rights, the Turkish prime minister (regardless of who holds the position) is important enough to rate a meeting. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Erdogan and Davutoglu, Egypt’s Prisons, and Negotiating with Assad?

by Steven A. Cook
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad is seen during the filming of an interview with the BBC, in Damascus (Sana Sana/Courtesy Reuters). Syria's President Bashar al-Assad is seen during the filming of an interview with the BBC, in Damascus (Sana Sana/Courtesy Reuters).

Ismet Berkan examines how Turkey’s upcoming parliamentary elections might affect the relationship between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. Read more »

Emperor Erdogan

by Steven A. Cook
Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan addresses the media at the Presidential Palace in Ankara January 12, 2015 (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters). Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan addresses the media at the Presidential Palace in Ankara January 12, 2015 (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on Politico.com on Tuesday, February 3, 2015.

Last month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan did something so outrageous he went viral. On January 12, Erdogan was photographed at the bottom of a grand staircase in his new mega-palace with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Behind them were 16 men wearing military garb celebrating pre-Ottoman Turkic and Ottoman-era warriors. From the picture it was unclear whether Abbas looked so painfully uncomfortable because he was meeting one of the leading patrons of his archrival Hamas or because of the awkward pageant unfolding around him that suggested he was standing next to the natural successor to the Ottoman sultans. Read more »